A report published by the Catholic Pastoral Institute of Korea (CPIK) shows that the Diocese of Suwon led the way with plus 89.1 per cent. However, the annual growth rate has slowed down to less than 1 per cent. For the bishop of Daejeon, the Church is committed to fighting materialism and selfish competition.
Seoul (AsiaNews) – In the past 20 years, the number of Catholics in South Korea has gone up by a record 48.6 per cent, this according to a report published recently by the Catholic Pastoral Institute of Korea (CPIK).
Although the rate has slowed considerably in recent times, the community has increased from 3,946,844 faithful in 1999 to 5,866,510 in 2018.
Of all the dioceses, Suwon, just south of the capital Seoul, recorded the highest growth, 89.1 per cent, followed by Daejeon, in central South Korea, with 79.6 per cent and Uijeongbu, north of the capital, with 78.9 per cent.
The annual growth rate of the Catholic population has gradually slowed down to less than 1 per cent. By comparison, in 2000 and 2001, it grew by 3.2 per cent and 3.9 per cent respectively, before falling to 2 per cent in 2009.
The figure dropped to 1.7 per cent in 2010 before rising for a short period to 2.2 per cent in 2014, the year of Pope Francis' apostolic visit to the Republic of Korea. Finally, the rate dipped below 1 per cent, at 0.9 per cent, two years ago.
Erected in 1962 as a suffragan of Seoul, the Diocese of Daejeon covers South Chungcheong province and the metropolitan area of the provincial capital. Out of 3.8 million residents, 315,000 are Catholic or just over 8 per cent of the population.
Mgr Lazarus You Heung-sik, who has been the local bishop since 2005, chairs the Commission for Social Affairs of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea (CBCK). He spoke to AsiaNews about some of the factors that have contributed to the growth of his diocese.
“In 2014, Pope Francis visited our diocese on the occasion of the 6th Asian Youth Day. When such a grace is received, it is necessary to put it to good use,” he said. “For this reason, we opened the diocesan synod on 8 December 2015, which coincided with the start of the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.
“The diocesan synod lasted three years and five months, until 27 April 2019. It was an opportunity for everyone to walk together: priests, men and women religious, laity and young people. Walking together and listening to each other, with humility, always leads to a reawakening of the faith and the Christian life.
“For the diocese, the synod represented a path of community discernment of the Holy Spirit. It boosted the commitment of local Catholics to the mission of proclaiming the Gospel. Numbers notwithstanding, participation by the faithful in Sunday Mass and the sacraments confession is important.
“For me the current period is a very busy one. On 10 January, I celebrated the ordination of nine priests. At the same time, I took care of the transfer of 120 parish priests and parochial vicars. In the Diocese of Daejeon, the former serve each community for five years, the latter for two. Before they get to their new parish, they are called in for a personal interview with me.
“In our Diocese, about 25 per cent of the faithful take part in the services on a regular basis, 5 per cent higher than the national average. In this I see the fruits of the diocesan synod.”
With respect to why many people come to the Catholic religion, Bishop You said that "Today's world is the victim of materialism, envy, selfish competition. Everyone thinks about himself or herself and wants to do better than others. How can this lead to happiness and peace? Instead, community life is needed, with mutual love as a new commandment.
“When we walk together, we live experiences of faith, without which it is difficult to explain the faith.” Such experiences “lead to a 'concrete Christian life' on which Pope Francis insists so much. This is what the Holy Father stressed on the third World Day of the Poor, on 17 November; it is fundamental: the importance of seeking and finding the needy, not only once but continuously, being interested in the needs of others. This is something that is very beneficial to everyone's life and faith.”
In light of the growth of the Catholic population, the Church in Korea is ready to take on an increasingly important role in evangelisation in Asia, offering herself as an important support to communities in other countries.
“We always try to help others because in so doing we also mature. In giving, we get back more. The Korean Church is very much aware of the need to go out of the country, both materially and in terms of people and fidei donum missionaries. We shall continue on this path; we shall go ahead and do more and more.” (P.F.)