SEOUL (UCAN) -- A special parish located in the midst of urban poor communities in northeastern Seoul garnered praise for its service to them during its 10th-anniversary celebration.
Samyang-dong Mission Parish "has given much love to the poor for 10 years," Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Yeom Soo-jung of Seoul said on Sept. 4. I hope it continues to grow into a community of love, sharing and service."
The prelate delivered the homily at the anniversary Mass held in the chapel inside the parish building, a three-story house on a mountain slope surrounded by tenement houses.
Addressing about 80 priests, nuns and laypeople, he noted how the mission parish is "different from a 'regular' parish" in that it "is located in the very middle of the urban poor in the Samyang-dong" area.
"Serving and living with them is its purpose," said the prelate. Ten priests, five of whom work in mission parishes, concelebrated the Mass with him.
According to Bishop Yeom, five of Seoul archdiocese's 12 quasi-parishes are mission parishes located at markets, an expressway bus terminal and a hospital.
Samyang-dong was the first of these five and has about 80 parishioners, according to Father Elias Lim Yong-hwan, the parish priest.
The parish building includes his residence and a meeting room.
Clara Lee Seung-ok, head of the parish pastoral council, told UCA News after the Mass that the parish's networking with various small communities, not only its location and unusual physical aspects, make it special.
"Many parishioners including children are involved in a day-care center, a scouts group, a sewing factory, a secondhand home appliances shop and a welfare center located around the parish, all of which belong to the archdiocese," she explained.
Lee added that many parishioners come from low-income families and live in rented apartments.
According to a leaflet distributed to Mass participants, the factory was established in 1995 as a cooperative, the scouts group in 1998, the House of Peace welfare center in 1999 and the shop in 2000.
The welfare center offers education programs and activities for children, and organizes free food donations to elderly people who live alone as well as visits to sick people in the area.
Rufina Shin Deok-rye said that while the relationship between parishioners and the parish priest in a "regular" parish is superficial because of the large number of Catholics, her parish is like a family.
Othilia Kim Deok-sim agrees. "I once lost my faith but regained it after I attended a Mass here five years ago," she said. "The parishioners are close enough to one another to know each other's economic situation. So I feel like coming here to meet them all the time."
Both Shin and Kim work in the factory producing religious garb for Religious and priests. Like them, most of the factory workers are parishioners.
Father Peter Lee Kang-suh, president of Seoul archdiocese's Catholic Urban Poor Pastoral Committee, which set up the five mission parishes, says they are needed because the poor have become more isolated and anonymous in large cities like Seoul.
"In this situation," he told UCA News, "mission parishes support the poor well, because parish priests are always available to them and care for their welfare especially through the House of Peace," he explained.
The Catholic Urban Poor Pastoral Committee has set up eight House of Peace centers in the Seoul mission parishes.
"We plan to set up another House of Peace for North Korean refugees," Father Lee added.