Therese Park

Blessings amid the Korean War


Sixty years have passed since North Korea launched a surprise attack on its other half and shook the nation with sheer terror.

During the three-year-long war, more than three million people were killed, including 54,000 Americans. Ten times as many people lost their homes. Many books have been written about the evil of the war and the destruction it caused in a faceless country in the Far East six decades ago.

But looking back, I, a Korean-American, am compelled to realize that the almighty might have had a special plan for some people, including our family.

About this time of year in 1950, Pusan, my hometown off the Pacific coast, had turned into a boiling pot as the South Korean government moved in and promoted the area to the temporary capital of South Korea. All school buildings were confiscated by the government or the military. Our elementary school moved to a mountain slope where no roof protected us from rain or the merciless sun, while the military turned our three-story school building into a makeshift hospital.

So many refugees were pouring into the port city that the government ordered all homeowners to make room for refugees in their homes in the spirit of sharing the national tragedy equally. Our parents accepted two families, three adults and two children, and they moved into our large traditional Korean home surrounded by a brick wall. But some nights, strangers invited themselves into our courtyard rather than sleeping on the street. Fights broke out among them, and our shoes, clothes from the clothesline and any edible things from the kitchen were stolen.

The Pusan Catholic dioceses cried, too, asking churchgoers to please help shelter homeless religious men and women. Our parents, devout Catholics, decided to help the diocese, probably to secure their tickets to heaven later on, rather than tolerating thieves and trouble makers. They might also have thought that their four boys and three girls would be safer with religious folks instead of the war-battered refugees. The refugees were quickly replaced by two priests and six nuns in civilian clothes.

At age 9, I had no clue that a simple home could turn into the temple of Jesus, but that was exactly what was happening.

Workers came in and pounded nails into the walls of the front room, making it into a chapel with a wooden crucifix. Furniture from Father’s office was transported to the storage room, which turned into a rectory after new straw mats were laid onto the floor. The sisters settled into Father’s office that was now empty except for a stack of sleeping mats my mother had provided for them.

Then came what I’d call spiritual shock.

We kids were ordered to attend one of the Masses celebrated by the two priests every morning before going to school. We had thought walking 40 minutes to the mountain school was an ordeal, without mentioning the condition of the school on bare dirt. But now, we had to sit through a Mass celebrated in Latin first. But at the time democracy was not yet introduced to us, all we could was obey our dictators.

Confessing sins every week was worst of all that I endured as a child.

Once the priest lectured me to tell Jesus only what I’ve sinned, instead of telling the sins of my numerous siblings.

How could I have sinned without them? They made my life absolutely miserable.

Sometimes, feeling pressured, I made up sins, but the priest always knew what I was fabricating. He’d chuckle and say, “No, you didn’t steal money from your teacher!” or “You couldn’t have kicked the neighbor’s dog that’s bigger than you!” Our mother, who had an extraordinary ability to hear every little noise in the house, must have heard my confession, because she said that not telling the truth to Jesus was sin itself.

But as the story goes, God must have known what he was doing.

While we girls sang hymns with the sisters at Sunday masses, my three brothers served as altar boys, jabbering in Latin, ringing bells at the right time, pouring the blood of Christ into the chalice, and sometimes finishing the leftover wine from the chalice when the service ended.

Two Christmases and two Easter Sunday Masses were celebrated in our home church, and some neighbors joined us instead of walking to the parish church two miles away.

A decade later, my eldest brother took the vow of priesthood and the three girls, including myself, became professional musicians.

For many years afterwards, our mother took pride in telling people that, in the midst of the devastating war, God blessed us abundantly, turning our home into his temple.

I still wonder about it.

The Kansas City Star
"Heartland Honor Flight is all about showing our gratitude to those who fought for our country's freedom," the president John Doole says.
During the Korean War, long segregation in the U.S. military ended.
"To win, you must know your enemy," wrote Chinese Ancient General Sun-Tzu (544-496 B.C.)
...their beloved country in whose honor they defended my helpless homeland in the Far East six decades ago has become my own beloved motherland.
To the parishioners at Curé of Ars Catholic Church in Leawood, their pastor is a healer, confessor, teacher and compassionate friend who rejoices with them at happy times and grieves with them at times of loss and injury.
“The truth about Jesus Christ reached Korean soil in 1784," Pope John Paul II said during the canonization of 103 Korean Martyrs in 1984. In a most marvelous way, divine grace moved your ancestors first to an intellectual quest for the truth of God’s word and then to a living faith in the risen Christ..."
During the trip to Korea together, our mother-daughter roles were reversed. My daughter seemed to think that I needed her care, not the other way around.
The Kansas City Philharmonic enriched the lives of many during its 49 years.
Martin Luther King Jr.'s Messages on Violence
A Korean Grandma and her American Grandkids
Average people made the world we live in today.
Albert Schweitzer said, “You must give some time to your fellow man. Even if it’s a little thing…for which you get no pay but the privilege of doing it.”
Pilgrims are everywhere here on the square of the Basilica of Our Lady, some are walking on their knees and some are kneeling at the glass-walled Chapel of Apparition where the Blessed Virgin appeared to three shepherd children in 1917.
Woodcarvers find fun, therapy and friendship
Behind a tough cookie, there's a culture that nourished her soul
Not biting is a sign of appreciation
After Tucsan shooting rampage
Without a healthy brain, one cannot live a healthy life
Thomas Jefferson once said, “The tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of patriots.”
Gen. Douglas MacArthur said, "In War, there is no substitute for victory."
Gratitude is not only the greatest of all virtues but the parent of all others.
Our home became a church when homeless priests and nuns moved in with us.
Victor Hugo's view of his old age
Forgetfulness comes with aging
Learning is for all ages.
Mixture of feelings about seeing Amercans' departure from my country Korea
Foreigner's view of today's China
The "Wake up call" isn't only for Chinese parents but for all American parents.
The Korean War isn't "Forgotten"
I once had compassion for all caged birds. But since I became a bird-owner, my opinion about them has changed.
South Korea today gives thanks to all American troops who fought to preserve its peace at the cost of their lives.
Pope John Paul II was the first pope to visit South Korea in 1984--to canonize 103 Korean martyrs
The seeds of the Church is the blood of the martyrs.
Column/ Kansas City Star
Father Emil Kapaun: recipient of Medal or Honor 2013
The U.S. government purchased Alaska in 1867 for only $7.2 million dollars from Russia, that includes 500 million acres of land with 3 million streams full of fish and otters, and tall snow-capped mountains providing shelter for bears, moose, mountain sheep and more.
The Best Times
He liberated music from a cloistered form set by earlier composers...
The racial discrimination the white American inflicted upon their black neighbors.
Magazine Article
Traditional Chinese medical doctors have been using bird-nests for centuries to treat respiratory ailments such as asthma and bronchitis, to rejuvenate skin, and to boost energy for both young and old.
It takes courage to deal with the human condition called "aging."
Feature article
Inchon Landing was one of the most successful operations in modern military history.
Magazine Articles
Korean War Prisoner-of War Story