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Church finds new life in the community

Parishioners flock to 'out-of-hours' cultural activities

A woman takes flute lessons at a Catholic Church A woman takes flute lessons at a Catholic Church
  • Francesca Shin, Gunsan
  • Korea
  • September 30, 2011
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What goes on in most South Korean Catholic churches, at times when there is no Mass, no sacraments, no devotional meetings? As with all too many churches worldwide, the answer is – nothing.

One priest even said he feels sad when the parishioners file out after Mass and he is left alone.

But now the  Naun-dong Church in Jeonju diocese has revitalized itself by throwing open its doors to the local community.

Since announcing itself as the “Naun Community Center” last March, Catholics and non-Catholics alike have been flocking in, taking English and Chinese courses, learning to play musical instruments and enjoying courses in massage and yoga.

Parish priest Father John Lee Doeg-guen said, “I want it to become the church where young people crowd in and all our neighbors come along. That’s why almost every day the place is noisy with laughter and music.”

The classes are run from Tuesday to Sunday, with around 110 people now registered, paying 5,000 to 20,000 won (US$4-17) a month for their lessons.

Sunday afternoons are the busiest time with many young students taking music lessons and a group of women silently practicing yoga in the parish’s chapel.

Among the students Choi Young-mi, a 48-year-old non-Catholic, is learning to play the flute. Her two sons are also learning to play instruments, so they come along together every Sunday.

“I hesitated to come to a Catholic church,” said Choi,  “but now I like it so much that I even recommend the classes to other people.”

“The class also helps me talk with my children more, so it improves my relationship with them,” she added.

The classes have even inspired at least one Catholic to come back to the faith. Agnes Lee Suck-ja, who attends the Chinese language class on Thursday said she had not come to church for 10 years, but learning Chinese there encouraged her to return.

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