07/15/2004, 00.00
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New "Rules" for lay missioners

Employment guarantees still bein discussed

Seoul (AsiaNews/UCAN) – The first step towards the formal recognition of lay missionaries' role in the Church has been taken. Rules For Lay Missioners of Kwangju Archdiocese is the document that formalises lay missioners' presence and participation in one local archdiocese. However, it does not yet speak to the need for employment guarantees.

In 2002 South Korea's lay missioners asked for the first time that the Church officially recognise and support their activities in terms of both collaboration at the diocesan level and an adequate remuneration for their pastoral and educational activities. Two years later on May 10, Archbishop Andrew Choi Chang-mou of Kwangju announced the new Rules for his archdiocese. According to Francis Lee Seong-eun, a lay missioner who took part in drafting the rules, "they are meaningful because they were made from the bottom up."

The Rules are based on 17 articles covering different aspects of lay missionary work and life, namely appointment and dismissal, children's education, contracts and job suspension, training, leave, qualifications, wages and retirement benefits.

There are about 70 lay missioners in South Korea living mainly in remote areas where priests are unable to visit on a regular basis. They visit the sick, conduct some religious services, give religious education, and, whenever necessary, perform administrative tasks. They are certified as lay missioners after completing a two-year course at the Catholic Catechetical Institute in Seoul, run by the Catholic bishops' conference. Topics include the Bible, canon law, Church history, moral and spiritual theology.

Father Andrew Heo Woo-young, deputy administrator of the local mission station pastoral office, said that in the past the situation was too uncertain. "Any parish priest could arbitrarily appoint or dismiss lay missioners working at his mission stations." The rules now require a parish priest to get permission from the archbishop to appoint or dismiss anyone.

Never the less, for some lay missioners, the "Rules" are just a step in the right direction, not a solution. Something important is missing, namely the transfer of decision-making power in matters of appointment, transfers and dismissal to the archbishop, which is the only way to guarantee lay missioners job security at the end of their mandate. For 47-year old Lee Seong-eun, who has six children, the ultimate goal is for appointment, transfer and dismissal be done under the archbishop's authority so "we will not need to look for our next post by ourselves."

While acknowledging the problem, Father Heo said it is impossible for the archbishop to take on the responsibility for lay missioners' appointment, transfer and dismissal. That would mean the archdiocese would pay salaries.

The Rules state instead that parish priests pay lay missioners a monthly wage from his parish or mission station budget. At present, such wages average 600,000/700,000 wons (US0-600). According to Labour Ministry statistics the average net monthly salary in 2003 for full-time workers was 1,530,000 wons.

Kwangju Archdiocese is located 266 kilometres south of Seoul. It has 22 lay missioners (15 male and 7 female), 100 parishes and 80 mission stations.

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