A new program to train foreign missioners was launched last week in an effort to raise awareness of the importance of mission work abroad and to better educate priests on how to participate. The Korean Missionary Society (KMS) opened the Overseas Mission School jointly with the Korean Bishops’ Conference on March 7 to focus specifically on the training of Religious and diocesan priests. Catholics in Korea embraced Christianity voluntarily and largely without widespread missionary work, though the growth of the local church has been greatly aided by the work of missioners from abroad, especially from the Columban Society, Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, and the Paris Foreign Missions Society. However, the Korean Church has also seen a drop in Religious vocations as well as stagnation in the formation and ordination of diocesan priests. It is therefore crucial that the local Church find new ways to spur growth at home and abroad. Several diocesan and Religious congregations in Korea have sent missioners overseas. Some 795 Korean missionaries were working in 75 countries as of the end of 2010. But the local Church needs to improve on these accomplishments. Sending missioners to other countries helps not only the host country but improves the Korean Church through its dedication to service and its faithfulness to the message of the Gospels. Moreover, the Church in Korea has shown its commitment to the nation, through Christ’s love, by its active participation in democratization and social justice in previous decades. It should continue to share these ideals through mission work outside its boundaries. Foreign mission training is not easy. Priests zealous for the work in theory are often not prepared for the challenges they will face abroad. Chief among these is the need for the Universal Church to embrace different religious cultures and regional differences. Prospective foreign missioners must be well-schooled in the social and cultural contexts of the countries in which they are to serve, especially local languages. KMS, which oversees 64 missioners in seven countries, has partnered with the Korean bishops to benefit from their rich experience in foreign missions. But the need to increase foreign mission service remains an uphill task in Korea. The year-long course, which includes training in missiology, Church history, culture and theology, attracted only four applicants. Diocesan priests are well aware of the importance of mission work but perhaps they remain unprepared to do anything about it. Despite its initial low turnout, the program is likely to attract greater interest in the long term as potential candidates discover the advantages of preparing for foreign service. Father Thomas Yang Kum-ju is the director of the Missionary Center of the Korean Missionary Society
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