January 30, 2015

Korean Catholic Community welcomes priest, anticipates New Year

Members of the Korean Catholic Community in Indianapolis sing a hymn while Father Jiho Peter Son prepares the altar during Mass at Korean Catholic Community Church of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Indianapolis on Jan. 18. (Photos by Natalie Hoefer)

Members of the Korean Catholic Community in Indianapolis sing a hymn while Father Jiho Peter Son prepares the altar during Mass at Korean Catholic Community Church of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Indianapolis on Jan. 18. (Photos by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

Korean priest Father Jiho Peter Son arrived in Indianapolis in late October knowing very little English.

Seven weeks later, he made a revelation when explaining his name.

“Jiho is my birth name,” he explained. “Peter is my adopted [Christian] name. Son is my last name.”

Not used to hearing his name in English, a smile and understanding lit his face as he realized, “Ah! I am Father Son!”

Father Son is the newest priest sent from the Busan Diocese in South Korea to serve as pastor for the nearly 100 members of the Korean Catholic Community on the east side of Indianapolis, and for the Korean Catholic communities in Bloomington and Lafayette in the Lafayette Diocese. He is the 12th priest sent from the Korean diocese to lead the Indiana communities since 1992.

According to Indianapolis community council president and church founding member Matthew Chong, Korean Catholics in Indianapolis participated in the first local Korean Mass in April of 1986 at St. Lawrence Church in Indianapolis. The Mass was celebrated by a visiting Korean priest. In August of the same year, the community was officially recognized by the archdiocese.

The Korean Mass continued to be celebrated monthly at St. Lawrence by Korean priests coming from Cincinnati or Chicago.

“In February of 1988, we bought a Jehovah’s Witness church,” said Matthew’s wife, Jasmine Chong. “We decorated it. Many people donated items for the church. People who visit say it is very cozy and warm.

“We were the first couple married in it,” she added with a smile.

The church, named the Korean Catholic Community Church of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Indianapolis, remains associated with St. Lawrence Parish.

Despite having their own church building, the community still relied on priests traveling once a month from Cincinnati and Chicago to celebrate Mass in their native language.

That changed in 1992.

With Jasmine translating, Father Son explained that in that year, one of the visiting priests spoke to his home diocese in Busan of the community’s need for a permanent priest.

“We have been working with [the] Busan Diocese ever since,” said Jasmine.

The Korean diocese now also sends two seminarians to study at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad every three years.

Father Son will serve the pastoral needs of the Korean Catholics in Indianapolis, Bloomington and Lafayette for five years. Annual visits to Korea will allow him to visit with his widowed mother and his brother.

The biggest challenge for him so far is not missing family nor becoming familiar with and leading the communities, he said. The biggest challenge is the language.

“I studied English in high school,” said Father Son, who is 45 by Korean’s age system but 44 as Americans count age.

Father Son was raised in Busan, the second largest city in South Korea. He earned a degree in urban engineering before entering the seminary, and was ordained in December of 2003.

At 5.3 million, or about 10 percent of the South Korean population, Catholics are a minority in the Asian country, but are not persecuted or oppressed, Father Son said.

And the Catholic population is growing, according to a recent Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Korea report.

“When Pope Francis visited [last August], that made a big difference,” said Jasmine. “A lot of people were touched.”

As pastor of the Korean Catholic communities in Indianapolis, Bloomington and Lafayette, Father Son said his goal is “not to start something new, but work with what is already established and make sure we work together as one.”

He leads two Bible studies each week and is offering Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) classes in Bloomington. Although no RCIA classes are currently active in Indianapolis, the community welcomed 10 new members into the Church last year.

Father Son has impressed Franciscan Brother Moises Gutierrez, director of the archdiocesan Office of Intercultural Ministry.

“[Father Son’s] gentle and friendly personality, his faith, and his missionary spirit are a gift for the Korean Catholic Community and for the archdiocese in general,” he said.

“I have enjoyed my visits to the Korean community. I always leave with an uplifted spirit. Their faith and commitment to pass on their faith to their new generation of Koreans is life-giving.

“Without a doubt, their presence is a blessing for the archdiocese. The sense of community is so contagious.”

Jasmine agreed.

“We are a very tight community,” she said. With the Indianapolis group having members in Carmel, Ind., and Fishers, Ind., as well as the capital city, the community is divided into three groups that meet regularly for Bible study, discussion and event planning.

“When we have special holidays, the groups take turns hosting the event [after Mass],” she explained.

The Indianapolis community will soon celebrate one of the most popular Korean holidays—Korean New Year.

While the actual holiday is on Feb. 19 this year, the congregation will celebrate it at the Indianapolis church on Feb. 15, following the 11 a.m. Mass.

“It is custom to come [to Mass] in traditional Korean costume that day,” said Jasmine. Members will then celebrate with a meal in the cafeteria attached to the church building.

Sharing in such national traditions and customs is one of the aspects that binds the Korean Catholic Community together.

Language is another.

“When you hear Korean throughout the Mass, the wording touches you differently than it does in English,” said Youson Lee, who moved to Indiana from South Korea in 2007. She converted to Catholicism last year before marrying her husband, Kyubyung Kang, who is president of the Lafayette Korean Catholic Community.

Joseph Kim moved to Indiana for work in 1978 with his wife and two children. Despite having lived in the state for 36 years, he still finds it “easier to pray in Korean.” He explained that, when it comes to Mass, “English is not as comfortable.”

As the Korean Catholic Community grows in number of members born and raised in Indiana, the younger members feel the opposite of those raised speaking Korean.

“I understand the Mass, but not the homily,” admitted Indiana native 9-year-old Erin Kong of Carmel in the Lafayette Diocese. Although she is learning Korean, “I understand the English Mass better,” she said.

The church offers worship aids with the Scripture readings in English to help those less comfortable with Korean.

But the Mass is still the Mass, said Erin’s mother, Yoon Lee, who moved to Indiana from South Korea 10 years ago.

While she acknowledged she can “understand more and better in Korean,” she also knows the meaning of “catholic.”

“The Church is universal,” she said. “Whether it’s in English or Korean, it is the same Mass.”

(The Korean Catholic Community worships at 11 a.m. on Sundays at 7536 E. 46th St. in Indianapolis. Mass is offered in Korean at St. Paul Catholic Center, 1413 E. 17th St., in Bloomington at 6 p.m. on the first and third Saturday of the month. The Korean New Year Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. on Feb. 15 at the Indianapolis church, with a reception and food to follow.)

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