A missionary order founded in the middle Ages in France is sending their burgeoning number of vocations from Asia and especially South Korea to evangelize countries throughout the world.
“Our congregation has about 4,200 sisters, and we are serving 37 countries and we will expand 3 countries more this year” Mother Maria Goretti Lee, Superior of the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres, told CNA on March 18.
“We send missionaries out to all of Asia, Nepal, USA, France, Peru, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Canada and Australia. Most vocations come from Vietnam, then Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand. The sisters from Korea number about 1,000.”
The Mother Superior describes their charism as simple Christian “Charity.”
“It is all summed up in 'Simplicity' inspired by St. Paul’s who became 'all things to all' (1 Cor. 9, 22) in connection to 'Charity' rooted in the Gospel.”
“Our first mission consisted in working to improve the human and spiritual level of the villagers by educating the girls and visiting the poor and the sick.”
“We want to help the people around us, children, men and women to improve their human and spiritual development. We achieve that by taking care of the sick and of education. We are not limited by any kind of boundaries. As all to all, we do everything that society and the Church needs,” she added.
The sisters in Korea began their work caring for orphans as their first mission. “They realized that the children did not know much of Catholic tradition – Catholicism in Korea was very young – so they started planting the seed of the faith in the children’s minds, by teaching chants and catechism.”
“Today we also have a lot of social work centers, like centers for handicapped, migrants and social welfare centers – to help the poor to develop, as well as to let them live fully their human dignity.”
The order of the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres was founded in Chartres in 1696 by Father Louis Chauvet and expanded quickly, first in France then worldwide.
“The first missionaries arrived in Korea in 1888. Then we grew fast, so we had the division of two provinces in 1967, Seoul and Daegu, either overseeing about 500 sisters,” the Mother Superior explained.
Only in recent years has the order seen a slight decline in numbers, which Mother Goretti attributes to the general lack of formation for young people in society today.
“Young girls enter (the order) between 25 and 30 years of age. Unfortunately, they are sometimes not mature or formed enough. The education which they received from their family is lacking as well. Today some young parents are not well-informed enough how to raise their children. With all the media and entertainment youth are easily distracted,” she said.
Their order's solution was to introduce one more year of formation for “aspirants” hoping to join. Now “perpetual vows are usually taken after nine years of formation.”
Another safeguard against the modern-day lack of maturity, says Mother Goretti, is the positive cultural heritage of “Confucianism, which helps in developing social conduct and respect for elders.”
Named for the 5th century B.C. Chinese philosopher Confucius, the philosophical system focuses on the development of human virtues and an ethical life.
“But Confucianism is not a religion,” noted Mother Goretti. “It does focus on attitude and social education, but it does not offer a religious meaning. I think that people hunger for religion.”
She went on to note that the Catholic population in Korea is growing, due in no small part to the exemplary witness of Christians, past and present.
“We have many martyrs in history, and iconic people like Cardinal Stephen Kim, who was very famous and exemplary passed away some years ago. Also the priests and the sisters do good work, so the people come to the Church for help and advice.”
“In the last 30 years, especially after the visit of John Paul II to Korea, the number expanded by a lot. Also after his second visit for the Eucharistic Congress, the numbers grew again.”
Mother Goretti and her sisters now “wait anxiously” for Pope Francis’ visit to Korea, scheduled for August 14-18. Pope Francis is expected with great anticipation especially because of his style of leading by example.
“In our culture people can recognize holiness and an exemplary life, and when they encounter a person like this, they want to follow him,” she said.
While in Korea, the Pope will beatify 124 Korean martyrs, individuals whom Mother Goretti admires for their simple faith and perseverance.
“They did not know much about God, some of them did not even read the Bible. But after having encountered Jesus Christ, they kept the faith, and endured persecutions.”
She hopes that the example of these martyrs and the work of the sisters will help the young people of Korea to grow in their faith.
“Today the young people like everything to be very fast. But the Church asks for endurance. Young people sometime just want to participate in the events – but do not have a long-lasting faith,” lamented the Mother Superior.
“We help the young people to endure, we teach them the faith, pray the rosary, and have Bible studies.”