Christmas in Seoul

By Fr Seán Conneely

Columban Fr Sean Conneely, ordained in Ireland in 1969 and working in Korea since then, looks back over the 2012 Advent preparation/ celebrationat the Columban Mission Centre in Seoul, South Korea.

Who was Christ like this year?  How Christlike was any of us during the past year?

At Christmas each year the church celebrates the birth of Christ, the baby boy born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago. God become human to live in our midst to show His love for us.

To help prepare for the liturgy of Christmas we gathered in semi darkness in the main hall of our Columban Mission Centre in Seoul in the Advent spirit of waiting in expectation for the coming of our Saviour. We read some of the main readings from the prophet Isaiah from the daily Masses of Advent and sing Advent hymns. We then moved to the Christmas readings. A young couple with their own children carried the “baby Jesus” in slowly as the gospel was read.

Christmas flash mob in Myongji Hospital, Korea

As the congregation came forward to pay homage to the child in the manger we sang the appropriate Christmas hymns. After some silent reflection we watched a PowerPoint presentation of important events of the last year that relate to the meaning of Christmas in our lives today.

With Christmas coming at the end of the year I like to avail of the occasion of the Christmas liturgy to reflect on and ask ourselves how we have lived Christ's Gospel during the past year. I picked the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 4, verses 14-22, as a theme for our PowerPoint reflection for 2012. In Luke 4 Jesus tells the people what His mission on earth was: To heal the sick, set captives free, share the Good News with the poor.

Luke 4:14-22 (New American Bible, Revised Edition).

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news of him spread[a] throughout the whole region. He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all.
The Rejection at Nazareth.He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom[c] into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?”

Last year (2012) was a special year in Korea and in many other countries across the world. Many leaders came forward to run as the Presidents of their countries and promised the people how they would set up their “Kingdom”, what their reign would look like. Wars and violence raged on across the world, there were typhoons, floods and many poor and destitute people suffered many calamities. Huge social and economic problems were front page news on a daily basis.

The world today is not much different in such matters than in Christ's time. I felt an important question for us at Christmas to ask was: Were the leaders we choose trying to bring about the Reign of God as in Luke 4 or were they just caring for their own cronies and safe-guarding their own power? Do they plan to set captives free, care for the sick by having good medical programmes, have the good news of faith, truth and justice in their education policies?

Christmas Songs in the Market, Bucheon, a satellite city of Seoul

We looked at some people in power across the world in church and states and ordinary people who in their daily lives seem to be doing their part to set up the kingdom of God here and now and of course as always ask what can I and am I doing?

At the offertory people brought up gifts and symbols and offered prayers that related to our theme in Luke 4.

You can't have Christmas without some fun and joy for the children. Before the final blessing two men in Santa clothes gave out gifts to all.

Amidst the joy and laughter our choir spontaneously led us all in a Korean rendition of Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer and other Christmas songs.

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, sung in Korean by the Wonder Girls

Each year we donate the offertory collection to some urgent cause in our mission countries. Before Christmas this year the Island of Mindanao, in the Philippines, where Columban missionaries work, was devastated by a monster typhoon that ruined the banana crop, destroyed homes and roads and bridges. Our congregation donated generously as they always do, in the spirit of sharing and love of neighbour.


There is no real festivity in Korea without Duk Guk - Special rice dumpling soup. A group of women, as usual, prepared the food from early in the day for all in attendance. It was much appreciated as it was a cold, cold night. We had some to spare and that was shared with the Filipino migrant workers that had their ceremonies and festivities after we had finished.

We hope and pray that the spirit of sharing and caring will last with us each year at Christmas.

Popular Christmas Songs sung in Korean by soprano Sumi Jo and children’s choir

Columban Fr Sean Conneely had been a missionary in Korea since 1969.