South Korea. Discovering God

May 10, 2018

I learned with the poor that I am always in God and that no moment of life is without Him—because He is love and happiness but also pain and death. All of our precarious living is within the reach of a Merciful God. Father Vincenzo Bordo talks about his experience. 

A few days  ago, somebody asked me an unexpected question that caught me by surprise: “You are great; you have been doing many things for the poor, but what have you learned from them? What have they taught you?” “True”, I asked myself, “what did I learn in my life-pilgrimage with the street people and those who suffer?”

In 1992, when I finished the Korean language course, I asked in a Church assembly: “Where are the poor in this country?” The answer was: “In the city of Seong-Nam in the province of Gion-Gi-Do.” I packed up and went there. Since then, I have chosen those suburbs as my living environment, and those brothers and sisters as my fellow travel companions. My adventure with them started in that way.

At the beginning, endowed with my strong and bold youth, I tried to teach and offer everything I had learned during the long years spent studying the university books. After a while, I realised that all their problems were still there, unresolved as before, and we were still at the beginning of our journey. As I walked with them, I began to learn to keep my mouth shut and my ears open. From being able to listen, beautiful experiences were born, and it was possible to bring relief to many people. Together, we built significant human realities—but their pain was still there, unanswered, making embarrassing questions.

Without giving up and always at the poor’s side, I started to realise that my scholarly knowledge was exhausted. My strength and youthful enthusiasm were drained, but their provocative demands on their unjust existence, the afflictions and anxieties were still there without answers and challenged me strongly. At first, I tried to console them by saying: “God, the Emmanuel, is with us, He is next to us in our sufferings,” but the abandoned, the last, those who every day were tested by the pains and the anguish of life complained: “No, this is not right, this is insufficient. God can’t be just that.” One day, pressed by those unresolved questions, in a moment of mortal pain, I entered myself in the depths of a tremendous suffering and there I met a new face of God: not simply “a God who is in the suffering”, but “a God who is suffering”. At that point, everything gained a different meaning and was seen under a new light.

The moments of acute suffering and excruciating torment were not more “black holes” of the absence of God—of anxiety, of whys without answers but were existential fractions in which mystically I was deeply emerged in a “God-suffering”—as the net thrown in the depths of the abyss of darkness and cold, is the Kingdom of God; as the treasure hidden in the belly of the dark and suffocating earth, is the Kingdom of God; as the cry of abandonment on the cross, is the cry of God. So, I felt that God is also pain. In those moments, I became more aware that at the time of joyful living, of happy love, of serene and healthy living, I was in the mystery of a God-Love: the Risen Lord. Instead, in the moments of grim oppression, arcana affliction, I was plunged into the eerie mystery of God who is suffering the Crucified.

So, the poor, my journey’s buddies, taking me by the hand, led me to plunge into the most intimate of the human mysteries: the suffering and death. There, mystically, I experienced joy and sorrow, life and death—the Paschal Triduum: the Friday of death, the Saturday of silence and the Sunday of Resurrection. I learned with the poor that I am always in God and that no moment of life is without Him—because He is love and happiness but also pain and death. All of our precarious living is within the reach of a Merciful God.