The year 2014 is upon us, though last year’s Christmas wreaths are still hanging on doors.
By THERESE PARK
Special to The Star
One of the most important events of 2013 for 1.2 billion Catholics around the world was the rise of the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio , to become the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Since his election in March, Pope Francis has been outspoken about many things, including the reform of the ancient church.
In a recent message, the Holy Father said that the church has sometimes “locked itself up in small things” and has been narrow-minded on such issues as birth control, gay marriage, abortion, divorce and remarriage, and because of it, the church couldn’t be what it should have been — the home for all souls. “God is in everyone’s life,” he said.
He also asked all Christian churches to reunite as the Body of Christ and encouraged leaders to worship together in sacramental union.
All I can say is, “The Catholic Church has come a long way!”
How glad I am that I have lived long enough to hear such news! Believe it or not, when I was growing up in Korea, crossing the threshold of another church — whether Christian or non-Christian — was considered sin. This knowledge was instilled in me in harsh words by my mother after I returned from a Presbyterian church, instead of our Catholic church, on a Sunday.
That morning shortly after Christmas, I was walking to our church for Children’s Mass, all bundled in my wool coat, hat and scarf, when a classmate who lived on the same block called, “Wait for me!” So I waited.
As soon as she caught up with me and we began to walk, she said excitedly that it was the Sunday that American soldiers were bringing presents to all children.
“But Christmas passed,” I reminded her. “American soldiers only come twice a year — on Christmas Eve and on Easter Sunday.”
“Every church is different,” she said, all knowingly. “Our Presbyterian church was built by American missionaries, and we get something all year round — pencils, crayons, American dolls with blue eyes, Hershey bars, Juicy Fruit, and many others!”
“I can’t believe it,” I said.
“Why don’t you come with me, so that you can believe what I’m telling you?”
I meant to say, “No, I’m Catholic,” but for a strange reason, I said, “I don’t belong to your church. Why would the Americans give me anything?”
“Because Jesus loves all children,” she said, talking like a grown up. “Trust me, there will be plenty to go around.”
Little did I know that I had been talking to a Satan camouflaged as my friend!
A few minutes later, I found myself sitting next to her in the front pew of the stone church, looking at the giant cross on the wall before me.
A strange feeling came over me. Unlike Jesus on the cross in our Catholic church, who seemed to be looking at heaven beyond the ceiling, this Jesus was looking down at the floor with a solemn expression, as if displeased that a Catholic child was sitting before Him. I was uncomfortable. Then, organ music exploded from the loft, making the situation worse. It was not familiar and was much louder than the music at my Catholic church.
I don’t know how I ran out, but once I hit the door I began to pray: “Jesus, forgive me! I was lured to a Presbyterian Church by a Satan!”
Later, at home, my mother interrogated me like a detective and I told her everything. I couldn’t offend Jesus twice in one day.
“You have sinned!” Mother said.
Six decades later, I’m free of my childhood sin! Had Pope Francis been the head of the church six decades ago, I’m sure I would have gladly stayed for the entire service and received the American treats my friend had told me about, too.
Even long before Jesus was born, God worked closely with men and guided them to the “green pastures,” appealing to them as Abba or Allah or Yahweh or Great Spirit. The Church can change rules according to who leads, and believers either embrace or reject the changes. But Heaven remains the same as before and ever after.
Retired musician Therese Park has written three novels about Korea’s modern history.