The author of today’s blog is Hwa Seong (Christine) Oh, M.A., an SMC alumna and ten-year veteran of Career and Professional Development Services at the College. Christine recently accompanied a group of Saint Mary’s College students to World Youth Day and reflects on her experience in light of her youthful memories of Saint John Paul in Korea and her vocation as a Lasallian educator.
A Pilgrimage to Divine Mercy
Hwa Seong Oh
World Youth Day (WYD) 2016 in Krakow, Poland. . . . Eighteen pilgrims from Saint Mary’s College—14 students and four chaperones, including myself—just finished and arrived home from this unforgettable journey. From July 17 to August 2, 17 total days, we walked an average of seven miles per day in Poland with over 1.5 million other pilgrims, who hailed from all over the world. Looking back on our pilgrimage and writing these reflections, I would summarize my feelings with two words: grateful and hopeful. I am grateful because on the journey I experienced mercy from God and God’s people every single day. I am hopeful because on the journey, every single day, I had the privilege to witness and spend time with the beautiful young people who make up the Young Church, and now know that the future of our church is in very good hands. This pilgrimage has been one of the most meaningful experiences in my life, both in terms of my faith, and as a Lasallian educator.
Pope John Paul II and Poland
On a personal level, it was very meaningful to me that this WYD took place in the City of Saints and the Capital of Divine Mercy—Krakow, Poland—because of Saint John Paul II (PJP II). PJP II visited my country, Korea, in 1989. He was the first Pope who ever visited Korea and he canonized 103 Korean saints while there. The Korean Catholic Church has a very unique history. Korea is the only country where Christianity was introduced without missionaries. And thereafter, from about 1785 to 1866, multiple persecutions produced approximately 10,000 Korean martyrs. When PJP II was in Korea, I went to see him with my family. After long bus ride, and walking and waiting, he finally appeared and blessed us. I remember him looking like a grandfather wearing a white garment, but also having a little boy’s smile. On our current pilgrimage to Krakow, while in Wadowice, we had a chance to visit the Museum of the Family Home of John Paul II. In the guest book, I wrote (in Korean) “Thank you. You were the first Pope who visited my country. So I might be able to come visit your motherland. Thank you.” PJP II’s country, Poland, has suffered during its history, just like Korea. During World War II, Poland was occupied by Germany, and Korea was occupied by Japan. After the war, Poland lost some of its territory, and Korea was divided into two countries, South Korea and North Korea. I found myself relating easily to stories I learned about while visiting Poland’s Rising Museum in Warsaw. The more I got to know about Poland, the more I understood how much PJP II loved his country. Now Poland, along with PJP II, has a special place in my heart.
JEZU, UFAM TOBIE (Jesus, I trust in you)
In terms of my faith, this pilgrimage provided me with an opportunity to renew everything about it, with a focus on mercy. The official WYD hymn says: “Blest are the merciful; blest are the merciful, for it is mercy that shall be shown to those who show mercy.” At the beginning of our pilgrimage, I asked Fr. Hai, “What is the difference between love and mercy?” He answered, “mercy is loving someone who doesn’t deserve it.” Somehow, the part about “undeserving love” captured my attention, and then I realized that I was the most undeserving person on this WYD. It was not my plan to go. One day, however, Fr. Hai invited me to WYD and suggested that I pray on it and consult with my family. When I talked to Bruce, my husband, he said, “You should go. God is calling you,” before I even finished telling him about the invitation. During the process, when I faced my biggest challenge—the online form, Kim Sullivan came to my office and guided me through it step by step. On July 16, I called Vince because I couldn’t finish packing when I realized my sleeping bag was too large. Vince kindly brought an extra sleeping bag for me. Just like that, WYD came to me, thanks to mercy from God and God’s people. All I did before our departure was attending the pilgrim class taught by Professor Carpenter and memorizing the names of our 14 students. In Poland, I felt so welcomed everywhere. When we arrived in Warsaw, after 1:00 a.m. and several hours late because of our bus breaking down, we saw our host families still waiting for us on the street. The love and the hospitality they showed us defy description. Every church I visited, I found myself praying “I have come from a great distance. Thank you for welcoming me this much.” I cried in front of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Jasna Gora, feeling truly comfortable and peaceful. When I saw St. Faustina Kowalska’s Divine Mercy Image, I felt God’s gracious blessings and invitation and heard myself responding, “Jesus, I trust in you.” After Holy Communion on the Field of Mercy on July 31, I fully realized this: That it was truly mercy, undeserved love from God, who called me to Poland, the homeland of PJP II (the first Pope to visit Korea) and the opportunity to celebrate Mass with Pope Francis (who is the second Pope who has visited Korea). I was speechless for long time, contemplating this underserved love from God, and nothing worried me any more. Finally, this sentence came to my mind: Jesus, I trust in you.
The Holy Presence of God in Our Students
As a Lasallian educator, this pilgrimage helped me remember that we are in the holy presence of God in a very special way when we are in the presence of our students. One of St. John Baptist de La Salle’s teachings that I kept in my mind is, “Don’t do anything your students can do in the classroom,” so that they will take the ownership, and it will be their classroom not the teacher’s. So, I didn’t do anything during the pilgrimage except for “counting” our students: “One, two, . . . fourteen! We are good! Let’s go!” That’s all I did, and our students did everything else. They took care of one another (they even took care of me and other chaperones), supported one another, and held one another tightly when somebody fell. This was a pilgrimage at the bottom line. It was hot, it sometimes rained hard, we walked long distances all day every day, and had numerous food issues, all taking place among over 1.5 million other people. But throughout all these hardships I saw the beautiful community that our students created. I know that they made all who supported this WYD program at SMC financially, emotionally, and spiritually, very proud. The largest joy I experienced from this pilgrimage as a Lasallian educator was the moments I saw God in our students. I truly felt God’s presence every day in each and every one of our students, and I want to share those moments with all of you.
photo credits: flickr by Mariusz Cieszewski and Paulina Krzyzak