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Issue Date:  March 25, 2005

Korean students pray at 'eco-retreat'


An environmental project run by a Korean diocese is offering Catholic students the novel opportunity to make “eco-retreats.”

Eco-retreats are a new direction for the Suwon diocese’s five-year-old Environment Center, which has previously hosted more traditional camp programs for students.

The first eco-retreat was held Jan. 3-5 for 122 Sunday-school students from parishes in Seoul archdiocese and the Suwon and Wonju dioceses. It was held at an “eco-village” the center runs in Pyeongchang, a mountainous area along the border between Chunchon and Wonju dioceses.

At the winter retreat, the Catholic students grew bean spouts and made bean curd for their meals, which were mostly vegetarian. Participants listened to talks on alternative ways of harvesting energy and on organic farming methods, and operated a wind-powered generator.

Retreat activities included contemplative walking along the river, Taizé-style prayer sessions and “worship dancing.”

Fr. Benedict Hwang Chang-yeon, who directs the Environment Center and its eco-village, admitted that some activities do not fit into the traditional definition of a retreat, but he insisted, “Seeing, hearing and touching nature is a real retreat, through which people experience God.”

He pointed out that in past years a total of 400-500 students joined the traditional camps, but this year about 1,000 students already have registered for eco-retreats. Participants in an eco-retreat pay 49,000 won (about US$47) each for the three-day program. They are not allowed to bring mobile phones, toothpaste or shampoo. The retreat center provides them with ground salt to clean their teeth and recyclable soap.

The eco-village has a recycling system for leftover food, telescopes for observing the stars and planets, a water-purifying drainage system and a wildflower garden.

Participant John Bae Sang-il told UCA News it was “amazing” to see falling stars, or meteorites, something the Seoul resident says he has never seen before in the city. He was less enthusiastic about his experience making bean curd but said, “It taught me that any food is valuable.”

What he was not prepared for was not being able to use his mobile phone, an experience he described as stifling. But “it was bearable,” he said.

National Catholic Reporter, March 25, 2005

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