9th Asia-Pacific Common Study: A Gift of Dominican Vocation

9th Asia-Pacific Common Study: A Gift of Dominican Vocation

It is the dream of many brothers in our studentate to come to Korea: the land of Christian martyrs, the powerhouse of technological giants, the home of K-Pop and drama, and the culinary haven of kimchi, bulgogi, and soju! It was just a dream for me and my brothers from the developing world to visit this land once known as the Hermit Kingdom. That dream became a reality when it was announced  last year that the 9th Asia-Pacific Dominican Common Study would be held in Seoul, South Korea. I was fortunate to belong to that group due to join this much-awaited annual Dominican experience in our region.

This year's common study was held at St. Dominic's house at Suyu-dong, Gangbuk district, the northern  part of Seoul on July 5 until July 30. Though the presence of the friars in Korea goes back twenty-two years ago, this Dominican house itself was newly constructed. It was designed to accommodate the professed members on one wing and small groups of retreatants or seminar attendees in the other wing named the St. Thomas Aquinas Center. By Korean standards, it is a modest three-story building, but for the participants coming from

The developing countries, it is like a home with five-star accommodations complete with air-conditioning and elevators.

The common study which began in our region  in  2008  aims  to  gather  young Dominicans (solemnly professed brothers, deacons and  newly ordained  priests) to study together the mission of the Order and the challenges it faces in  the  Asia-Pacific region. Seventeen brothers from 4 provinces (the Holy Rosary Province, Vietnam, Philippines, and India), and the Vice-province of Pakistan lived together for almost a month as an international Dominican students' community, sharing their lives, vocation stories and aspirations. It is fervently hoped that the actual experience of living together and the bonds of friendship fostered would lead to real collaboration across provinces in the region.

In this 9th Common Study, Br. Edmund Nantes, OP of the Philippine Province who has been involved in this endeavor since its inception served as the Master of Students or elder companion to the brothers. The program that   focused on the theme "The Gift of Dominican Vocation" during its first week began with a recollection.

Br. Nantes drew the attention of the brothers to the key elements of Dominican spirituality already enshrined in the Fundamental Constitution of the Order. In line with the theme, each brother was given the opportunity to share their vocation stories with the renewed awareness that this Dominican vocation is a gift received from God for the Order and the good of the Church.

Two Dominican brothers guided the second week. Br. Enrico Gonzales, OP of the Philippine Province zeroed in on the basic philosophical and theological teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas. Br. Gonzales emphasized that the key to the metaphysics of St. Thomas is the realization that the  Supreme  Being, among other  understandings,   is  a  "Being  For:' Mirroring the Creator, so too men, women, and the rest of creation are beings for others and the utter Other. The implications of this "aha moment" have profound impact on how we live in our world awash with selfies and big egos. Br. Amirtha Raj, OP of the Indian Province, on the other hand, shared his expertise in human psychological  development.  His  lectures covered a wide range of topics from human relationships, sexuality and growth to the various current  issues and  crises in  religious life. He also gave us some homiletic tips as a kind ofbonus to his input on human formation. Together with Br. Nantes, Br. Raj is a regular resource person of the Common Study.

Justice and Peace was the focus of the third week and its resource person is Br. Mike Deeb, OP of South Mrican Vice-Province. Br. Deeb is the Order's promoter  of Justice and  Peace as well as the Order's permanent  delegate to the United  Nations.  His  involvement  in  the students' movement during the apartheid  and his work as chaplain to the International Young Catholic  Students  prepared  him  well to  this task. He pointed to us that Jesus' preaching is indeed the preaching of justice and peace.  He facilitated in mapping the various forms of injustice that plague our own countries and he encouraged us to actively become part of the solution even in our own little ways.  To put context to our  discussions, concrete issues of justice and  peace in Korea was shared  by Fr. Patrick Cunningham,  a Columban father who leads    the    peace    movement    against    the militarization  of Jeju, the  southern  island  in South  Korea. He also accompanied us in the peaceful demonstration in front of the Japanese Embassy demanding  justice for  the "comfort women" of World War II. For more than  20 years, every Wednesday, various groups  have persistently rallied around a spot where now stands a bronze statue of a seated young lady, symbol of all the women abused as sexual slaves. The weekly rallies will stop only after a formal apology from the Japanese government for abuses to the Korean "comfort women".

The last week of the program was dedicated to Inter-religious Dialogue. The first thing we did was to have a taste of monastic life in the Buddhist monastery close to our Dominican house. Under  the  guidance  of two  Buddhist nuns from Hwagye Temple, we had an austere but mindful lunch. We also did some sitting and walking meditation. A tea ceremony capped the day-stay in  the  Buddhist monastery. Guiding our  reflections during  the third  week was Fr. Santiago Sanz Gonzales, OP of the Holy Rosary Province. He was once a missionary in South Korea and Japan and is presently doing mission in East Timor. He discussed some major religions which he himself personally encountered like Shintoism in Japan, Confucianism in Korea, and animism in East Timor. He also led discussions on the rise of new cults and sects in many countries. Another Buddhist monk, Sun Up, was invited to en lighten us about Buddhist meditation and how it may help us in the quest for an answer to the of "Who am I?"

Visiting Korea would not be complete without encountering its people and going to some places of interest. Br. John Kim, OP, the local coordinator of this Common Study, made sure  that  this  is fulfilled. Together  with  our beloved Korean brothers, Peter and Tobiah, our local coordinator organized trips to various places in Seoul such as the Changdeokgung Palace, the Cheonggyechon stream, Seoul Tower, and the markets districts of Insa-dong and Namdaemun. Never forgetting Korea's Catholic roots, we visited and prayed at Myeong-dong Cathedral, considered to be the birthplace  of Catholicism  in  Korea. We also visited Joeldu-san, the memorial shrine of the Korean Catholic martyrs led by St. Andrew Kim-Taegon, the first Korean priest. We paid a visit also to the Dominican sisters of the Religious Missionaries of St. Dominic who provided for us an overnight accommodation and an unforgettable meal of the tastiest bulgogi in the country. We celebrated the Eucharist with the Dominican nuns of Our Lady of the Angels in the cool mountain slopes of Baeron.

One of the greatest privileges this Common Study has received was the presence of no less than Br. Bruno Cadore, OP, the Master of the Order himself. The last days of the program was spent with the Master, and with the Socius for the Asia Pacific, Br. Gerard Francisco Timoner, OP as well as the Dominican family in Korea. After listening to each of our stories and aspiration, Bro. Bruno spoke about the importance of emotions in religious life, and the grace that is the source and inspiration towards harmony in the Order despite our differences. He also encouraged  us to find  new ways to preach that answers the needs of our time as St. Dominic did in his time.

Br. Enrico Gonzales in his lectures said that St. Thomas is a gift of God to the Order and that St, Thomas is the gift of the Order to the Church. Somehow this Common study has helped us to discover that we are gifts of God to the Order, and has encouraged us to continue to grow to become gifts of the Order to the Church. Indeed, what great blessing this is!

fr Valentius Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP


(8 September 2017)