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‘Can I do this with my heart?’ he asked

NCR Staff

The young Korean immigrant who became a Catholic and took Francis as his name didn’t know who St. Francis was -- but Kim’s birthday (Oct. 4) is the saint’s feast day.

“Then I learned about St. Francis from a book. Several books,” he said. “I’d never met a friar.” A year earlier, he’d never met a Catholic. Until “a Korean Catholic lady loaned me a book, With God in Russia. I was so amazed, especially about the lives of priests. I’d never imagined that someone could live without family, without spouse, because of God.”

After baptism, Kim was increasingly curious about Franciscans. A colleague in Worcester, Mass., where he worked as a maintenance mechanic while studying mechanical engineering, had been a Trappist. One lunchtime they found a St. Francis Church in the Yellow Pages.

Kim called. The parish wasn’t Franciscan, but they gave Kim a telephone number for the Franciscans on Boston’s Arch Street. He called and went to meet his first Franciscans. It was 1985.

At Arch Street, “The brother made me very comfortable,” Kim said.

Kim went back to Worcester to think. Later he contacted the Franciscans vocations office, and they suggested he spend some vacation time at a Franciscan mission.

He arrived at the Philadelphia soup kitchen during the city’s 1986 garbage strike. “It smelled terrible.”

In the kitchen “they’re making lunch. It’s hot, the guys sweating, no shirts, wearing shorts. There were flies everywhere because of the garbage. I said, ‘Excuse me, is this the Franciscan monastery?’ They said, `Yeah.’ I’d never seen that kind of place, those kinds of people. People swearing and messing with the chairs. I was so scared. I thought, ‘This is my summer vacation. After lunch I’m going back home.’ ”

But after lunch he talked to two of the brothers. One a former lawyer and the other a former college professor, “shared their lives. I shared mine. I felt so ashamed. Dedicating their lives for this? I began to see how selfish I was.”

After lunch, too, director Fr. Kevin, “prayed for us volunteer students. ‘The people you are serving are like Jesus,’ he said. That strikes my heart. I remember and try to do that serving dinner that night. I was still scared, scared not for myself but for, ‘Can I do this with my heart?’ I didn’t want to do it without my heart,” he said. “When I first served dinner I felt something new I don’t know how to describe. Whether it was joy. A very precious experience.”

He stayed all week. “Then I got to know the friars, some sisters. Giving their lives for the people. That was my whole reward.”

He was ordained in 1996.

National Catholic Reporter, June 16, 2000