SAN DIEGO — The Korean Catholic community celebrated a traditional Thanksgiving Mass with Cardinal Robert McElroy presiding, two weeks after he was elevated to that rank at the Vatican.
The members nearly filled their home parish of St. Columba in Serra Mesa, including the balcony. Many women wore colorful long dresses, known as hanbok. The members joyfully applauded the cardinal when he was introduced at the noon-time Mass on Sept. 11. Afterward, he joined them for a warm reception, which included champagne and cake.
“You stand as a testimony of the faith of the Church in Korea, and you particularly stand as testimony of the faith in the Church in Korea as it has taken root here in the United States and in the local Church of San Diego,” the cardinal told the members. “I give thanks for all that you do in God’s name, in trying to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ when it’s very difficult to do so. I give thanks especially for your prayers for me.”
At the reception, one the community’s leaders, Yongchol Pak, said that members had offered special prayers for the cardinal in recent weeks and would continue to do so in the next few weeks. At the same time, the community invited his prayers “so we can continue our culture of faith right here.”
He explained that the community holds the annual Mass to give thanks for a bountiful harvest and honor their ancestors — and also to pray for future generations. Children dressed in traditional attire presented the cardinal with gifts at the end of the Mass.
Korean Catholics make up one of the thriving cultural communities at the Diocese of San Diego. The community, led by a priest who is designated by the Church in South Korea, celebrates Masses and offers faith formation in the Korean language. Currently, Father Paul Kim leads the community. He accompanied Cardinal McElroy for the special Mass, as did Father Michael Pham, the diocese’s Vicar General, who leads the Office for Ethnic and Intercultural Communities, and Father Rolando Gabutera, the parish pastor.
Cardinal McElroy proclaimed the homily in English based on the Gospel reading (Luke 15:1-32). Father Kim followed him and read it in Korean.
“The parable of the prodigal son is one of the most beautiful passages from the Gospels,” the cardinal began, “for it speaks to us of the boundless mercy of God, which is showered upon us as a grace, and of our need to incorporate that boundless forgiveness into our own lives.”
He recounted the parable of how a son had committed the most grievous sin that existed in his culture, squandering his entire inheritance on hedonistic living in a far-off land.
“Reflecting on his poverty and desperation, the son resolves to return to the father and family that he had abandoned,” the cardinal continued. “On the surface, he is seeking merely a place on his father’s lands that will allow him to live, but in reality, he is seeking forgiveness, a far greater gift …
“As he approaches his home, even before the sinful son has the chance to apologize, the father runs out of the house and is filled with joy. He embraces his son and welcomes him back into the family without ever confronting him with his own failures and betrayal.
“This is the extravagant forgiveness that God bestows upon each of us in our lives. It is not a begrudging forgiveness. It does not demand a price. It does not involve God constantly reminding us of our failure. The forgiveness of God is complete and unmerited. It is bestowed upon us whenever we are genuinely sorry and ask for it.
“One of the great tragedies of life is that so many men and women cannot comprehend the limitless nature of God’s forgiveness. They feel unforgiven and alienated from God because they cannot believe that the Lord will forgive them for grievous sins. They see themselves as beyond redemption.”
Several leaders of the diocese’s cultural communities attended the special Mass.
“This is the first time we’re experiencing Thanksgiving with our brothers and sisters in the Korean community,” said Luis Barajas, the president of the Diocesan Hispanic Commission, at the reception.
He said that Mass was “spectacular, especially the music, and the gifts they offered. We felt privileged to be able to share this day with them. We learned another way to thank God.”
Selma Johnson, the vice-chair of the Diocesan Commission for African American Catholics, said the Mass underscored for her how “God was very wise when He made different cultures.”
“I experienced how God allows us to serve Him in our language, in our customs,” she said. “This was excellent.”
Cenon Crisostomo, the vice-chair of the Diocesan Commission for Filipino Catholics, said it was the first time he had attended a Korean Mass.
“This was absolutely so awesome,” he said. “It was eye-opening that we, Christians, are meant to be together. The Diocese of San Diego is really united in faith.”