Korean Broadcasting Station contacted me and Luke Coppen in the past week and invited us to participate in a follow-up documentary to Don’t Cry for Me Sudan, which was a historic film on the life of Fr John Lee’s mission in Sudan. Sometimes you can never guess what may come of one article – in February we did a feature for The Catholic Herald on Fr John, a saintly Korean priest who gave his life to the people of Tonj in South Sudan. Fr John was especially devoted to the Sudanese lepers. The article caught the attention of Dr Goo Soo-hwan (in the picture on the right), who produced Don’t Cry for Me Sudan.
Now, a Korean TV producer, a film director and a translator are trotting the globe to film interviews with people on the subject of Fr John Lee’s continuing influence, and on why many believe him to be a saint. And yesterday in the offices of The Catholic Herald, we were interviewed about why we had done this story on Fr John Lee Tae-seok for a mainly British and Irish audience. They filmed scenes of us in the office (a sort of ‘here-is-where-they-put-together-the-article-on-Fr-John’). They told us that academics in Korea are eagerly studying The Catholic Herald’s coverage of Fr John Lee!
It’s always a bit nerve-wracking when you are about to be filmed, but the crew were incredibly organised, and in seconds fitted me with a little microphone and the interview was so smooth that it was like a detailed chat. When I was being interviewed, I tried to draw as many parallels as possible between Fr John’s upbringing and medical training in Korea and his mission in Sudan. It will be watched firstly by a Korean audience, so I thought that many links to Korean society would make it familiar for the viewers.
They asked me what I thought of Fr John and his mission in Sudan, and I said that Fr John had meticulous medical training in Korea. But that he had not been content to live the affluent life of a doctor, but used his first-rate qualifications in Sudan, especially to those devastated by Hansen’s disease. And that the sick had greatly benefited from his thorough medical education he was stationed in the Korean army barracks.
They were fascinated to know why Catholics and people of all religions and none find Fr John Lee’s life so fascinating. I explained that Fr John Lee’s life shows the great contribution that one person can make when they develop the full scale of their talents for the betterment of the world. I said that, for us, Fr John readily brings to mind John Bradburne, who cared for the lepers in Rhodesia.
I did, however make the point that Fr Lee’s vocation as a RC priest, meant that he would never have a wife or children of his own, leaving him totally committed to seeing 300 patients a day, running a brass band for the young people, teaching in a school, and building a medical clinic.
One key question that the producer asked me was ‘why can’t more priests be like Fr John?’ I said that if Fr John’s life-story is better known, then his work in Sudan will inspire other priests to follow his path. But that also, Fr John was totally dedicated to his vocation and never wanted to be a part-time lay-person and part-time priest.
Afterwards, the crew slightly bowed their heads as a way of saying thank-you for the interview and gave us a DVD (in English) of Don’t Cry for Me Sudan and exquisite enamelled ornaments, which are like miniature chest of drawers.
The film director said to me that he and his wife are ‘total atheists’, but that they were ‘moved to tears’ when they saw Don’t Cry for Me Sudan, and that they are still wondering why the life of a Catholic priest mesmerised them.
The crew took a photo of me and Luke in front of rows of computers.
The next stop for the TV crew is Sudan where they will interview people, including teenagers and young people who knew Fr John. The documentary will be shown in Korea on July 17th.