03/01/2023, 11.56
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A book on the story of Korea and Card. Lazarus You Heung-sik

by card. Lazzaro You Heung-sik *

The Prefect of the dicastery for the Clergy, former bishop of Daejeon, the first Korean in a position of leadership in the Roman Curia recounts his encounter with Christianity as well as the mission and challenges facing priests today. In the preface, Pope Francis writes: "We need to listen to the bold witness of the Churches of the East."

Milan (AsiaNews) - The discovery of Christianity while attending a Catholic school, his baptism at the age of 16, the importance of the figure of Saint Andrew Kim in his own life. But also his own ministry as a priest and bishop in Korea, his surprise at being called by Pope Francis to work in the Roman Curia, the challenges for the priesthood and the Church today: These are the topics that Card. Lazarus You Heung-sik - the 71-year-old Prefect of the Dicastery for the Clergy and the first Korean to head a Vatican dicastery - addresses in the book "Come la folgore viene da Oriente" (Like the thunderbolt  from the East), which lands today in Italian bookshops published by Edizioni San Paolo.

The book - the result of a dialogue with Don Francesco Cosentino - is introduced by a preface by Pope Francis, who expresses his gratitude to Card. You for this book and for his service to the Church. "With his amiable and affable manner," writes Francis, "he allows us to grasp the fruits of a faith sown in the land of the martyrs and germinated with simplicity thanks to the joyful witness of a living Church."

"We all need this light that comes from the East," the Pope continues, "We need to listen to the daring witness of so many sisters and brothers who, with enthusiasm and despite many sufferings, have welcomed Jesus with open arms just as old Simeon did, welcoming the preaching of St Andrew Kim and of many missionaries who have spent their lives for the joy of the Gospel. We need to "decentralise", making a journey to the East and putting ourselves in the school of a spiritual and ecclesial way of life that can reinvigorate our faith. And we need to remember that, even in hardship and darkness, like the thunderbolt the Lord comes. And he wants to illuminate our lives'.

From the book - full of stories by Card. You about episodes of his own life in Korea - we publish below a short excerpt in which, recalling an episode from the years of his own formation, the Prefect of the Dicastery for the Clergy speaks about the theme of the missionary vocation of every baptised person.

In Korea, even those who choose the path of the priesthood are called to serve in the military. I did 32 months and was sent to a dangerous area, almost on the border with North Korea.

There, of course, there was no Sunday Mass. I started to ask myself questions about my identity as a Christian and about attending Sunday Mass; I had to find a way, but eventually I also started to think: what does it mean to be a Christian after all? When am I a Christian? First and foremost when I live the Gospel of the Lord. And so, with much courage, I went to the higher military authority to ask permission for some of us to meet on Sunday, to have a meeting on the Word of God. It was granted and we started with four of us, in a corner of the refectory. We could not celebrate Mass, but we did a liturgy of the Word. And those four became five, then ten. And eventually, at Christmas of that year, twenty people received Baptism.

For me it was another great sign of the presence of Jesus in my life; he had not presented himself in special or religious circumstances, but while I was going through an experience such as military service, in a place that was not very peaceful, with few comforts, without even being able to celebrate Sunday Mass. Yet once again I had been met in the Word and that weekly liturgy had brought others closer to the faith, had been an instrument of evangelisation.

Perhaps it is also necessary today to ask ourselves some questions about the liturgies we celebrate and whether the number of Masses we schedule then corresponds to an opportunity to really get to know the Lord closely, whether they are a privileged way to discover faith or a habit, whether they convey the living Word of the Lord that touches life or are reduced to a repetition, just to satisfy a precept. Christianity is not about satisfying a cultic and moral obligation, it is first of all letting oneself be reached, questioned and touched by the Word of the Lord.

And even in this experience, a concrete sign through which to "live the Word" was important. We were marching through the night and for many kilometres, with our rucksacks on our shoulders. I saw that one of my companions was very tired and I offered to carry his rifle too, which was quite heavy; a little later, in a moment of pause, that friend asked me how it was that everyone was tired and dejected and I, on the other hand, was happy. Of course I was tired too, but perhaps my faith and my encounter with Jesus gave me the strength to be inwardly serene, and this also showed on the outside. I told that person about Jesus and he too received Baptism. When others see our joy as Christians, they too are infected with this joy.

* Prefect of the Dicastery for the Clergy

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