Reverend Gerard E. Hammond, M.M.
Maryknoll Missionary to North Korea
Knights of Columbus
Thirteenth Gaudium et Spes Award Honoree
“The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.”
The opening words of the Second Vatican Council’s document Gaudium et Spes have surely been inscribed upon the heart of our thirteenth honoree. As a missionary priest caring for the physical and spiritual welfare of North Koreans in need, he has taken upon himself the “griefs and anxieties” of those who are “poor and afflicted,” as he seeks to share with them, through compassionate action, the “joys and hopes” of faith in Jesus Christ. His brave and tireless mission to minister to the ill in North Korea is carried out in the selfless spirit that has marked Maryknoll priests since the society’s founding more than a century ago.
During the Holy Father’s apostolic visit to Korea in August 2014, Pope Francis met with our honoree and personally commended his important work in the North. He also was honored by another pope, St. John Paul II, who bestowed on him the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal in 1980 recognizing his service to the Church and the Holy Father.
In addition, this heroic Maryknoll priest has exemplified the call of Pope Francis to go to the “peripheries” to minister to those who are neglected, forgotten and most in need of Christian charity.
Our honoree has courageously journeyed into North Korea more than 50 times over the course of more than two decades to bring humanitarian assistance. Due to government restrictions, he usually wears civilian clothes during his missions. Yet from time to time, he is allowed to wear his priestly garb, since a Roman collar, unseen for generations in the North, is not even recognized as a religious symbol there. Whether visibly dressed as a priest or not, our honoree never fails to bring to the Korean people he serves the consoling presence of Jesus Christ.
Serving as “an apostle of peace and hope,” our honoree brings Gospel values in concrete forms - food and other material necessities, and medicines for patients with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. The medicines offer cures for the bodies of the afflicted, and our honoree ministers to their souls with a smile, comforting words, and the Christian witness of presence. Combining the healing love of Jesus with the charitable work of the Church, his mission is a manifestation of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy: visiting the sick, comforting the afflicted, and feeding the hungry in body and soul.
Recognizing the image and likeness of God in all persons, our honoree says, “We have to love the North Korean people unconditionally.”
During his visits, he shows a special compassion for children, seeing in them the future of the nation as well as a trusting innocence that reflects “the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:14). Like the Good Shepherd who asked for children to be brought to him, our honoree visits children in the hospital, brings medicine for those who suffer from tuberculosis, and shares sorrow and tears with the parents who have lost a child to illness.
As the first priest to receive the Gaudium et Spes Award, our honoree evokes the memory of Venerable Father Michael McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus, who went to the peripheries of his day to serve those in need among a beleaguered immigrant population. It is appropriate, then, that an image of Father McGivney comforting a widow and her children is inscribed on the back of the Gaudium et Spes medal that will be worn near the heart of our honoree.
At nearly 84 years of age - his birthday is August 15, the feast of the Assumption - our honoree has been a Maryknoll priest for 57 years. Assigned to Korea after ordination in 1960, he has served as a teacher, the pastor of two parishes, vicar general of the Cheongju Diocese, and Maryknoll regional superior since 1989. In 1995, he began his humanitarian work in North Korea, working with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea and in cooperation with the Eugene Bell Foundation, for which he serves as a board member. The Eugene Bell Foundation is an American nongovernmental organization which, animated by Christian principles, is dedicated to providing humanitarian aid to North Koreans.
His association with the Knights of Columbus goes back many years. He joined the Order in 1960 and is a Fourth Degree member. At present, he serves as chaplain to Bishop John J. Kaising Council 14223 and Faithful Friar to Bishop Joseph W. Estabrook Assembly 3348, both located on the U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan in Seoul. Since the first Knights of Columbus council was chartered in South Korea, he has been a strong advocate of the Order’s development, first among U.S. servicemen and then among Korean Catholic men.
Thus, it is with great “joy and hope” for the future of Korea that the Knights of Columbus recognizes a courageous and untiring missionary priest who has ministered in a most challenging field for the sake of souls and the kingdom of God, by bestowing the thirteenth Gaudium et Spes Award upon Maryknoll Father Gerard E. Hammond.