CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 23 March 2019

Print Version    Email to Friend
A gift without strings

A volunteer with the St. Vincent de Paul Society recalled a late night call where the single mother greeted him with a beer can in one hand and cigarette in the other.

After refusing him entry, the mother looked through the food parcel and then complained, “You forgot the nappies for the baby.”

The angry volunteer said his gut response was, “Well that’s your problem.” However, he said that when he had cooled down, he thought, “It is the baby that will suffer, not the mother. I’ll do it for the baby.”

So he swallowed his pride and got the nappies.

News that the government in Pyongyang in the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea plans to spend US$2 billion ($15.4 billion) on a massive party to mark the centenary of the birth of the hermit kingdom’s founder and Eternal President, Kim Il-sung, has prompted warnings from some governments that this could cause them to reconsider food aid.

A press release from Seoul, south of the Demilitarised Zone, said that Pyongyang has invited representatives of 48 nations to the centennial bash.

An official from Moscow in the Soviet Union was quoted as saying that around 100 people from his country had been invited for an all-expenses paid stay and round trip.

He said that as far as he can ascertain there would be up to 10,000 guests with lavish entertainment on offer.

Commentators point out that this kind of money could buy 4.75 million tonnes of rice on the world market.

While the scale of the proposed celebration seems obscene, as North Korea is currently appealing for food aid and most of its population is living well below the breadline, a cut in food aid would be unlikely to impinge on either the conscience or life-style of the uncaring regime.

Such a lavish celebration in the midst of dire poverty may be reminiscent of the foreign concessions of 19th century Shanghai and even various periods in Hong Kong. In fact, we know that history is peppered with such crass inequalities.

It is also reminiscent of the biblical story of the beggar outside the rich man’s gate. It is worth remembering that while Jesus condemned the rich man in no uncertain terms, he did not suggest taking away the poor man’s crumbs to teach the rich man a lesson.

If Pyongyang does indeed go ahead with this party, cutting food aid would only further harm those already in need, not those already seated at the banquet table.

The Catholic Church in Seoul has promised to persist in its efforts to keep sending relief goods and food, irrespective of what Pyongyang does, because it says its outreach is to those in need, who are suffering, and to do otherwise would be to harm the poor for the sake of revenge.

In most countries, international aid is allocated by foreign affairs ministries and, while not exclusively, has strings attached, as it is designed to support the political policies and interests of the donor nation.

However, Jesus taught us something else. Through his own words and lived example, he taught self-giving love, love that does not seek return.

This is what the Church in South Korea is professing in its determination to keep up its aid. It is also something worth all of us keeping in mind. JiM