Seoul (AsiaNews) - The Korean Catholic Church continues to grow. In 2011, the number of newly baptised was 134,562, bringing the number of Catholics in South Korea to 5,309,964 or 10.3 per cent of the population. Overall, Catholics in South Korea have increased at a yearly average of 2-3 per cent in the past ten years. The data is in a report released by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea, the Statistics of the Catholic Church in Korea 2011, which shows both positive and negative trends. The average age of Church members rose and Sunday Mass attendance dropped, especially in the big cities. However for the country's bishops, this is temporary, a problem they will overcome very soon.
By gender, the number of Catholic men was 2,193,464 or 41.5 per cent, whilst and the number of Catholic women was 3,095,332, 58.5 per cent of all Catholics in Korea.
Some 25,717 infants were baptised, an increase of 7.5 per cent over the previous year. More than 100,000 adults were baptised.
Of the country's dioceses, the Archdiocese of Seoul was the most populous with 27 per cent of all Catholics in Korea, followed by the Diocese of Suwon (14.8 per cent), the Archdiocese of Daegu (8.8 per cent), and the Diocese of Inchon (8.6 per cent). In the capital, Catholics represent 13.6 per cent of the local population.
The number of church marriages stood at 20,429 in 2011, 12,361 between the baptised and the non-baptised.
The number of parishes also rose last year to 1,647, an increase of 38 over the previous year.
The Korean clergy includes 34 bishops, 1 Cardinal, 4,455 Korean and 166 foreign priests and 1,587 seminarians. Last year, 141 new priests were ordained, an increase of 3.3 per cent from the previous year.
"For this growth, we must thank God, the Creator of everything, but also our lay people," said Mgr Lazarus You Heung-sik, bishop of Daejeon and president of the Bishops' commission for the care of migrants.
Speaking to AsiaNews, he noted, "The South Korean Church depends a lot on them for every believer must proclaim the Gospel." For this purpose, "We are offering a course on how to proclaim the Good News in all the parishes of our diocese. And this is bearing fruit."
"Marriages and conversions are a gift from the Lord. Here in Daejeon, we celebrated more than 7,000 adult baptisms in 2011 and about a hundred mixed marriages," the prelate said. "What is great is that the nuptial sacrament becomes a path to conversion. It is with joy that I can say that after a year of married life there is almost always a new adult baptism in these families."