Korea: Became One of the Poor


Originally Published on the website of the Polish Oblates

Vincenzo Bordo OMI celebrates the 30th anniversary of his arrival in Korea. He shows off his first apron.

He received the Ho Am Sang, Korea’s Nobel Prize for social work. And not from just anyone, but from the giant – Samsung. He never stopped wearing his assistant cook’s apron in his oasis on the outskirts of Seoul called “Anna’s House.” This is Father Vincenzo Bordo, Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate, from Piansano, a small town in the Viterbo area, who in 1990 was sent as a missionary to the Land of the Silent Morning. Here he found his ideal home in Songnam, a bedroom city on the outskirts of the South Korean capital, home of Cardinal-designate Lazarus You Heung-sik, prefect of the clergy dicastery.

Big anniversary

Exactly thirty years ago… On May 30, 1993, I decided to love with all my vitality and strength the lonely and alienated elders of Seongnam. We opened the door of a free restaurant “Dom Pokoju” for the elderly, who met that day in an atmosphere of empathy and love. In the “House of Peace” I put on for the first time the same clothes that marked my vocation, which I wear to this day – an apron” – confessed Father Vincenzo Bordo OMI.

The Italian-born Oblate missionary also shared an archival photo of him wearing an apron for the first time.

In 2015, thanks to a special presidential decree, Bordo’s father received a Korean passport. This is an unprecedented decision as Koreans are not allowed to hold double passports. On this occasion, the then Minister of the Interior told him, referring to the name chosen by the Oblate himself, Kim Ha Jong (Servant of God):

By choosing this name, you taught us to serve the poor and showed us the beautiful face of God.

“My vocation is an apron”

On a daily basis, he works at the Oblate “House of St. Anny”, which serves meals to the homeless and needy. The kitchen in “Anna’s House” is comparable to similar facilities in large restaurants. Thinking about preparing 750 dinners, you need 160 kg of rice, 140 kg of meat and 60 kg of kimchi (fermented vegetables from local cuisine).

Learn from the poor

His attitude resonates widely among Korean society. The Oblate missionary is often featured in current affairs programmes, and his home and center for troubled youth are visited on a voluntary basis by celebrities.

The poor and the homeless are taboo in the highly developed Korean society. Father Bordo very often acted as a defender of the defenseless, also against local authorities. The years spent with the poor taught him many things, enriched his spirituality and motivated him to continue the work begun 30 years ago.

They taught me that life is always a gift, even in poverty and hardship. I have seen many suicides among the rich, but never among the poor. I also learned from them that suffering is not a punishment from God, but an opportunity for human and spiritual development, because first of all, you have to deal with pain, and then you are no longer the same: you either become better, purify, or you become worse and your life becomes a curse, explains the Oblate.