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Marist Bulletin - Number 239


Interview with Brother Alfredo Herrera, Assistant Director of the Orientation Programme for the missionaries of the Project Mission Ad Gentes

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Brother Alfredo Herrera, has been appointed by the General Council to implement the project “Mission ad gentes”, defined and presented to the Brothers Provincial during the VII General Conference.
Brothers Michael Flanigan and Rene Reyes will assume the responsibility of Delegates of the Brother Superior General for this project. Brothers Tim Leen and Alfredo Herrera will be respectively Director and Assistant Director of the orientation programme that will last for five months. This programme will take place in Davao City in the Philippines.
Brother Alfredo belongs to the Province of México Central and has worked as a missionary in the District of Korea for more than thirty years. He has been District Superior for three years and a formator in Korea and at MAPAC.
The four brothers, Tim, Alfredo, Rene and Michael, started a series of work meetings on the 16th January in the General House in Rome, together with Brother Luis García Sobrado, to organise the contents of the orientation programme and the lines of action for this year.
The project “Mission ad gentes” is a result of the energy for mission promoted by the 20th General Chapter based on the principles of solidarity and international co-operation. The operative plan consists in sending on mission a significant number of brothers in the next few years, to Asia as a priority, but also to Marist Provinces in need.


Brother Alfredo, it’s thirty years since you left Mexico to go to work in Korea.
In reality it is thirty-one years as I spent one year in the United States.

To learn English?
Yes because we needed English to then learn Korean.

Which is more difficult to learn, Korean or English?
Oh! There is no comparison. Korean is immensely more difficult because the order of words is totally different to that in Latin languages.

What have been the highlights of your time in Korea?
I arrived in Korea in 1975. The Province had committed itself to send eight brothers. I was one of them.
The first year was devoted to the study of the language. I could give some occasional courses in Spanish at the University of Foreign Studies where they mainly teach languages. That gave me a chance to get to know some young people from the start.
I could say that the following chapter was my work with the deaf in the school in the city where we were living. The Director of the deaf school saw foreigners in the street and asked Brother Alfonso Wimer to give some lessons in English. That’s how we started. Brother Alfonso Wimer gave lessons in the morning and as he wasn’t free in the afternoon he asked me to take his place for the English lessons. Obviously, the deaf had learnt only a little English, but I had learnt hand sign language. Little by little I became interested in the situation of deaf people in the country thinking that it could be a suitable apostolate for the brothers.
Thus, I started to do a bit of catechetics with the deaf people and I worked with them for twelve years, such that I could obtain a title as a specialist teacher. I thought that would be my mission since the brothers were planning to open a school for the deaf, but it did not happen for various reasons, one of which was the lack of help from international groups.
My second stage was formation; I worked with young people at the time that the first Formation Guide was being written. To understand it well and to be aware of its importance, there was a very interesting two month session in Nairobi for the Masters of Postulants of Asia and Africa. During the session, one of the directors of the course suggested that I do a one-year formation course at the Gregorian and so the following year, with the support of Brother Charles Howard, Superior General, I came to Rome. I left Rome to work in MAPAC in the Philippines for six years; I then returned to Korea where I was District Superior for three years. Later, I continued to work in the accompaniment of religious in Korea.

The brothers in Korea have also worked with lepers. Have you also worked in this field?
No. I have not really had the chance to work with the lepers. When they started this community, I was working with the deaf and living in another community.

What are the challenges for the Marists in Korea?
It has been and remains still the apostolate. For from the start we have been very aware that the education system favoured by the State was not very educational but mainly competitive. That’s why we decided not to open a conventional school. We tried to work with young people in other areas, with the deaf, in a study centre at Andong which was going very well but which had to be closed due to political reasons. We have tried to open “alternative schools” which are small schools that give a more personalised attention to students and where education focuses on the students’ interests, abilities and concerns, but that demands a lot of financial resources which we do not have.
We worked with lepers even though this was not really our Marist charism. But the bishop of the diocese wanted the brothers to look after the hospital and children from six leper colonies in the diocese. We started this work, but bit-by-bit it was the situation of the children of the lepers that became the determining factor. They should not be separated from other citizens any more than they need to.

At present, how many brothers are there in the District of Korea?
Twenty-four of whom four are Mexican. The others are all Korean.

Shortly after the arrival of the brothers in Korea, there were some professions. This news attracted a lot of attention in the Institute.
Yes, two years after the arrival of the brothers, some boys showed interest in our vocation. This year we are celebrating thirty-five years since the arrival of the first two brothers in Korea. Several Koreans have taken the road to become Marists but we have never passed the magical number of thirty. We have arrived at this number but we have not been able to maintain it.

Is the Marist presence in Korea symbolic, insignificant, exemplary?
We could use these three adjectives to describe it. It is insignificant in the sense that we are few in number; we have not had a phenomenal impact in the country. But I believe it is also very significant because non-priestly religious are unknown here and even unknown by the Church. The presence of a lay brother, non-priest, is very significant for the Korean Church which is very active but is also very clerical. The priest occupies a privileged place. On the contrary, our presence as brothers brings us into contact with a lot of people and gives a different vision of religious life and of the consecrated life. In this sense, I believe that it is very significant. It is also symbolic, because the Korean Church needs this evangelical simplicity, without levels or honours, where the equality of all is stressed. Our presence as lay brothers is necessary and important.

The option of the brothers in Korea is to not have their own works but to take the works that are offered to them and which are already functioning.
This has been our reality but not necessarily our policy, but we see the need for it and the Korean brothers insist a great deal that we have our own works which would give us a bit of solidity, reputation and identity. In fact, Brother John Vianney, District Superior, has insisted a great deal that we concentrate our apostolate directly on the young people to offer them the identity of a religious brother which still does not exist in Korea. For the Mexican brothers who live there our identity is obvious, but that is not so much the case for the Korean brothers.

What are the interests of Korean youth?
In general, we could say that Korean society is very influenced by capitalism and the secondary school students have one ambition, to go to university. It’s the classical ambition, encouraged by the parents and promoted by the government. Until recently, this was their only concern.

Is that the reason why you say that the official system of education in Korea is not educational?
Exactly. The secondary school aims at obtaining a diploma. The students leave home at six o’clock in the morning to go to study at school and they return at ten o’clock in the evening. They have nearly no other activity other than lessons.

Not even sporting activities?
Only the sporting elite has specialised schools for this. Besides that, there are no other activities. Recently some young people have been interested in means of communication. There are a good number of young people who reject this model. That’s why the “alternative schools” which refuse this educational system have appeared. The parents have not warmed to this initiative because they fear that their children will not integrate well into society. That is the common point of view. Once at university, the most common objective of young people is to obtain a job and to live well financially. I believe that what is missing at the educational level is to open horizons, to give young people that possibility of rendering a social service, of doing something where they can find more depth and meaning in their life. That is a very Marist task.

Are young vocations also interested in going to university?
In Korea, religious vocations are manifested among adults. Our aspirants are, for example, in their early thirties. Also, all men must do their military service, generally after the first year of university. They return to university afterwards, then they work for a certain time and then they question their choice of life. Our young brothers, some of whom already have post-graduate degrees, don’t aspire so much to go to university as to work and be with young people.

Do the young people accept the Gospel?
The mentality of young people has changed a lot since our arrival. In the seventies and eighties, the Church had a strong influence on them; I think that is because the Church promoted the democratic movement in the country. It drew a lot of social prestige and attracted young people. Once the democratic regime was established and the influence of the media (TV, Internet) was strengthened, the attraction of the Church lessened. Before, the churches were full of young people. Currently all the Korean dioceses have taken on working with young people as a pastoral priority, because they are no longer coming often to the Church.

How many Catholics in Korea?
About three million.

How many dioceses?
Fifteen. Currently all the bishops are Korean. There is only one French bishop who is retired. There are a lot of priests, about 2,400 for the Catholics of the country. With so many diocesan priests, religious orders have withdrawn from parishes.

In the perspective of the restructuring of Marist works in Asia, will the Province of México Central continue to have a role for the confrères of Korea?
It seems not. In fact, we have just finished an enquiry by the General Council of the brothers in Asia. Two possibilities emerged: to create one or two Provinces in Asia. The first would include Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India (which has started already since the 1st January this year) and the other would include what is currently the Province of the Philippines, that of China and the District of Korea.
In January and February 2006, the Council is going to decide which model to adopt to start the concrete work of restructuring.

Could Korea be self-sufficient in terms of finances?
For some years now, there has been a fund that allows the District to receive money that the Province of México Central currently contributes. I hope that with restructuring we could organise things differently. That will be a little difficult. I do not know how that will be done, but I think that this will be an occasion to wake up a bit.

Enriched by your past, you are committing yourself in this project of mission ad gentes; how do you see that?
I am very grateful for the invitation that I have received. I have doubts as to my capacity to realise this task, but I believe that I will be able to contribute something. This project is going to be very useful for restructuring which will allow us to balance our tasks and to harmonise our efforts.

What will be your particular responsibility in this project?
We will form a team of three. I will be the Assistant Director in the team for the orientation programme for the missionaries. Our task will mainly be to accompany the confrères in their discernment and their spiritual and missionary growth. The discernment will be particularly important to clarify the missionary call and to find the best place where each can fulfil his mission.

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