“Hello, this is Korea’s Olympic Committee speaking.” I immediately thought: “They learned about my cycling talents and I’m being summoned as member of the national team.” It rapidly crossed my mind, then I realised: “But cycling is not one of the sports of the Winter Olympic Games!” What then? “I tried to concentrate and carefully listened to the person on the other side of the phone. Is it a joke?” “We are calling you – my interlocutor went on – because we want you to be among those who will carry the Olympic Torch, a “torchbearer.” “I’m sorry – I replied – there must be a mistake. I am Vincenzo Bordo and I’m Italian.” “Yes, we know.” “But I’m a foreigner – I went on-.” “Yes, that is why we are summoning you. The spirit of the Olympic Games is a spirit of universal brotherhood and welcome, and with this gesture we want our fellow-nationals to know that all those living and working here are part of our people, without discriminations or prejudice; they form part of this beautiful story we are developing together.”
That was the content of the phone-call between the organizers of the Winter Olympic Games of PyeongChang (February 9-25 2018) and Father Vincenzo Bordo, oblate missionary of Mary Immaculate. In Korea since 1990, Father Bordo is dedicated to the pastoral care of the homeless and street children. Despite his busy schedule, celebrating Mass in the various communities entrusted to his care, he found some time to tell us his story.
So you will be a torchbearer. I was surprised by the decision of the Olympic Committee to call me to carry to torch, because I am not a native Korean citizen. This was their message:
Foreigners are not only an integrating part of our society, they also contribute to the growth of the Country and to the history of Korea.
Is this the motivation of their decision? It is. Korea has shown that it cares about the foreigners living in the Country. They are not considered a threat but an opportunity.
What is your mission in Korea? I arrived in 1990, since then, as missionary oblate of Mary Immaculate I dedicated myself to the care of “new poverties” in the suburban areas of the city of Seongnam, not far from Seul. I opened a Centre, “Anna’s Home” (the first steps were made in 1998, ed.’s note), that every day offers 500 evening meals to the poor, plus shower services, clothes donation, a hostel with 30 beds, legal advice for employment, alcoholism, a weekly school, a small factory.
It provides support to many poor people… It’s not a question of giving a meal to the poor living on the street, while we meet their primary needs, we wish to give them a new opportunity, a new beginning: to eat, to work, to sleep with the support of many indispensable services for their reintegration into life.
To give new dignity to those who lost it.
We also have four homes for street children that hosts 40 youths, and a great bus that after sunset – from 6 pm. to midnight – seeks and cares for the many young people living on the street.
How can sport unite a divided Country? Local newspapers speak of sport as a “Trojan horse.” Sport can serve as an excuse and an opportunity to resume a dialogue that was interrupted two years ago, with periods of escalating tension. So these Olympic Games are seen as a good opportunity to resume a positive, constructive dialogue.
What are the implications? Korea has invested a great deal in these Olympic Games and it hopes it will generate economic benefits and solidify its image, in order to grow as a prosperous, safe Country, considered reliable also by foreign investors.
Is it hard to be a priest in Korea? It’s amazing. People are good and generous. They are open to what is new and they are not closed in for fear of strangers, of those who are different. The Church is open at internal level and in the mission. Today hundreds of priests and religious carry out their missionary service across many mission Countries. It’s a young Church.