There is something magical in the human heart that ignites that special warm feeling of doing good for others. Such is the case of a newly ordained missioner, Father Gerard Hammond who arrived in Pusan, South Korea, in 1960. He saw countless North Korean refugees still recovering from the effects of war. He recalls that people were starving, the result of extreme poverty. Hospital conditions were frightful.
Father Hammond’s first assignment saw the 26 year-old priest aiding refugees and orphans at the Maryknoll-run Korea Sacred Heart Orphanage in Cheongju. While helpful, he realized little replaces the love of parents. “When you are young, seeing that imprints in your whole life. As a missionary, it is essential to devote a life — especially minds and hearts and even our physical abilities–to people we came to serve.”
After serving much of his adult life in South Korean mission work now serves through Eugene Bell, a nonprofit foundation providing humanitarian and medical aid to North Koreans.
The Korean War (Police Action!) ended in 1953. Over 5 million soldiers and civilians were killed and left Korea divided to this day. Since the war, no Catholic priest or sister has lived in the North.
For Father Hammond his visits to North Korea is a pilgrimage because the land is sacred due to the number of martyrs, including Maryknoll Bishop Patrick Byrne, Sister Agneta Chang, Korean Bishop Hong Yong-ho and many Christians who died for their faith. He said the government would not allow to evangelize directly but to show compassion and build bridges with people who may not know what a priest is. “Sometimes I feel like Moses; I’ll never see the promised land….But someone else someday will.”
He continues to aid the sick (tuberculosis (MDR-TB) is the biggest killer in the country. We have cured over 70%, while world-wide the rate is only 48%. “There is no retirement in a relationship based on love.”
“My love for the North Korean refugees is what has kept me going as a missioner. The affirmation of the Korean people and be with those suffering in both North and South Korea are sources of strength.”
(We often witness the corruption and immoral behavior of some in government and rarely come to recognize that it is often the humble and decent among us that makes life worth living and hope for all our Salvation; the Bible says that blessed are the peacemakers. In Father Hammond along with his many brothers and sisters, the truth and justice will make us all free. He, you, and I may not come to see it fulfilled…but someday it will be witnessed by those who come after us in all the Lord’s Glory.)