Seoul (AsiaNews) Based in one of the most dynamic Catholic communities, the Church in South Korea is the child of evangelisation. Since 1975 it has become itself committed to spreading the word; capable of sending missionaries throughout the Asian continent; responding to the call of giving to others the Christian faith it received; especially in China, Mongolia and North Korea. This in a country where there are about 4,430,000 Catholics out of a population of 48,800,000 (9.1 per cent), proportionately one of the largest in Asia.
AsiaNews talked to professor Thomas Hong-Soon Han about the Church in South Korea. Mr Han teaches at Seoul's Hankuk University and is a member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. He is currently attending a conference on the Gaudium et Spes in Rome. He kindly gave us the interview that follows.
What is the Church's mission in South Korea in your view?
The growth of Korean Church is a fruit of the grace of God. Our Church feels it must give back what missionaries and evangelisers brought to Asia. It is a duty towards God who gave us the grace of faith.
What countries have been chosen for your mission?
For historical reasons, China comes first; then Mongolia with whom we are ethnically related. We owe China a lot because it was through China that the Christian faith reached Korea in the 18th century.
Today we feel called by the Lord to give back what we received. We don't want to be only a Church that has received but we want to be one that also gives.
Nowadays many people are on a religious quest in China and we wish to offer them what was offered to us.
As for Mongolia, we are bound to that country by history, ethnicity and culture. Koreans descend from Mongols.
What are the tools of mission available to the Korean Church?
The Korean Bishops' Conference set up the Korean Foreign Mission Society in 1975 to send missionaries abroad. Currently, it has 50 members with another 50 studying in seminaries.
At home, evangelisation among foreign workers is an important task. Globalisation has made South Korea a country of immigration with many people coming from abroad to perform those humble tasks that Koreans shun.
At present, there are approximately 400,000 foreign workers, mostly illegal and living in desperate situations.
The Archbishop of Seoul has recently asked Asian Churches, especially those of Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Indiafrom where most foreign workers cometo send young seminarians to study in Seoul where they can evangelise among their compatriots as they train for the priesthood.
At the same time, he has sent Korean seminarians to Latin America. This overseas experience can help them mature and gives them a unique perspective on the Church's universality.
Once they are ordained, they work locally as fidei donum for some years.
And North Korea?
A new bishopric has been set up in Uijongbu, in the northern part of the diocese of Seoul, near the border with the North. It is going to be the base for the future evangelisation of North Korea.
When it was set up we worried that we did not have enough priests. But when Archbishop Cheong Jin-suk told his priests they could either stay in the old diocese or move to the new, poorer diocese, 172 took the chance to go.
Most of them are young, with an average of 37. I think that the Uijongbu clergy has probably the lowest average age in the world.
What has made these priests choose to perform their pastoral work in an area so close to North Korea?
Two reasons. First, the missionary desire to spread the word; second, the proximity to North Korea. We are Christians and Koreans; the two things go together and the fate of the whole of Korea is in our hearts.
The whole Church in Seoul took part in creating the new diocese, which the diocesan synod had decided to set up. This choice gave a new missionary spirit to all the faithful.
The Pope has recently has said that internet could be a means to carry out missionary work. Internet is widely accessible in South Korea and Asia, isn't it?
Yes, South Korea is one of the most wired countries in the world and internet is commonplace and highly used. It is a great tool for evangelisation. I am all for initiatives that spread news about the Church and the societies where the Church bears witness to the faith.
And let me thank AsiaNews for its great work of evangelisation in Asia. (BC)