Singing in jail can be disconcerting to the jailor.

 Tuesday, 5/7/13

The first reading spoke of Paul and Silas singing hymns in their jail cell, and if you don’t mind, I’d like to tell a story about something similar that happened fifty years ago when I had a parish in Korea.

One of our villages back in the hills had a national primary school, but nothing for kids beyond he fifth grade. I got some cash together, and put up class rooms. Then, to get it started, I took a rather ridiculous shortcut. I enrolled the eighty kids in a middle school correspondence course. For teachers I enlisted two of our boys just back from their time in the army.

On a trip to Seoul I went along with another priest who had business at the Catholic Relief office. While he was in talking with the boss, a young man in the office asked me if I had any projects that Catholic Relief could help me with. He had no school supplies, but he said he had something I could sell to fund our school. Proctor and Gamble had suspended plans to market a fine hand soap, and they had shipped cases and cases of the samples to Catholic Relief in Korea.

The young fellow shipped six cases of he soap out to me, and our women were happy about marketing it for the school. Our county had five townships, and the women operated a market in each of the towns every fifth day. (In my town we had market on the fourth, ninth, fourteenth and nineteenth, twenty-fourth and twenty-ninth of every month.) One of our ladies travelled the circuit selling kids’ clothes, one was men’s clothes and so on. A lady I had baptized Germana sold soap, and she set herself to selling a case a week.

The cops put her in jail, and they turned their backs on all the influence I used. Finally, a Catholic cop told me the police chief would let Germana out if we gave him a third of out profits.

Our ladies jointly said no to that. Instead, they dressed in their best long dresses, and they had groups of five taking turns, sitting in the jail’s outer office. The part that was similar to today’s first reading was that when they decided to sing in the office, Germana, from inside, would join in the singing. She had a fine voice, and she sang some Chinese songs no one else could sing with her.

They wore the police chief down, and he let Germana out to sell the rest of her soap for the school.    

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