A Maryknoll missioner on the Korean peninsula demonstrates with his life a culture of encounter and dialogue as the way to dispel fears and build peaceful relationships. The following article was published in the November-December 2017 issue of NewsNotes.
The BBC reported on October 12 that Maryknoll Father Gerry Hammond will continue to bring life-saving medicine to tuberculosis patients in North Korea, as he has done for more than 20 years, despite President Donald Trump’s order banning travel to North Korea by U.S. citizens.
Father Hammond, a U.S. citizen, is an 83-year-old Maryknoll priest who has lived and worked in South Korea since 1960. This past Summer, he received the Gaudium et Spes Award from the Knights of Columbus for his ministry in neighboring North Korea.
Father Hammond has made more than 50 trips to North Korea since 1995 as part of the Eugene Bell Foundation, a Christian organization which provides medication and care for patients with multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis, making him one of the very few Westerners with regular access to what’s considered one of the world’s most closed societies.
In Hammond’s view, expressed in a recent interview with Crux Magazine, whatever the geopolitical situation between North Korea and the United States, “People are the same all over the world, really,” he said.
“They’re just ordinary people trying to get better and to be in good health, so we should be there,” Father Hammond said. “Where there’s suffering, that’s where Christ is, and where Christ is, why shouldn’t we be there?” Read more about Father Hammond’s ministry in Maryknoll Magazine.
The travel ban to North Korea came into effect on September 1 for all U.S. citizens except those with special permits. Father Hammond told the BBC that he has submitted a permit request for his next trip to North Korea, scheduled for November, but had not heard back at the time of publication. "If I don't hear from them, I am going to take that as a yes," he told the BBC.
Photo: Maryknoll Father Gerry Hammond in North Korea.