INTERVIEW WITH FATHER PHILIPPE BLOT
We are continuing our investigation into Catholicism in Korea by publishing an interview with Father Philippe Blot of the Missions étrangères de Paris, in response to the survey we have just conducted in Korea.
Born in Caen in 1959, after being ordained a priest by Pope John Paul II in 1990, Father Philippe Blot arrived in Korea. He then began the difficult learning of the Korean language which lasted for two years. At the end of this period, he began a pastoral life and, in 1994, became vicar of Yong-Ju where he met five children wandering in the countryside. He then decided to take care of them. In 1996, he became parish priest of Ok-San parish and founded the House of Five Children.
In 1998, the bishop asked him to take care of these street children full-time and he then founded Saint Francis Home for boys and Saint Clare Home for girls. There are more and more young people there.
After a stay in France, he returned to Korea and this time settled in the diocese of Suwon, closer to the capital Seoul, where he founded two other houses in 1999 in Gunpo, a suburb of Seoul, the Saint John and Saint James Home for boys and the Saint Cecilia Home for girls, which he entrusted to nuns.
The history of these houses and especially of the St. John's Home is the response to a need in Korean society, which has developed incredibly rapidly, sometimes to the detriment of some people who have not been able to follow this race forward. This is the response of a priest touched by the human and material misery of these children. For more information: http://kunpohome.com/.
Blot did not hesitate to disguise himself as a Buddhist monk to travel clandestinely through China several times. He many times accompanied North Koreans fleeing their country, from Mongolia to Laos and Thailand. The Chinese authorities, who have concluded agreements with Pyongyang, do not recognize any legal existence of North Korean refugees and send them back to North Korea, where they are tortured and put in re-education camps to die.
But since 2016, he knows he has been spotted by the Chinese police and prefers to act differently. "I am going to look for the refugees in precarious caches on the border with Laos, where the risks are also high, to take them to Thailand. Often, I help them to pay their smuggler," explained the French missionary to La Croix (June 20, 2017).
Thus, in addition to his work to assist street children, Fr. Blot very courageously welcomes North Korean refugees who are fleeing the dictatorship of Kim Jong-un (there are more than 30,000 of them in South Korea) and helps them to bring their friends and family members who have either remained in North Korea or gone illegally to China.
It is this great French missionary who is also, in Korea, an apostle of the traditional Mass.
João Silveira –What was your attitude at the publication of the Motu roprio Summorum Pontificum of July 7, 2007?
Father Philippe Blot - The liturgical aggiornamento, that is, the update with a renewal, whose fiftieth anniversary we celebrated at the end of last year (promulgation of the Constitution on the Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, of 4 December 1963), was in a way completed by Pope Benedict XVI Summorum Pontificum's Motu proprio, of 7 July 2007, establishing the distinction of two forms in the same Roman rite: an "ordinary" form, which concerns the liturgical texts revised according to the indications of the Second Vatican Council, and an "extraordinary" form, which corresponds to the liturgy that was in force before the liturgical aggiornamento. In the Roman or Latin rite, two Missals are currently in force: that of Paul VI, the third edition of which dates from 2002, and that of Saint Pius V, the last edition of which, promulgated by Blessed John XXIII, dates back to 1962.
In the letter to the Bishops accompanying the Motu proprio, Pope Benedict XVI made it clear that his decision to have the two Missals coexist was not only intended to satisfy the desire of certain groups of faithful attached to the liturgical forms prior to the Second Vatican Council, but also to allow the mutual enrichment of the two forms of the same Roman rite, that is, not only their peaceful coexistence, but also the possibility of perfecting them by highlighting the best elements that characterize them. He wrote in particular that "the two forms of use of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriched: in the old Missal the new saints can and should be inserted, and some of the new prefaces... In the celebration of Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI, this sacredness which attracts many people to the old rite"can be manifested in a stronger way than has often been done until now.”
João Silveira - In what setting did you start celebrating the traditional Mass by living as a missionary here in South Korea?
Father Philippe Blot - More than 9 years ago, I responded to the request of a group of Korean lay faithful from the Una Voce group to celebrate Mass in the extraordinary form in the chapel of our Saint John and Saint James Home in Kunpo (Diocese of Suwon, on the outskirts of Seoul).
João Silveira - Was it easy for you?
Father Philippe Blot - First I had to get to know better and learn to celebrate this rite that I now celebrate once or twice a month since the beginning of this request.
João Silveira - Who were these claimants from the Una Voce group?
Father Philippe Blot - The faithful were,for a small part, regular attendees of the Tridentine Mass - relatively few in Korea - but were immediately joined by the faithful, especially young people, used to the ordinary form and eager to discover the other form of the Roman rite.
João Silveira - Has this initial group developed?
Father Philippe Blot - The spiritual impulse given by Pope Benedict XVI's Motu Proprio, through the liturgy, is very visible and over the years the number of faithful has not stopped increasing and it is especially the young people who have joined us. The majority of them live near the chapel, which is far from Seoul.
João Silveira - So you are celebrating in an oratory south of the diocese of Seoul, are you not?
Father Philippe Blot - Yes, I celebrate at Saint John's Oratory. It is the chapel of a social home, an orphanage for children, located in Gunpo, Suwon Diocese, south of Seoul. We celebrate Mass in its extraordinary form on the third Sunday of the month at 3 p.m. But the time and distance from Seoul puts a limit to the harmonious development of this experience.
João Silveira - Do you already see the spiritual fruits of this experience?
Father Philippe Blot - We are carrying out the beautiful experience desired by the Pope: a greater fervour, which even reflects on the Eucharistic celebrations in the ordinary form in Korean language, in particular the rediscovery of attitudes of adoration towards the Blessed Sacrament (kneeling, genuflection...), a greater recollection, characterized in particular by this sacred silence which must mark the important moments of the Holy Sacrifice to allow the faithful to interiorize the mystery of the faith which is celebrated... It is true that we must work with pedagogy: To explain the rites of the Tridentine Missal to those who do not yet know them, to give a bilingual Latin-Korean booklet to enable the faithful to follow the Mass well... This is a very stimulating task for a priest, because he is aware that he works for the liturgical, and therefore spiritual, renewal desired by the Second Vatican Council, and to which Pope Francis strongly calls us.
João Silveira - The survey conducted by Liturgical Peace in South Korea showed that many Korean faithful wanted to attend the traditional Mass. Does that surprise you?
Father Philippe Blot - I think that Korean Catholics, who are naturally very pious, would very much like to attend the traditional Mass because this Mass is open to spirituality, the liturgy is very beautiful. I believe that Korean Catholics are very sensitive to the traditional liturgy. And if we have the chance, in the coming years, to make this liturgy known, there will be more and more Koreans who will attend this Mass in the extraordinary form, because they will be very touched by the beauty of the liturgy, by the depth of the liturgy, by its mystical side too. The Korean is a mystical, profound, spiritual person, and so if a bishop would give the chance to celebrate this Mass, not only in the chapel of St. JohnHome but in other parishes, I believe that the number of people to attend would be quite big.
João Silveira - During these years, have you met members of the clergy, priests, interested in learning how to celebrate this extraordinary form?
Father Philippe Blot - Yes, because it is not only the laity who are curious and requesting this liturgy but there are many Korean priests who are also interested. Three years ago, five priests from the diocese of Daejeon (Taejon) came to the chapel of Saint John Home to discover it while attending this liturgy. They were very touched by the beauty of the liturgy but when they returned to their dioceses they were not authorized by the bishop to celebrate this form and could not begin to do so. But many priests are very interested and would like to be able to celebrate this Mass if they had the freedom to do so.
João Silveira - Are there already other priests celebrating the traditional Mass in Korea?
Father Philippe Blot - In the Seoul region, we are already three or four Korean and foreign priests, who celebrate in both forms, and, above all, there are many young Korean priests, and also seminarians, who are learning to do so now... There are also, for example, this priest of a parish in Seoul, who willingly accepted the request for the Tridentine Mass to be celebrated in his parish, because, he said, "I want to show it to my parishioners"... I will therefore go and celebrate it, accompanied by a group of faithful from the Una Voce association.
João Silveira - In your opinion, what could be the future of the traditional Mass in Korea? Are there any chances of obtaining authorizations from the bishops? What are the chances that the faithful will get to know this Mass better?
Father Philippe Blot - To see the traditional Mass flourish more frequently and more generally in Korea, to make it known to young people and all the faithful, and also to priests, would require the Cardinal Archbishop of Seoul to accept that it be celebrated in his own cathedral or at least in a parish in the centre of the capital, or for another Bishop of Korea to do so. This would be a first step before the spreading of this very beautiful liturgical service that is offered by the Mass in the Extraordinary Form. Today our mission is to work towards this goal in a rather silent way, but at the same time, he would be nice to succeed in convincing the pastors that this Mass in the extraordinary form is not a liturgy that will break the unity in the Church but, on the contrary, that it will be a spiritual enrichment for the whole liturgy and piety within the Korean Church.