|Synthesis of the International Conference in Seoul
On 15th February 2005, the International Council for Formation and Studies gathered in the chapel of St Francis Friary in Seoul and began with the Eucharist celebrated by the Provincial Minister of Korea, Paolo Oh ofm. He extended a welcome from the Province of the Korean Martyrs.
The group then met at the Franciscan Education Centre which is in the same compound and which is where the rest of the meeting was held.
At this opening session, Fra Massimo Fusarelli ofm the Secretary General for Formation and Studies welcomed us and extended the greeting and letter of the Minister General Jose Carballo ofm.
The first presentation was by Nichoals Shin ofm on the situation and evangelization of the church and the Franciscan Order in Asia. He also presented statistics comparing the different religions in the different parts of Asia.
The second presentation of the day was by Dr Hwang Jong Yeul, who spoke about the “Spirituality of Difference.” In illustrating the use of these instruments in a musical group, he spoke about the concept of harmony presupposing a difference. That harmony does not mean conformity. That these different sounds combine to produce a harmony of music.
The second day, it was dedicated to dialogue with Buddhism.
The first presentation was by Venerable Misan who spoke about meditation.
Buddhism was seen as a path of practice and spiritual development leading to true happiness.
Meditation is a means of changing oneself, developing awareness, compassion and wisdom. Mindfulness is the eventual goal of Buddhist meditation.
In the late morning, we had a local friar, Sylvester Shim sharing with us his testimony of living in a Buddhist environment in Korea. How he had invited the Zen monks to give lessons on meditation. He is presently living in the prayer house of the Province.
The afternoon was spent visiting a Buddhist temple. A lively and animated exchange took place between the group and an American Buddhist monk who had converted from Catholicism.
Day three began with a sharing by Friar John of God ofm from the Vietnamese province who spoke about how the friars responded to the reality of the communist regime in the life of the friars. Both the communists and the friars have celebrated their 75th anniversary in the last year. Since the fall of Saigon in 1975, the friars have been challenged to live authentically the Franciscan spirituality within the context of a communist society without losing their identity. He described this period as the encounter of St Francis with the crucified Christ.
Over the last decades, the friars of Vietnam in responding to their present situation have worked on adapting their religious life.
While society was moving towards centralization, the friars were moving towards small communities in responding to sharing the life of the new society; living with the poor around them.
In the afternoon of the third day, we had a presentation by a Confucian scholar Wonsuk Chang giving us an introduction, thoughts and concepts of Confucianism. He spoke to the principle of mutuality, co-dependence and communal interactivity. Harmony does not mean uniformity but presupposes the existence of differences. The contribution of the differences bring about harmony.
The afternoon work was divided into three language groups and questions to be addressed were:
How do we feel about what has been presented?
If new, how has it been?
What are the elements of dialogue up till now?
What sense and measure these elements of dialogue can be applied to formation?
The fourth day was spent in visiting the Novitiate in Taejon city, about two hours’ drive south of Seoul. Mass was celebrated in the Novitiate and lunch followed. A visit to the house of prayer followed where the building is a traditional house which had been relocated.
Day five began with an address by Prof. Syed Farid Alatas, a professor of sociology in the National University of Singapore. In his presentation, he gave a historical and sociological understanding on the present state of Islam and in particular in her relationship to Christianity and the Western world.
He spoke for the need for dialogue and proposed three themes to address this in a structural way. The three elements are:
Need to understand the multi-cultural origins of modern civilization.
Provide occasions of inter-religious encounters (formal and informal)
To learn to appreciate the point of view of the other.
This would then bring about mutual understanding, sympathy and interest in each other.
Dialogue with Prof Alatas followed after a short break which resulted in much mutual and respectful exchange.
Friar Alfons Suhardi ofm shared with the council on a dialogue of life with Islam in Indonesia. He shared the challenges and difficulties at times of living in Indonesia within an Islamic society. However, there is the importance of continuing the dialogue of life within the Indonesian society.
The afternoon was spent at the Chongdong theatre to take in more of the Korean culture.
On Sunday, the group visited the Myongdong Cathedral of Seoul and concelebrated with the local parish. The afternoon was spent visiting the different tourist attractions of Seoul.
The second week of this council began again on Monday, 21st Feb.
The theme of the second week was “Translation of the elements of dialogue towards formation in the Order.”
The day began with the reports of the respective Conferences of the Order focusing on the new elements of formation and on the inter-cultural and inter-religious projects which exist within each conference.
In the afternoon, there was work in language groups discussing the following elements:
Group reaction to reports
What element of dialogue emerging from these reports?
How to take up these elements for programme in formation and studies?
Day two began with the report by the General Secretary for Formation and Studies, Massimo Fusarelli ofm on the last two years’ work.
In reflecting on the prophetic dimension of our way of life, he spoke about dialogue as leading to peace, as announcing the Kingdom of God and as learning from the poor. It is this attitude of dialogue which begins the renewal of formation.
In this report, there was a self-evaluation of the work that was done which was followed by comments and responses from the International Council.
Group work in language groups followed on the different proposals put forward by the General Secretary.
Day three of the second week saw Friar Gwenole Jeusset ofm share with us on the Foundations of dialogue in a Franciscan way and elements for formation to dialogue.
Gwenole address the topic of dialogue with Islam from these perspectives:
Francis saw his meeting with the Sultan as a meeting with a believer
Models of meeting between Damietta and Morocco; in Damieta, it was a meeting without matrydom while in Marrakech it was martyrdom without a meeting.
Francis was seen as a person who was able to cross the physical, moral and spiritual frontiers.
It is beyond these frontiers where Francis makes an intensive experience of God’s love and paternity.
Formation to dialogue:
All stages of formation should be oriented towards the formation to dialogue which includes the capacity of discerning the action of the Spirit of the Lord in the other.
He was able to share with us the 40 plus years of his work in dialogue with Islam. In this same presentation, he also presented new horizons for the Order in this unique vocation to dialogue. He further impressed upon us the culture of dialogue which was begun in Assisi on 27th October 1986 by Pope John Paul II. In very concrete and prophetic ways, he made 14 proposals for formation in the service of dialogue.
The afternoon was spent visiting the shrine of Confucius at Sungkyunkwan. In the freezing temperatures of Korea, the International Council courageously braved the weather to listen to the teachings and pay respect to this shrine.
The evening was spent visiting the post-novitiate house and had dinner and recreation with the friars.
Day four of the second week had Ruben Tierrablanca ofm sharing with us the experience of the Istanbul community. He shared the different initiatives undertaken by this community to engage in ecumenical dialogue with the two Orthodox churches, the Jewish community and Muslims.
Following this presentation, there was work in language groups on elements that should be present in the letter to the Order which would be sent from this Council.
The council gathered in the afternoon to have a first look at the draft of this letter. Comments and feedback were received.
The morning of the 5th day saw the International Council gathered in a plenary session to review another draft of the letter which was discussed with further feedback.
This will be further worked on in the afternoon, to be presented again for the afternoon work.
At 3.30pm, the group gathered in the chapel of the centre for a prayer session based on the songs and style of Taizé. Ruben led in this simple but prayerful liturgy.
Following this session, the friars gathered for the approval of the final redaction of the text of the letter.
An evaluation of the meeting for the last two weeks was carried out with positive comments from the delegates. There were small areas that could have been improved but the overall impression was that it was a novelty in the way this meeting was carried out. And the outcome was positive for an experience of dialogue with different religions and cultures. It was also felt that this could be a new way of working and learning that could be repeated in the different entities of the Order.
Methodologies and the topics chosen reflected well the current needs of the world and of formation for the future of the Order.
Fr. John Paul Tan, ofm
Chronist of the Council