The division of North and South Korea has been a source of tension and conflict for decades. With military forces lined up along the border, the threat of renewed fighting always looms. It was into this climate of mistrust and separation that the Order of the Visitation of Saint Mary ventured, establishing a convent in South Korea in 2005.
Seeking to respond to St. John Paul II’s call to bring God’s love where faith is lacking, the sisters set their sights on the border region, hoping to pray for reconciliation. Despite the area’s poverty and hostility between the two Koreas, the nuns aimed to build a contemplative community as an instrument of peace and unity.
Despite being a developed country with strong economic resources, South Korea is still a mission field due to its short history of evangelization and small Catholic population.
For this reason, the establishment of communities dedicated to contemplation should be encouraged, especially in founding new churches. This is in line with the Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata, which states that "In countries where non-Christian religions are firmly established, the presence of the consecrated life acquires great importance, both through educational, charitable and cultural activities, and through the sign of the contemplative life" (n 58).
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The Order of the Visitation of Saint Mary sought to address the need for evangelization in South Korea. In 2005, a community from Spain moved to the country and initially lived in a small house with only four rooms. They urgently needed a suitable place for their contemplative lifestyle, so they requested funding from the New Evangelization Fund to build a monastery.
The New Evangelization Fund gave €20,000 in 2014. With the help of other institutions, the Monastery was blessed on October 31, 2015. The nuns were joined by Bishops, Priests, and many of the faithful who had helped with the construction.
With the help of benefactors, the monastery has adapted its work spaces, including a bakery and a host preparation area. It has also created four rooms for retreatants, who often include priests, religious, the faithful, and even the Bishop. With the help of Jesuit priests, the monastery has organized monthly retreats to spread devotion to the Sacred Heart. As the monastery is located on the border with North Korea, its greatest apostolate is prayer for the unity of these two countries, which have been in conflict for so many years.
First Korean Vocation
The Monastery's establishment has resulted in the arrival of the first Korean vocation, and other young people have expressed interest in joining the order.
The Church in Spain has helped spread the Gospel in Korea through the New Evangelization Fund. The sisters expressed their gratitude by saying, "We thank you with all our hearts, not only on our behalf but also on behalf of the Korean Church, for your generous help in building our beloved Visitation Monastery in these distant lands."
The decision to locate the monastery near the border was intentional, as the sisters sought to respond to St. John Paul II's call to bring God's love where faith is lacking. There can always be that one moment when the tension between the two Koreas turns into a new war. This is where the Visitation Sisters founded their monastery and have been praying for reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula for more than fifteen years.
When the border was established, “families were separated: the father stayed in the north and the mother in the south”, says Sister Ángela Mercedes to the Misión periodical. “Some died without having the opportunity to see their loved ones again in life.” The monastery is surrounded by military bases and the sisters often hear explosions during military exercises or tests. “It’s quiet and tense here, but we’re used to it,” says the nun.
A Missionary’s Tears
Five Colombian Visitation sisters moved to Korea in 2005 to fulfill Pope John Paul II's desire to bring God to places where love and faith are lacking. They initially settled in Busan, a large city in the south of the peninsula. The language barrier was a major challenge, as Korean is very different from Spanish. "I started writing in incomprehensible scribbles and had a very strong internal crisis," recalls Sister Ángela. A Franciscan monk consoled her, saying, "There is no missionary who hasn't cried at some point."
In addition to language difficulties, poverty was also a major problem. One day, a priest who was visiting the sisters asked them what they ate. The sisters remained silent, so he went to look in the fridge and found nothing. "He was very worried and started helping us," says Sister Ángela. "He sent us fruit, vegetables, and meat. We were very poor." Just when the sisters were starting to adjust to their new life, they learned that they had to leave Busan because the bishop was not planning to open any new communities.
Monastery on a Mountaintop
Despite all of the challenges they faced, the sisters never gave up on their mission to bring God to Korea. They eventually moved to a smaller city where they were able to continue their work. Today, they are still serving the people of Korea and helping to spread the word of God.
The Colombian nun recalled that it was a blow when she was told that there was a bishop who could receive them in the mountains near the border, but his diocese was poor and there would be practically nothing there. She replied, "If the diocese is poor and we are poor, we will understand each other very well." And so they went there.
In 2014, nuns began building a monastery on a mountaintop. The project is still ongoing. They designed the chapel so that when facing the tabernacle, one also faces North Korea. “No one knows what is happening in that country, that’s why we pray for them every day,” Sister Ángela explains. When asked if she could imagine setting foot in North Korea before she dies, she replied that it was her dream. “They say that complete unification is virtually impossible, but nothing is impossible for God. There are many martyrs on both sides of the border, and sooner or later the light will penetrate their hearts.”
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