"Priests, nuns and parish leaders in Seoul have said they have seen a marked increase in the number of people wanting to become Catholics," states this report today — Surge in people taking catechism after cardinal's death
The report reminds us that "Cardinal Kim was seen as a defender of human rights against dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s and many have called him Korea's guardian of human rights and democracy." Furthermore, "comprehensive media reports of the late cardinal's life in the wake of his death could have helped people learn about his contributions to society." Also noted is the fact that "Koreans these days are struggling to find hope, especially because of the economic downturn."
This is the continuation of an ongoing trend. The The Hankyoreh
, a leftist newspaper, in a 2006 report — Catholicism, not Protestantism, captures minds of Koreans
— attempted to answer the question, "Why has Catholicism increased so dramatically in South Korea, while the number of those following Protestant Christian religions has petered off?" The article quotes Father O Gyeong-hwan, an emeritus professor of Incheon Catholic University, as suggesting that the reasons for this are: "The integrity associated with Catholic priests, their participation in justice and human rights movements, their flexible attitude related to traditional Korean ceremonies involving ancestor worship and funeral practices, as well as their generous acceptance of other religions."
A 2007 JoongAng Daily
report — Ritual and robes make a good brand
— noted that "there are now 5.1 million Roman Catholics in Korea, an increase of 74.4 percent over the last 10 years... in sharp contrast to the 3.9 per cent increase in Buddhists, to 11 million, and the 1.6 per cent decline in Protestants to 8.6 million." stated that the the Church reports far fewer believers than the government statistics do, quoting a Roman Catholic Bishops Conference of Korea secretary as saying that "about 480,000... people who hadn’t even registered their names at the church told the survey that they were Roman Catholics." Why would half-a-million non-Catholics declare themselves Catholic? Said the secretary, "[I]t’s very likely that they are emotionally drawn to the religious image of the Roman Catholic Church even when they are not Roman Catholics."
The article also notes the unique history of the Korean Catholic Church: "Roman Catholicism is one of the few religions in Korea that began without assistance from foreign missionaries. Roman Catholicism initially spread via Koreans who went to Beijing in the late 16th century to be baptized."
This recent growth caught the attention of Vatican insider Sandro Magister, who notes that "the Catholic Church is especially vigorous i[n] South Korea" in his interview of Korea's second cardinal, Archbishop Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk of Seoul — Mission Asia: The Laboratory is South Korea
During my own RCIA study here in Korea in 2002, a nun told us that among Korea's non-religious population (about half the population), Catholicism was held in the highest esteem, compared to Buddhism and Protestantism. This is due, I believe, to the Faith's commitment to both Social Justice and Tradition. Koreans are, paradoxically, both egalitarian and hierarchical. The Church's emphasis on Social Justice appeals to the democratic side of the Korean psyche, while her emphasis on Tradition appeals to the Confucian side.
Labels: Buddhism, Confucianism, Corea, Separated Brethren, The Catholic Faith