Year of Faith holds promise of renewal
Faith must be transmitted more effectively
Such significant memorials have something in common: the renewal of the Church and of our faith. This was also the motivating factor in Pope John XXIII convening Vatican II.
The impact of the Council has been different from country to country, but in Korea it helped move the Church towards a more participatory body in terms of religious dialogue and ecumenical movements.
As of the end of 2011, the local Church had 5.32 million Catholics, or 10.3 percent of the total population. In 1962 when the Council convened, it had only just more than half a million.
Many factors contributed to such a sharp rise in the Catholic community, but I think the Council was a principal one.
The Church in Korea saw a six to 10 percent increase each year after the 1960s. However, in the last decade the rate of increase has dropped to two percent, similar to trends in the West.
Statistics of the Catholic Church in Korea for 2011 show other interesting trends.
First, the aging trend within the Church has outstripped the trend in local society. Over the last decade the national population under the age of 19 has decreased by 15.3 percent. Catholic youths in the same age bracket have decreased by 24.4 percent.
In addition, Koreans over the age of 70 have increased by 81.4, while Catholics over 70 have inceased by 127.5 percent.
Without attempting to read too much into the numbers, it is safe to conclude that faith is not being passed down from generation to generation as it once was. We need new ways and perspectives for age-specific pastoral ministry.
Second, the number of local Catholics who participate in receiving the sacraments has declined.
In the last decade, the number of baptisms has declined by 24.2 percent, while marriages have dropped by 25.2 percent. The number of Catholics who regularly attend Mass is also down.
Though the Church in Korea has grown externally, it is also true that participation in what is the core of the life of faith and an indication of spiritual maturity – the sacraments – has greatly weakened.
Lastly, the numbers of infant baptisms, first communions and Sunday school attendance, all of which are indicators of how well faith is transmitted to the next generation, has fallen steeply over the last decade.
These trends suggest the Korean Church may be repeating the failure of the European Church and requires analysis of socio-cultural challenges and factors within the Church.
There is some good news, though, in that the local Church has increased its presence in overseas missions.
As of 2011, the Church in Korea has sent 899 missionaries to 77 countries, and the Korean bishops have expressed their commitment to more active mission work in the future.
Overseas missions can help the local Church contribute to the spiritual maturity of the local body by training more priests for pastoral work abroad.
But perhaps the most important obstacle remains – the need to battle the temptations of secularism inside the Church and to renew the commitment of local Catholics in the coming Year of Faith.
Joseph Eom Jae-jung is a researcher at the Catholic Pastoral Institute of Korea in the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea
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