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Irish missionary priest named ‘Immigrant of the Year’ in South Korea

Columban missionary priest Donal O’Keeffe, 70 (AsiaNews)

An Irish missionary priest has been named “Immigrant of the Year” in South Korea for his work with workers in the country’s poor communities.

Columban missionary priest Donal O’Keeffe, 70, has spent more than 40 years working for the recognition of the rights of workers, especially those living in the slums.

The priest arrived in Korea in 1976 when the country was still under military dictatorship.

“This is what struck me the most,” the priest told AsiaNews. “Any type of association was forbidden at the time. The only place where people could meet was in churches,” he said.

Father O’Keeffe dedicated his time with workers who would move from the slums around the city to the industrial districts.

He established an “open house,” a place where workers, some of them still very young, could meet and share problems, dreams, aspirations.

“Most of them had abandoned their studies after middle school. They were people who felt terribly inferior because they had not studied, with very low self-esteem due to social pressures,” he said.

“We started with personal growth programs, created groups where young people could make friends or engage in various activities, from learning to play the guitar to walking in the mountains,” said the priest.

He said that with economic development, new social challenges came. “Poverty has been hidden, but people have become increasingly isolated,” said Father O’Keeffe. - LiCAS.news

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