Catholics increase in South Korea but marriages decline

Protestants and Catholics make Christianity the most followed religion in a country where most follow no religion
Catholics increase in South Korea but marriages decline

A Buddhist monk wears a Santa hat in front of a Christmas tree before a lighting ceremony at the main gate of Jogye Temple in Seoul on Dec. 16, 2015. South Korean Buddhists celebrate Christmas to show harmony among different religions.(Photo: AFP)

The number of Catholics in South Korea has increased by close to 50 percent in the past 20 years, but interest in Sunday Masses and church marriages has decreased, according to a newly released report.

Catholics increased from 3.9 million in 1999 to 5.8 million in 2018, recording growth of 49 percent, statistics released by the Catholic Pastoral Institute of Korea show.

Catholics form 11 percent of South Korea’s 51 million people, with the majority having no religious affiliation.

Despite the positive trend, the report shows a decline in the number of people attending Mass. Close to 30 percent of Catholics attended Mass in 1998, but the number came down to 18 percent in 2018, the report said.

In the wake of this fall, “it is time we reflected on our current missionary work and reconsidered the direction of domestic evangelism,” the report said.

Another worrying trend was the decline in the number of church marriages. In 1998, there were 24,227 nuptial Masses, but the number fell to 14,167 in 2018, a decline of 41 percent.

An added concern was the aging Catholic population in recent years, the report said. Young Catholics under the age of nine saw a decline of 32 percent while teenagers fell by 33 percent from 2003-18.

Nevertheless, the older generation has increased in number. Those in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s are expanding by a rate of 77, 93, 117 and 252 percent respectively, it said.

Protestants and Catholics together form some 30 percent of the population, making Christianity the most followed religion in South Korea.

Only some 15 percent of Koreans follow Buddhism, while 50 percent of people follow no organized religion, according to published records.

The pastoral institute's report said the country has around 1,747 parishes, 5,388 priests, 11,737 religious institutes, 1,273 seminarians, 92 lay missionaries and 1,054 catechists.

In absolute numbers, Catholics increased from 3,946,844 in 1999 to 5,866,510 in 2018, recording an average annual growth of 2 percent.

However, a higher growth rate of 2.2 percent was recorded in 2014 when Pope Francis visited the country and beatified 124 martyrs, the report showed.

Higher growth rates were recorded in 2000 (3 percent) and 2001 (3.2 percent), but the rate dipped sharply in later years to record an all-time low (0.9 percent) in 2018.

The highest increase of Catholics in 20 years (89.1 percent) was recorded in Suwon Diocese, situated in the south of capital Seoul. The dioceses of Daejeon (79.6 percent) and Uijeongbu (78.9 percent) were second and third.

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