Spring is a time of rejuvenation, when nature awakes from a cold sleep and dresses itself for the approach of summer. But Korea has had too much sorrow in recent months, and tragedy has dampened what should otherwise be a joyful time of year. A university student killed over an online chat dispute, an abortion rate two times that of live births and a suicide rate that tops the list of countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, among other things, have contributed to a feeling that Korean society has fallen prey to a culture of death and despair. In the 60 years since the armistice that halted the Korean War, the country has industrialized, embraced democracy and has taken its place as a global economic power. But the country still faces severe social challenges. What appears to be economic development could as easily be described as colonization by a system that favors profits above all else. The liberal capitalism that Korea has embraced does not foster interrelationships among society. Rather, it promotes self-interest. Society cannot agree on how to tackle escalating unemployment. Ideology trumps decency and prevents people from respecting human rights and the right of dissent. The state employs powerful controls over society, particularly over issues of national security and the reconciliation of the North and South. Instead of pushing to secure the welfare of all of its people, the state seeks what it deems to be in its own interest, whether that be a free trade agreement that favors foreign nations, development projects that pay little heed to their impact on the environment, or efforts to trample a free press by putting it in the service of powerful political and business interests. Part of fulfilling the promise of freedom and modernization after decades of war and social upheaval is to cultivate a society that cherishes the welfare of all people. The Church has no less an obligation to make its own contributions to this end. I dream of a community where diversity is respected and understanding of others is encouraged. I also dream of a society where the Church remembers that its mission is to bring the good news of love and justice to people who seek to build a country rooted in the respect and preservation of life, not a culture of despair and death. Jesuit Father Joseph Kim Yong-hae is a professor of philosophy at the Jesuit-run Sogang University in Seoul and director of the Institute of Life and Culture.
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