Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The Korean Walk

Gdansk, on the Baltic Coast of Poland, can claim the distinction of being the place where the Second World War started, and where the Cold War ended. Or can it? True, notwithstanding the odd 'cold snap' in relations between Russia and western countries, the days of Superpower confrontation are gone. But try telling the people of the Korean peninsular that the Cold War is over. Walking south from the centre of Seoul on Saturday i found my way blocked by more than one "U.S. military installation", not marked on tourist maps. At the free and excellent (not least as they've gone to the trouble of providing so much English translation) National Museum of Korea one can learn that the seventh to tenth centuries were a golden age of Korean civilisation; a time when Britons more or less still lived in caves. But there's scant coverage of Korean history after about 1700, and the 20th century is deemed too-hot-a-political-potato to even mention! By virtue of my earlier route on this pilgrimage, i'm particularly struck by the parallel in the histories of Korea (North and South) and Germany (East and West). Maybe this could be a "way in" to looking at the 20th century?
Fortress at Hwaseong, South Korea

Left: Our Lady of Vladimir. Right: Aerial view of the Shrine of Our Lady, Namyang
Finding places to sleep under a bridge and below the walls of a splendid 18th century fortress, yesterday i made my way at last to Namyang, the National Shrine of Our Lady in Korea, a place dedicated to prayer for peace and reconciliation. On a site where Korean Christians were martyred in the 19th century, the land was acquired piecemeal by the parish priest, and a really beautiful 'Rosary Way', through immaculately tended gardens, has been laid out around a sort of bowl created by fairly steep surrounding hills. Great big granite spheres represent each bead of the Rosary. An amazing thing is that from the air the Shrine bears an extraordinary resemblance to a famous Icon called Our Lady of Vladimir, also known as Our Lady of Tenderness - a little reproduction of which Matt Martin gave me before setting off! The priest who celebrated Mass today was delighted when i gave it to him (hope that's OK with you Matt - he's given me a marvellous picture of Our Lady of Namyang which i hope to give to you), and soon after i was enjoying a delicious free lunch and a free lift back here, to Seoul. Some readers might be a bit sceptical of course, but there it is. When the Pope arrived last year there was an outstanding cartoon in the Sunday Telegraph, of a man saying to his wife over breakfast; "The face of Richard Dawkins has appeared on my piece of toast!"

The best way to see Lake Baikal...
"A Walk to a Lake on the Way to a Church". That Lake was Baikal, which it was my tremendous privilege to see, in fulfilment of a long-cherished dream, last week. The 'Pearl of Siberia', it contains around 20% or more of the world's fresh water, having a surface area the size of Denmark and being unimaginably deep. On an excursion i caught a glimpse of a "Nerpa", the totemic fresh-water seal which is among a host of endemic species of flora and fauna. In conversation with a young Russian couple on board our boat i learnt that "Our president came here" - "Medvedev?", i asked; "No, the other one, what's his name, Putin..." I know it's only anecdotal, but that's not the sort of conversation you'd expect to have in a totalitarian state.
Siberian sparrow

The 'Hail Holy Queen' (Salve Regina) is often credited to Blessed Hermann of Reichenau, an 11th century Benedictine monk and brilliant scholar as well as composer, who spent much of his life in the Abbey of Reichenau, an island in Lake Constance;

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
Hail our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To Thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve;
to Thee do we send up our sighs,
mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate,
Thine eyes of mercy toward us;
and after this our exile,
show unto us the blessed fruit of Thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.
V. Pray for us O holy Mother of God,
R. that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

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