Arriving in Adelaide in January, Fr Park has spent the past couple of months adjusting to the Australian culture and trying to overcome language difficulties.
However, despite these challenges he has been buoyed by the commitment and faith of the local community and is looking forward to serving them.
“In Korean culture the relationship between the priest and the parishioner can often be quite separate so I am hoping to remove those barriers and be approachable for all members,” he told The Southern Cross with the assistance of an interpreter.
Having worked as an assistant chaplain for youth in Incheon, South Korea, Fr Park, 40, said he hoped to be “as close as a friend” for youth, to ensure they felt comfortable talking with him about their faith.
About 150 people – a third of whom are children and youth – attend the Korean Mass held at St Ignatius’ Church, Norwood, each Sunday. Korean Masses are also usually held on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
Fr Park said many parishioners had “found their faith” after coming to Australia, so they had a “strong desire to know God”. At least 10-15 people in the community are baptised every year.
The congregation comprises people who have migrated to Adelaide generally for work or study purposes, and there are many young families who attend Mass.
For some parishioners, the loneliness and isolation that may be associated with living in a different country is eased by the sense of welcome they receive and their interaction with the community.
Besides attending Mass, members of the congregation strengthen their faith through three Bible Study (or Sharing) groups run at different locations in Adelaide. There is Sunday School every week for children and youth camps are held regularly. Both provide an opportunity for the young in the community to speak the Korean language and learn traditional games from their home country.
Fr Park said one of the major celebrations for Korean Catholics was on September 20, the feast day of martyrs of Korea. Those honoured on the day include the country’s first priest St Andrew Kim Teagon, as well as St Paul Chong Hasang and many other martyrs.
Established in 2004, Adelaide’s Korean Catholic Community had humble beginnings with less than 10 people attending the first services.
Supporting the community throughout its journey have been the Jesuits at Norwood. Initially they would organise for one of their Korean brothers studying in Melbourne to attend the local Mass to translate. Other priests from Korea or interstate also served their leave with the Korean community until a permanent chaplain was eventually appointed. Like the previous chaplain, Fr Francis Kim, Fr Park lives with the Jesuits at Manresa in Norwood.
Reflecting on his journey to the priesthood, Fr Park, whose elder brother is a priest in Incheon, said even as a young boy he felt this would be his vocation.
“From a very early age I wanted to become a priest but then in high school I thought I wanted to become a teacher,” he said.
“I went to study at university and during the holidays I joined a Sunday school camp for youth and they were calling me ‘teacher’, even though I hadn’t completed my formal studies.
“I then thought if I became a priest I could serve as a teacher and friend as well. I also felt a lot of love of God, and during the camp I decided I would become a priest. Then I started my theological studies.”
When he was ordained in 2009 he took Matthew chapter 18, verse 3 as his motto, ‘Become like children’.
For more information about the Korean Catholic community phone 0488 067 177.
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