Memory and mission, Gangjeong reflections

Memory and mission, Gangjeong reflections

The emerging port structure in the distance is breaking the natural rock and tradition of fishing by the women of the village. Photo credit: P Walpole

Pedro Walpole, SJ

The following are excerpts from the reflections of Pedro Walpole, SJ upon his visit to Gangjeong Village, Jeju Island in South Korea last May 2013. The village is also the site of an ongoing protest against the construction of a naval base. Francis Mun-su Park, SJ, director of the Jesuit Research Center for Advocacy and Solidarity in Seoul, prepared these excerpts.

Gratitude in meeting challenges

All is still, not frozen in time, but pulsing along these natural channels sustaining the island’s life. Peace comes from within the person, and wells up and overflows; it is good to be alive and flowing.

These sunken riverbeds running down from the mountain peak that reveal the interconnectivity of local ecosystems are virtually unseen from contemporary land use and from the sea of tangerines, plastic tents and pesticide mist that cover the south island. Water entering these hidden gorges and extracted by the farms affirms how it remains the interactive force. The water continues to flow and exposes at the shoreline the basalt coming to the surface in a new form. This rock called goorumbi formed by fire and sea is marked like a turtle’s shell. From here, women divers (haenyeo) have fished for their families for generations.

This land and sea has sustained local communities and their life, suffering, and birth are bound to this land. Any change in these relationships needs to respect and incorporate the dignity of local lives and bond with the land and sea. The massive concrete foundations of a new harbour and naval base now break the back of this rock. This development from outside puts great ecological and social stress on the community and what the world considers a unique heritage for humanity and celebrated as a UNESCO site.

  • Who really are we, where do we belong, in creation and in society that is of our creation?
  • What is our relationship with creation and with society, when and where there are conflicts, and what is the manner of seeking resolution?
  • How do we sustain good relations across community, civil society, and government in a globalized world where there are major differences in response to environmental concerns?
  • So what now becomes clearer in reflecting with others on our ecological concerns?

For all our efforts we seek to come from a daily grounding in love and to affirm that in justice and in hope of our neighbour; we seek to respond in the spirit of “do not be afraid.” We learn that the local context of gratitude is part of our deep basis for responding with courage when faced with conflict.

What our faith teaches us

There is a shared sense of right relations: service of neighbour, steadfastness in God and care for creation. Faith, justice, integrity and love, of which love is the greatest, are the primary determinants of how we address environmental concerns. If our love doesn’t bear witness to this, there is no mark of Christ.

Presence through accompaniment and healing is needed in the community and is the needed focus at times. Presence through witness and advocacy does not ‘win’ in all contexts, yet all is not lost.

A synthesized document acknowledging basic relations, values and actions can be helpful, as a guide deepening roots for many other reflections in society.

What we are saying as Jesuits

  • For basic awareness, we say thank you in gratitude for all life
  • For care for creation, we say “do no harm”
  • For quality of humble living, we live by simple principles of “enough”
  • For personal change in life, we are deepened by a life that seeks meaning and reconciliation
  • For community sustainability, we acknowledge origin and cultural; practices and productivity (foods, arts, rituals) of earlier generations and the extended family; needs and hopes and learn from our relations with sea and land
  • For minimising consumerism, we face tough choices to consume less and buy less, to be more discerning
  • For healing the heart and giving a new depth to the meaning of creation and social relations, we get in touch physically with creation
  • For infrastructure development that pollutes and degrades and the controlling statement of ‘if we do not have this, our people will be worse off,’ we call for alternatives and for new attitudes.
  • For different levels of government and processes of governance, we seek transparency, accountability, and participation
  • For civil society, government, and global action, we organize our reflections and questions in ways that are deeply human, deeply Korean.

Depth of culture needing reconciliation

The issue has dragged on painfully and the ongoing construction violates for many the meaningful resolution of past injustice and mistrust.

Celebrating a Eucharist – a prayer of giving and receiving (eucari) in full relation with God, nature and neighbour – in front of the construction gate of the proposed naval base, is a very intense expression of faith and human spirit in the face of conflict.

This is the shaman’s grove with a tree of several hundred years old, not disturbed by the present construction but shares in the integrity of the landscape and is now being destroyed. Photo credit: P Walpole

Reflection beyond national security

Constant argument against the state sounds, or becomes, ideological, if it is not clear that there is also time and place for prayer and reconciliation, healing and gratitude in community. The approach that is grounded in love clearly does not want to get caught in or identified with ideological issues that use environmental concern, social marginality, and even peace, for a political agenda that can be frustrated by political maneuvering.

  • What are the forms of action and what meaning do these carry to people?
  • How is local and international presence articulated and judged?
  • How is the ‘argument’ being critically constructed?
  • How is the approach assessed?
  • In what sense is the aim to win, for whom, for how long and with what risks?
  • If the base is stopped, is that victory?

There are other questions to ask as well.

  • When villagers are sad about the loss of physical landscape and memories now are irreparably damaged; what healing is sought for in community?
  • When we don’t know the outcome, how do we find the way to hope without being led to violence, anger, frustration or disillusionment?
  • How do we not win over an adversary but eventually realize together where we are going?
  • How do we seek to consolidate local and national concerns as we read the signs of the times?
  • How are ecological concerns understood as a moral argument, not simply as economic, and where do we look for and establish integrity in society?

Being convinced of our actions

Struggles in life are personal and perhaps different from society at large, yet such disruptions precisely help one to reflect on life. This struggle to understand more deeply and connect with who a person is and where the person comes from, results in commitment. Together with others, this helps one see anew how we are part of a society that is always growing. With personal commitment coming from who I am and what is meaningful and affirmed with others, tackling a concern then is done with hope rather than with authority or frustration.

Thus, when one speaks about gratitude and love (with faith and with hope), this guides whatever action is taken. So a person is then moved to question one’s action and asks, “Is this an action of gratitude and love?” Then the heart can guide the mind. You don’t need to be religious, or Buddhist, or Catholic, or Jesuit to understand that.


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