A Spanish novelist fond of Korean Catholicism revitalizing Europe’s Holy cities

MANUEL MADRID. Head of the Culture Area of the newspaper La VERDAD. Writer and Academic. Region of Murcia (Spain)

4/4/2022. Esther Campos. Escritora © VICENTE VICENS

The second novel by Esther Campos – the pseudonym of the Valladolid-born lawyer based in Murcia Elena Díaz, manager of a non-profit company set to employ people with disabilities (LABORVIVA), has as its main character Candy, a girl from Murcia. She ends up as a mediator in a group of Korean seminarians who come to Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago, where the remains of the apostle St. James have been venerated since the year 811. But instead of starting in Roncesvalles, they are told they have to begin in Santander, where they have to pick up a Mexican-Korean priest; who is giving a talk at the Menéndez Pelayo International University. 


The meeting takes place in Suances, a town on the Cantabrian coast, but the priest has forgotten everything; the accommodation booking turns out to be a disaster. To top it all off, Candy, the translator hired from Seoul, only knows about Korea from TV series. 

During the novel, they will have to improvise the pilgrimage. 

The novelist wanted the Catholics to be Korean, as she recalls that in 2021, Pope Francis elected Lazarus You Heung-sik, a South Korean Catholic archbishop, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy. «The Korean church is revitalizing many parishes, convents, and everything that is being left to die in Europe.» 

The Pilgrims of Korea’ tries to tell how we have taken this cultural and Christian heritage for granted, but we see how the translator from Murcia does not know what is in Caravaca de la Cruz. «She is a Murcian ignorant of her heritage,» says Esther Campos. «I have been asking people what Caravaca means for Christianity, and many don’t know how important it is. What’s more, many people only know about the most folkloric part of the Way of St. James»


«Many people in the Region do not know what Caravaca de la Cruz means for Christianity.» These Koreans start the Way to Santo Toribio de Liébana – in its monastery, at the foot of the Picos de Europa (there the tradition says that the largest piece of wood from the Cross of Christ in Christianity can be found) – from Suances, and the group undergoes different vicissitudes. Some go to Santiago and others to Caravaca de la Cruz – the third holy city in Spain and fifth in the Christian world since 1998, thanks to the fame of the Vera Cruz. 


Meanwhile, there is a parallel story on the Korean island of Jeju. 

Her first contact with Asian culture was during the pandemic. «I hadn’t seen Korean films or Korean series, but with the same confinement decree, when we were forced to confine ourselves and close down depending on whether we were essential or not, a work colleague sent me a video on how the Koreans managed the pandemic. I found it very useful, the calmness with which they explained it, taking a lot of the drama out of it… And other suggestions started to come to me, thanks to the algorithms of internet searches. Around that time, she was told that she had to undergo surgery for melanoma, «and I, who have been managing crises all my life, found that watching these Korean series disconnected me a lot, relaxed me, and helped me sleep. I also found the language very pleasant. This language, Hangeul, was invented in the 15th century. At the time, it was so that people could understand and make the culture accessible because the written language of the Chinese was very complicated. «And that’s how I wrote the first novel as a self-gift, ‘The Korean Letter; the Invisible Emotion» (Amazon, 2020) because this culture had helped me manage the crisis and overcome a personal problem.»


 What interests me most is how Korea has built its brand, ‘Korea, a friend of the world,’ through culture, without discrediting any of its fields, but supporting the creativity of its people».

She was surprised to learn that the Xunta de Galicia has an agreement to promote the Camino de Santiago in Asia. 

Koreans have their own hiking route on an island in southern Korea, Jeju Olle, «the Korean Hawaii.» During the two years of the pandemic, Koreans who are big fans of the Camino de Santiago and have not been able to come to Spain have made this «zen itinerary .» «Besides Santiago, the truth is there are other holy routes in Spain, and sometimes the one to Caravaca is not mentioned at all.»

So for my second novel, I was very interested in the origin of Catholicism in Korea and did some research about Saint Andrew Kim Dae-geon reading his letters translated by brother An Sonjae into English for the first time. Also, last summer, I heard about the Carmelite friar Daniel Bae, also Korean, who was ordained in Caravaca. And I met the South Korean ambassador in Spain, Bahk Sahnghoon, a charming man who has followed the whole process and has been a great help to me. 


 Among these insights into how Catholic devotion arose in South Korea, Esther Campos says that it is «the only place where the Church arose without priests. In the 18th century, the Confucian caste model came into a crisis. Korean Confucianism accepted a system that socially ordered the world, and the Korean nobles realized that this system would not survive if the distinction between rich and poor were maintained. And thanks to the books that arrived from Jesuit missionaries, the family of St Andrew Kim (1821-1846), the first Korean priest, is being introduced. 


One of the most beautiful things while learning about Korean culture, says Esther Campos, is meeting Hanyong Jeong (South Korea, 1958), a poet, editor, and visual artist. She has translated some of his poems into Spanish. Also, their delicate drawings appear in the latest notebooks manufactured by LABOR VIVA [which also publishes this romantic novel]. «They have ordered 300 notebooks for Korea,» celebrates LABOR VIVA’s manager. «We have 70 workers, and 95% are disabled workers. We do these projects for visibility and because we have a creative line. We don’t want this to be a workshop for reproducing things for clients, but to get involved in many issues and improve society’s perception of people with disabilities. Furthermore, we have super creative people, and this small publishing service is also to publish the project they do in the workshops». 

To get the printed book THE PILGRIMS OF KOREA, in English or Spanish: https://www.latiendalaborviva.com/product/los-peregrinos-de-corea/

Click on the image to buy the book in LATIENDALABORVIVA

To get and read the e-book, in English on AMAZON

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