Not just the Olympics: joy and mission in the Synod of Daejeon
As the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics get underway, the diocese of Daejeon, a sacred place because of the Korean martyrs, will see the start of the diocesan Synod. The event will provide an opportunity to meet the challenges of the mission in South Korea, a society marked by individualism, with the ever-present threat of a nuclear conflict with the North. The joy of faith, the lived communion, and martyrdom as a daily gift of life are some of the topics.
Daejeon (AsiaNews) – This year the Diocese of Daejeon will celebrate its 70th anniversary. To prepare for the event, the plenary session of the Diocesan Synod will start on 11 February and continue throughout the year. The preparation for the Synod was two years in the making and involved 850 representatives – priests, religious and members of the laity.
As in the beginning, even now I entrust to God all the journey to the intercession of the Most Holy Mary and to the Martyrs. The words that drive us are: "the Church [. . .] sign and instrument both of a very closely-knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race (Lumen Gentium, 1)” and “To make the Church the home and the school of communion: that is the great challenge facing us in the millennium which is now beginning (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 43).
The Church's mission is to build communion! The Church lives a life of unity, reconciliation, sharing, service, tolerance and care for others thanks to the love that God pours onto us. The Church is called to testify to the presence of God in the context of the world. Therefore, the favourable path for the realisation of the union with God – which is the vocation of each one of us – is also the main way to proclaim the Good News to a world that suffers.
Unfortunately, in today's Korean society it is not easy to see unity, reconciliation, sharing and care for others. Selfishness prevails, not only at a personal level, but also at a national level which, often, can reach certain extremes. With respect to the tensions on the Korean peninsula, we can see exclusivism, discrimination, division – people led astray in search of power and domination, as well as greed that infests society. People have begun to criticise not only politicians, but also religions and their members.
In this situation, I think that the Church in Korea must reflect with the utmost seriousness about this reality and on its role. Crimes ever crueller, a growing economic polarisation, suicides and divorces that increase day by day, the widespread tendency to devalue human life, the increase in the number of non-practicing Catholics . . . all this raises a thorny question: Has the Church in Korea really adequately played the role of light and salt in our society?
Right in the middle of this reality, we undertake the journey of the Synod to prepare for the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the Diocese. Based on the results of two years of work, at the next Plenary Session we shall be invited to reflect: "What and how can we bear witness to the world in the name of the Church?"
This last stage in our work will centre on two premises of great importance.
The first premise is Evangelii Gaudium, and the thrust that Pope Francis has given to pastoral outreach. As he put it, "Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: ‘We have always done it this way’. I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities” (Evangelii Gaudium, 33).
"Pastoral ministry in a missionary key " is the point of reference to which the diocesan community must turn for change and renewal.
Being a missionary does not mean an imposition of the faith or an increase in the number of the baptised. Rather, it means that the mission of the Church, that is evangelisation, means transforming a) "the conscience of individuals or groups", b) "all the activities they perform in society" and c) "the actual environments in which the people live" in accordance with the logic of the Gospel message, relying on the power of God.
Therefore, during the Plenary Session, with the help and guidance of Evangelii Gaudium, we shall apply ourselves to find new structures, new styles, and new evangelising methods that can be useful for the renewal of our diocesan community.
The second premise is "the spirituality of martyrdom". Martyrs are a model to us, as we renew evangelisation. The diocese of Daejeon was founded on the faith of the martyrs who shed blood to bear witness to the Gospel. The Martyrs never retreated even when faced with the threat of being killed – they bore witness to the Gospel with courage.
"The spirituality of Martyrdom" does not mean remembering something as a beautiful and glorious past. It means instead participation in the faith and life the martyrs bore witness to despite the threat of capital punishment. Faced with their persecutors, they voluntarily chose death to testify to the truth of faith.
It thus seems to me that the tasks of the Synod are clear: remember the life, efforts and testimonies of the Martyrs for evangelisation, and reflect upon their examples so that each of us can put them into practice in our daily life and in the various aspects of today’s pastoral outreach.
I would like to invite the diocesan family to live the spirituality of martyrdom in today's situation. In fact, today, in the situation of the diocese of Daejeon, faith is testified not through "death," but through "daily life". The Martyrs, although they lived at a time of discrimination and exclusiveness, were full of the spirit of service and sharing, bearing witness to the truth of the Gospel, without any compromise, despite all the disadvantages imaginable, even faced with the threat of death. Having received this spiritual heritage, today's laity is called to equip themselves with the spirituality of martyrdom in order to live it with perseverance in daily life. In turn, priests too are called to live the same spirituality, so that they can offer their entire self to their flock, following the example of the Good Shepherd, in performing their various pastoral activities.
For this reason, the issues that will be discussed during the Plenary Session are as follows:
1. Martyrdom. I suggest this as the first topic, not to favour any academic or historical discussion about martyrs, but hoping that the theme of martyrdom will permeate all the topics of the Synod. In other words, the theme of martyrdom should always be taken into account as the regula communis that touches all other topics.
2. Priesthood. According to the results of a prior questionnaire, the priests of the Diocese of Daejeon consider that the clergy needs the most renewal in the diocesan community. Indeed, I am impressed by my priests, because they desire change in the diocesan community, above all their own renewal. Various topics will be discussed: spirituality, life, ministry, management of the community of priests and clerical communion, evangelical poverty, etc.
3. Laity. As indicated by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, the importance and role of lay believers should be emphasized more than ever in our time. Lay believers in the history of the Church in Korea have shown their passion as they search for the truth that is found only in the faith in Christ. Moreover, over the past few centuries, whenever Korean society found itself in a difficult situation, lay believers have never retreated from bearing witness to the faith. They have faithfully fulfilled the mission of evangelisation and witness in their own walks of life. However, in light of today's society, one can see that a culture of death also lurks in the life of Catholic believers. In fact, it is easy to feel that in this period of rapid change in society, there are many problems with aspects and dimensions never seen before. In my opinion, this is a serious problem, for the crisis of lay believers is precisely the crisis of the Church. In the Plenary Session the following themes will be discussed: the role of lay believers today, family, life, the elderly, the young, and non-practicing believers.
The Diocese of Daejeon is home to several world-class scientific research centres. It also has government ministries. In addition, the diocesan area has to contend with various problems concerning migrants, refugees from North Korea, and rural residents. All of the latter are considered as marginal in Korean society. I believe that in our effort to proclaim Christ's teachings in everyday life, we can spread God’s tenderness and love, opening a new phase of salvation in today's society.
At this point, I cannot fail to mention the threat of nuclear weapons that hangs over the Korean peninsula. God has created men in His image and likeness, but unfortunately, some seem to prefer the way of complete devastation. Among people we notice a temptation to yield to worldly concerns, to human calculations, and to despairing fear.
Yet, I never tire of encouraging people not to lose hope, pointing to the admirable example of Our Lady in the scene of the Annunciation. With all my heart, I urge the People of God to respond as Mary did: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word." Thus, with renewed evangelical courage, we can continue to walk together.
* Bishop of Daejeon