|Dae Kim, M.M.|
It was during "Boys' Night Out" for the male teachers and students of St. Paul Chong Ha-Sang Korean Catholic Church Sunday school program in Flushing, N.Y., where I serve as a weekend assistant. While the female teachers and students went ice skating, the guys went bowling. I went along, being not only a teacher for the adult confirmation class but also a mediocre bowler.
Three years before, Kim had been one of six young adults I prepared for baptism and confirmation. Born in 1975 in Busan, Korea, Kim immigrated to the United States with his parents, Kwan Mo Kim and Sang Soon Pak, when he was 10. Looking back, he sees the experience of being uprooted from his native culture and adjusting to new life in a foreign country as laying the groundwork for his mission vocation.
Kim's parents had fallen away from Catholicism and did not baptize him as an infant. In their new country they reacquainted themselves with the Church and, overcoming their teenage son's rebelliousness, insisted he attend Mass at least for Christmas and Easter.
An above-average student, he attended New York City's prestigious Stuyvesant High School, where he developed a love for science and math. He went on to study chemical engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology and New York University. While in his final year of studies, he had what he calls his "epiphany."
Fearing he might fail an important test, which would jeopardize his chance to graduate, he stopped into the university chapel to sit, think and pray. He passed his test, graduated and decided it was time to be baptized. That's how he joined my class in 2002.
Kim put his newfound faith into service by volunteering as a teacher's assistant in our Sunday school program. He accepted my invitation to attend a Maryknoll Vocation Discernment retreat during Holy Week. I left the rest to the Holy Spirit.
Two years passed and then at Whitestone Bowling Lanes, Kim approached me between games and announced, "I'm ready to apply to Maryknoll."
Before entering the seminary program at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago,
|Ordination to Diaconate|
For his overseas training, Kim spent two-and-a-half years in Cochabamba, Bolivia, which, he says, challenged and developed his love for serving the people of God through mission. "My job was to aid them and guide them to never let their human spirit be squashed by their poverty and difficulties," he says. He worked in a Jesuit apostolate teaching Bolivian young people how to use computers and access the Internet.
But they also taught him, inspiring him when they would linger after class to talk with him about matters of life and faith.
It was while giving a retreat for young people in Bolivia that the Maryknoll seminarian realized the power of God working through our weakness, as St. Paul says. Encouraged to share whatever hardship they were facing, the young men opened up with an honesty and vulnerability uncharacteristic of men from a culture of machismo. This led Kim to share his own feelings of loneliness as a missioner and an outsider. "As an introvert, I am not comfortable sharing such intimate details about my life," he admits. "But I was so moved by everyone's honesty I couldn't help but feel empathetic to what they are going through."
In Bolivia, Kim also developed an appreciation for the way people express their faith through fiestas, often blending Catholic and native customs, such as combining devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary with those honoring the Pachamama, or Earth Mother. Often criticized by more traditional Catholics, these expressions of faith challenged Kim to reserve judgment so he could be open to how people express their relationship to the divine. As a missioner in the modern world, he believes such practices ultimately enrich the universal Church.
On June 1, Dae Wook Kim will begin the latest chapter of his life as a Maryknoll missioner priest, a journey that started in Korea and led to South America, by way of a bowling alley in Flushing, N.Y.
by Joe Venerozo, M.M.