12/24/2014, 00.00
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Christmas in Korea amongst the migrants, putting the person first

Father Maurizio Giorgianni, OMI, has lived in South Korea, with legal and illegal immigrants for almost 22 years. The visit of Pope Francis and the Nativity "have a common message which is useful to the entire Korean society: man must go back to being the center of society and of development." The festivities with those whose visas have expired: “I try to be a friend and to build true and sincere relationships.”

Gwangju (AsiaNews) - Here in Korea, the Christmas message of hope focuses on the dignity of man: "Especially here, where competition and economic development are likely to trample on the human being and especially on migrants. That's why, also comforted by the visit of Pope Francis, we must work to bring man back to the center of society and development." That's what Father Maurizio Giorgianni, a Missionary of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who arrived in South Korea in January 1993, told Asia News.

Speaking of his life, Fr. Maurizio says: "I was ordained in 1991 and after a year and a half I was  assigned my destination. Basically I have spent most of my priestly ministry, at least until today, in Korea. Jokingly, at times I say: I too am a Korean priest. "

Since arriving in the Asian country he has worked in different fields, but since 2006 his pastoral ministry has focused on migrant workers who choose the peninsula in search of work: "Since 2007 I have been working in particular with the Immigrant Centre in Gwangju, a small town not far from Seoul that falls within the diocese of Suwon. the Centre is frequented mostly by Filipino workers. Almost all of these migrants work in factories and some of them (perhaps 30%) have visas that have expired. According to Korean immigration law, a foreigner cannot stay in the country for more than seven years, even although he may have a regular contract of employment." At the end of the contract, as a rule, you should return to your country of origin: "But often, between choosing to return to a situation of absolute poverty and staying illegally but continuing to earn, the most common choice is to stay."

In this context, Advent and Christmas are special times: "The Pope's visit to South Korea, last August, brought a lot of hope, not only to Catholics, but to the whole of society. With his words, and especially with his gestures, Francis, called everyone back to the values of truth, honesty and help for those who suffer. The Pope focused attention on the importance of not being indifferent to man, in every circumstance."

This message "is particularly apt for the Korean situation. People look for truth and honesty, especially in the ruling class, and seek solidarity with those who suffer. An example of this thirst can be found in the Sewol tragedy (the ferry that sank in April 2014, killing more than 300 people, most of them students). Today the population suffers not only for the deaths caused by that event, but mainly because the real responsibility of the tragedy is constantly obscured by non-transparent policies and by interests that favor the powerful to the detriment of the weaker classes." This state of affairs was overturned by the visit of Francis: "The Pope awoke consciences and showed that it is the person, and not economic gain, that must be put at the center."

Fr. Maurizio continues: "I too, like all Koreans, am always a little in a hurry. So I always prepare for Advent and for Christmas with the people who are close to me. I spend most of my time with the  immigrants. We have many activities together, but I realized that sometimes common activities leave little space for personal relationships. This year I decided to devote more time to migrants in their ordinary moments. So I prepared two rooms in the center , where four or five people at a time may come to spend the weekend to rest and get out of the factory. They can prepare the food they like best, invite their friends and spend some time in peace. I am with them and I'm happy to see them relaxed. With a simple relationship you become friends, you get closer. "

This is why, he says, "I do not feel I have to set out a 'pastoral program' just for them, but rather  share these moments with them. We talk, we joke and teach each other things telling our personal stories. Sometimes they speak with their families on their smart phones, and if I am there,  they introduce me to their children. From here true dialogue begins. I have understood that by doing so you create a true community. We gather every Saturday night to pray together. And others join our little group after finishing their jobs, they want to be with us a little."

In this light, the Nativity's message of hope for Korea "is the centrality of the person. This is, in my opinion, the most important message. Here in Korea, unfortunately, the person does not seem to be at the center, but rather is absorbed into collectivity. Moreover, man takes second place after  money, ferocious competition, the desire to always reach higher than others. But Jesus tells us that he who wants to be first must put himself last. The human person has an immense dignity because everything that is done to the person is done to Him."




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