Seeing life as a journey
There is no doubt about it: Brother Paul Seo is an introvert. He is reserved. He speaks softly. His gaze seems to systematically analyze everything he sees. Although he speaks perfect French, his mother tongue is Korean.
His arrival in Canada was, as he puts it, “a huge shock.”
Ordained to the priesthood in South Korea in 2011, he has been a member of the Order of Friars Minor since 2001.
When his superiors asked him to become a missionary to Canada, he received the news with joy. He knew that this would give him the opportunity to give something back for what the Canadian missionaries had given to Korea as pioneers of the Franciscan presence in that country, starting in 1949. Inspired by the spirit of sacrifice of the Canadian missionaries of the time, he was very pleased about this missionary posting to Canada.
Beyond this call is his vocation. He always knew he wanted to be a Franciscan. “I have a very strong vocation based on our (shared) history.”
Although he didn’t expect to have to learn French when he arrived in Quebec in April 2013, he tackled this challenge earnestly and enthusiastically. He soon signed up for intensive classes. For six months, he went to class diligently. He worked hard. Ironically, his teachers were from France. Their accent was very different from the Québécois accent, the one he heard in his daily life. This was not an insurmountable problem, but an added challenge. He lived in Montreal for a year and a half, where he learned to deal with various colourful expressions.
His arrival in Quebec introduced him to a community that he admires. He says a lot of good things about them, by the way. “I find the people here cheerful, generous, welcoming and open-minded.” He adds, “I like their capacity for wonder.”
Winter in Lachute
After he finished his French courses in Montreal, he was assigned to the Franciscan house in Lachute. Although the transition from Montreal to this small town of around 2,000 people was hard for him, he blended in by getting involved with the people, getting to know them better. He found the place somewhat “exotic,” surprisingly. He admits, frankly, that the language was a huge challenge there as well. Winter, too…
In search of meaning
After two and a half years at the house in Lachute, he was assigned to the house in Trois-Rivières. Deeply touched by talks given by Jean Vanier, most of which he watched online, he became a volunteer at L’Arche in Trois-Rivières. L’Arche welcomes marginalized or vulnerable people. In Vanier’s work he sees great similarities with Franciscan spirituality. He sees Christ in those who are vulnerable. At L’Arche, he helped out here and there, sometimes in the arts and crafts workshops, and at other times washing dishes or doing housekeeping chores.
Continually seeking, Brother Paul completed the master of postulants training at Centre Le Pèlerin in order to better understand the human person and his or her needs. “I learned a lot. It made me more aware of the meaning of our existence.” He kept in touch with the Pèlerin network and serves as the chair for meetings of faith-sharing groups once a month.
The food in Quebec was also a big adjustment. He confesses that he made some wonderful discoveries about the foods found on this side of the globe. He already knew a few Western foods, like pizza, and North American foods like hamburgers. He found something that he took to right away: sliced white bread. The kind that is sold in a plastic bag. He also had a keen interest in maple syrup. He finds great pleasure in drip coffee. “It’s fresher than what you get in Korea.”
“I live as a pilgrim, like a traveller.” He walks a lot, in fact, as pilgrims do. “I need to walk for at least one hour every day, when possible. This balances the body and the mind.” He also does Christian meditation, which he was introduced to by his confrère from Trois-Rivières, Brother Michel Boyer.
After an hour-long conversation, his cup of coffee is long since finished. The interview is over, too. “I think I’ve said everything there is to say.” Still, he adds, “We cannot plan everything. Life is a journey that allows us to grow.”