The Church in Daejeon at 60
by Pino Cazzaniga
Two years of pilgrimages, martyr worship and fund raising for the poor went into preparing the anniversary. Now the diocese is sending missionaries to Mongolia and is helping other dioceses in South Korea.
Daejeon (AsiaNews) – Last Sunday more than 38,000 Catholics met in Daejeon’s big stadium to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of their diocese. The ceremony lasted four hours in atmosphere of joy.

In a message sent for the occasion, Benedict XVI expressed his “fervent hope that the events that mark this important moment in the life of the Church in Daejeon may be an opportunity for renewed witness in the light of Our Lord and stronger dedication to the Church’s task of evangelisation.”

The celebration is a high point that began in 1948. A few data can best illustrate this. When the diocese was created (initially as an apostolic vicariate) it had 13 parishes, 18,000 Catholics, a bishop and 18 priests (three native Korans). Now it has 114 parishes, 236,000 worshippers and 275 priests, almost all Korean.

Bishop Lazarus You Heung-sik, who took over the diocese in 2006, quickly realised its spiritual potential and with pastoral responsibility suggested the diocese celebrate its 60th anniversary, an idea that was enthusiastically welcomed by clergy and faithful alike. In Korean culture 60 represents a fundamental stage in one’s life.

A Church founded on the blood of martyrs

Daejeon’s first bishop, Mgr Adrien Larribeau, from the Institut des Missions Étrangères (MEP) in Paris, came with 15 fellow clergymen. They arrived in 1948 but the MEP was already in the country, and had been as early as 1831, a time of persecution and martyrdom.

Like other early 19th century Korean martyrs, Saint Andrew Kim Dae Gon, the first Korean priest, was from the Daejong area, Mgr You said.

When Japan took over the country (1910-1945), evangelisation became even harder. Yet, despite the difficult situation, MEP missionaries helped by German Benedictines and US Maryknoll missionaries were able to establish the Church in every region of the peninsula.

In 1948, faithful to their charisma of ordinary founders of local Churches, MEP missionaries turned over every ecclesial area and retired to the Daejeon area, then the smallest and poorest part of the country.

In 1950 the appalling Korean War broke out because of the ideological hatred and thirst for power of North Korea’s Communist dictator Kim Il-Song. In Daejeon ten priests and some aides were eventually lost as a result of the conflict.

After that tragedy the diocese was built up on solid bases under Larribeau’s leadership, thanks to substantial economic and human aid from France.

For this reason Daejeon Catholics have expressed deep gratitude on the 60th anniversary for what sister Churches in the West have done. Bishop Lazarus insisted that the material aid went beyond any financial consideration. It instilled in the young Church of Korea a sense of Catholicity.

From a Church that receives to one that gives

In 1965 the running of the diocese was turned over to Mgr Peter Hwang (1965-84), who, despite the country’s economic and political woes, made an important contribution to the region’s evangelisation and economic independence.

In 1984, the bicentennial year of the Catholic Church in Korea saw Pope John Paul II visit the country and the canonisation of 103 Korean martyrs. At that time Mgr Joseph Kyeong was appointed bishop of Daejeon (1984-2005).

Under his leadership the diocese reached a turning point. From a Church that received it became a Church that gave. Not only did it achieve economic self-sufficiency but it saw the doubling of the number of vocations, the creation of a Catholic university and the beginning of missions in Mongolia. Concurrently tens of thousand of worshippers began volunteering in various domains of Church life. But perhaps its greatest contribution has been in the evangelisation of the country beyond its diocesan boundaries.

This was a time when South Korea’s rapid industrialisation produced large-scale internal migration from rural areas to the larger cities. Among such internal migrants many were Catholics from Daejeon who in the subs of the big cities became the promoters of Christian cells.

“Remembrance and action”

Conscious of the ecclesial richness entrusted in him, Mgr Lazarus You saw in the 60th anniversary celebrations the start of a new journey. After getting the agreement of all groups in his diocese he saw the celebrations as a time to ‘Remember in order to act’.

From the start of the even, ‘remembrance’ and ‘action’ had to take place at the same time. This way, spiritual energies were harnessed over the past two years along three lines:

1) Pilgrimage movement to revive the martyrs’ spirit. A relic from Saint Andrew Kim martyr travelled from parish to parish for the purpose of spiritual renewal. Since it was the 150th anniversary of the apparition of Our Lady of Lourdes to which the diocese is dedicated eight 20-km pilgrimages were organised. At least 2,600 young people recited the Rosary as they walked the distance.

2) Bible transcription movement. This was an original way to favour the lectio divina as some 15,000 worshippers transcribed the New Testament.

3) 100 won per meal movement. Simply put, before every meal one had to become aware of Jesus’ presence and put aside 100 won (US$ 0.09) for the poor who are one with the Lord. From the beginning the movement generated about 50 million won (US$ 44,000) which were invested in “Our Lady House” in Cheonan to provide hot meals to people who are alone, especially the elderly. This is expected to become a permanent institution in commemoration of the 60th anniversary.

Stadium liturgy, image of the Church in Daejeon

Last Sunday morning, the Olympic Stadium doubled as cathedral where thousands of Catholics were the image of Daejeon’s Catholic Church. In an atmosphere of prayer, the past was celebrated in a series of symbolic acts: a holy representation to relive the spirit of the martyred forefathers, a procession with the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes as a conclusion and climax of the pilgrimages, and the solemn Eucharist presided by Bishop Lazarus You and Archbishop Osvaldo Padilla, the apostolic nuncio, and four other Korean bishops, which brought together the “100 won per meal” movement.