10/30/2022, 11.58
ECCLESIA IN ASIA
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Seoul archdiocese wants to host WYD 2027

by Giorgio Bernardelli

Msgr. Peter Chung Soon-taick wants to bring World Youth Day to Asia: "It would be an extraordinary opportunity to revive youth ministry in a country struggling with a demographic winter and an education system dominated by competitiveness." An announcement that in these hours is intertwined with the dramatic news about the hundreds killed and injured in the stampede for the Hallowen festivities in the Itaewon district.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) - "We want to bring World Youth Day to Seoul in 2027. We are presenting our candidacy to be the diocese that will host the World Youth Gathering with the pope in the edition following next year's one in Lisbon."

We first learned of this announcement two days ago from Msgr. Peter Chung Soon-taick, the 61-year-old prelate who just a year ago was called by Pope Francis to lead the archdiocese of Seoul. He is in Bangkok for the General Conference of the Catholic Churches of Asia. We had recorded his great attention to everything that moves around the Korean youth world, along with the willingness of this local Church to take up the challenge of a qualitative leap in its presence alongside young people. The dramatic news coming out of Seoul tonight-with the hundreds dead and injured in the stampede for the Hallowen festivities in the neighborhood of Itaewon-now gives a somewhat different flavor to the educational challenge underlying this desire of the Church in one of the world's largest metropolises.

A Carmelite religious, former auxiliary bishop of his predecessor - Card. Andrew Yeom Soo-jung - Msgr. Chung precisely by being accompanied by young people on Dec. 8, 2021 made his entrance into Myeongdong Cathedral. And in telling AsiaNews about the dream he hopes to make a reality he spoke to us precisely about how the intention to bring World Youth Day to Seoul has at its root the intention to revive youth ministry in the Korean Church, which after the boom years crosses less and less with the under-30 generation. Without ignoring the appeal of Korean youth culture today to new generations around the world; but with the ambition to bring it together with the values that the Gospel and Korean tradition itself have to transmit.

In its history WYD has been celebrated only once so far has in Asia: in Manila in 1995 with John Paul II. In 2027 it would gather those who were not yet born then, offering an extraordinary opportunity for young Catholics from all over Asia. Msgr. Chung is keen to point out that "nothing is decided yet," because as usual "it will be the pope who will make the choice" on the city that will pick up Lisbon's legacy.

But Seoul is hopeful, not only for the event itself but for what it could represent in the moment its Church is experiencing. "In Korea we are facing a great challenge," explains the Archbishop of Seoul, "because the total number of young people is shrinking sharply. Compared to 20 years ago, young people have decreased by a quarter. Our country's birth rate is the lowest in the world: according to official statistics only 0.8 children per couple, lower even than Japan. As a result, the number of young people attending our churches is also decreasing."

But population decline is not the only reason for the rising average age of Korean Catholic communities. "Another reason," Msgr. Chung continues, "is related to the fact that today so many students, even as early as elementary school, end up sucked into the vortex of competition to win a place in the best universities, the gateway to the most skilled jobs. Even among Catholic parents there are those who discourage them from attending church activities and instead go to extracurricular courses to study even more." This competition is a very heavy burden on the shoulders of young people, to which the Covid-19 pandemic has also been added in the last three years.

"This is why," the prelate continued, "we need a turning point for youth ministry in Seoul, and the WYD is an auspicious occasion. We have presented the project to the other bishops of Korea who have given their support. Nothing is decided yet. But we are preparing the dossier to send to the Holy See with our candidacy."

What contribution could come from a World Youth Day in Seoul? "A WYD," replied Msgr. Chung, "is not born and over in the space of a handful of days; it is a journey. Its preparation could become an excellent opportunity to bring young people together around a project by making them protagonists. Urge them to invite their peers to experience it together. It would set a process in motion. And even once it is over, it would be nice to share with everyone what we have experienced, it would become a missionary occasion to share the values of the Gospel in our society. That's why I think of the WYD as a turning point for Seoul."

All this just as from one side of the world to the other there is a fascination for Korea among young people: from K-pop music to TV series stories, many girls and boys from the global village feel on Seoul's wavelength. "It is true," replied the archbishop, "K-culture today attracts many young people, and if we have the opportunity to host the WYD it will be an interesting card for us. Someone might be encouraged by this very thing to participate. Of course, the values of K-culture are not the Catholic ones, but it is a face of this country of ours; it will be up to us to know how to use it to make known the Gospel of Jesus, what we really care about."  

With the understanding that Korea's history and traditions also have much more to communicate to new generations. "I think for example of respect for other people, respect for the elderly," Msgr. Chung added, "attitudes that have been deeply rooted in our mentality for thousands of years. Even before my country knew Christianity, it was said here that man is heaven: every life is as precious as the divine. Here: we would like to be able to share this too in 2027 with young people around the world."

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