Dear Columban Friends,
Ordained in 2015, Columban Fr. Jason Antiquera is on mission in South Korea. A skilled artist himself, he has found that “art is the work of the Spirit” in his missionary life.
131]…Each particular Church should encourage the use of the arts in evangelization, building on the treasures of the past but also drawing upon the wide variety of contemporary expressions so as to transmit the faith in a new “language of parables”. We must be bold enough to discover new signs and new symbols, new flesh to embody and communicate the word, and different forms of beauty which are valued in different cultural settings, including those unconventional modes of beauty which may mean little to the evangelizers, yet prove particularly attractive for others”. — Pope Francis in chapter Three in The Gospel of Joy
With the local Korean Catholic Church very much alive and capable of accompanying the faith of the local community through parish ministry, Fr. Jason wondered what a foreign ordained Columban could contribute? After his ordination in January 2015, he went to Korea and worked in two Korean parishes as curate in Jeju Island while at the same time assisting the diocese-based migrant center. However, a year and a half later, a shift in his ministerial engagement took place, a shift to what he coined “art ministry.” What is this kind of ministry? How do you do it? Here he explains his art ministry:
September 2018 marked my first public ministry with visual arts through a daylong art recollection I facilitated with the Seoul Filipino Catholic Community. And that was not the last. It was followed by facilitating more recollection events with the same model and approach not only with other migrant communities in Korea but also in our Formation House in Seoul with Columban seminarian students. Art recollection, overall, is praying, reflecting and meditating through drawing and painting, and visual art appreciation, among many others. In this approach, Christians are not only able to experience other creative and nonconventional ways of reflecting on their faith but also to learn something about themselves and God through arts.
As I explored various channels to engage art ministry, I came to a few realizations. First, my service to the Columban community is not limited only to my region of assignment but also can extend through other regions/mission units. In the Korea Region Mission Magazine, we developed an art page where I contribute my own artwork and a really short, written reflection on the artwork. Readers have given us feedback that the art page is like a space where they can rest from words and relax while contemplating the artwork; it’s like bringing an art gallery to the magazine.
Secondly, visual art reaches out and provides for the needs of other communities and organizations. The most recent one is working with Transparency International Korea on a project related to Environmental Issues and Climate Change. Visual art has become a tool to connect with other institutions where we as Columbans also channel our priorities in ministry. Thirdly, visual art is able to create a new and different space of encounter for Columban missionaries and the people in the secular society. When I joined a public exhibit in Seoul with other artists, I invited fellow Columbans to the art galleries. Other artists were able to meet Columban missionaries and have an exchange of conversation. People may find the experience of meeting religious missionaries memorable since the encounter is not in a religious gathering hall like church or temple. The encounter may only be once, however, who knows how the meeting might change the lives of people? Isn’t that how the parable of the sower works?
Lastly, visual art works with time and history to express thoughts, sentiments and principles of people as they experience crucial events. In this time of the coronavirus pandemic where people are locked down or quarantined in their own houses, art has provided them relief, comfort, solace and hope. In Korea, we have come up with a children’s coloring book where participants can express their various emotions through colors while at the same time saying a creative “thank you” to COVID-19 first responders. Photos of artwork are shared on social media. This initiative allowed us as a church and missionary society to be one with the wider, suffering world.
Actively finding new ways of engaging in mission has proven that art has been able to minister to people in many creative ways. Art is the work of the Spirit; it mirrors a reflection of our first and ultimate Creator. When we become artistic and creative in ministry, we concretely live out the image of the One who created us. And we preach the Gospel of Joy!
New challenges require new ways of bringing the light and life of Christ to people around the world. While the COVID pandemic has temporarily stopped traditional Masses and Sacramental preparations, Columban missionaries like Fr. Jason have found new ways to be with their people. Masses are broadcast via Facebook Live and on websites. Our mission magazines continue to reach our supporters and friends. And, our prayers of gratitude for you are unceasing.
As a Columban Mission Sponsor, your dedicated prayerful and financial support enables us to continue our work during this difficult moment in history. Columban missionaries have a long history of dedicated service during difficult times—World War II and the Korean War among others—and now the COVID pandemic.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. — John 14:27 (NIV)
We move forward in faith, not fear, for it is our faith that gives us the power to overcome fear. Together, we offer prayers for one another, our community, and our world knowing that today’s sacrifice will bring better and brighter days ahead.
Gratefully Yours in Christ,
Fr. John Burger
Director, U.S. Region