Young Catholics pray as they attend a mass conducted by Pope Francis to conclude the 6th Asian Youth Day in Haemi, some 150 kilometers south of Seoul, on August 17, 2014. (Photo: AFP)
The number of young Catholics at Sunday mass in South Korea dropped by 17 percent compared to years prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, says a survey.
The survey by the Korean Catholic Research Institute of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference found that 36.1 percent of Catholic youth in their twenties join Sunday mass in 2023 compared to 53.2 percent before the pandemic, Catholic Peace Broadcasting Corporation (CPBC) reported on March 23.
The online survey was conducted from Jan. 10-16 among 1,063 Catholics over the age of 19.
Among the respondents in their twenties, one out of four said they only participate in mass on special occasions or do not participate at all.
The various reasons for skipping Sunday mass were also captured by the survey.
“I'm used to not attending Sunday mass” occupied the top spot with a majority of 58 percent of respondents choosing it as a reason for skipping mass on Sundays.
Among other multiple choices selected by the respondents, lack of confession, fear of Covid-19 infection, and “participation in mass is no longer an important criterion for the faith” each accounted for 30 percent of the responses.
The survey also revealed a general picture of continuous Sunday mass attendance in comparison to the pandemic period and of late.
Among the respondents who stated that they were avoiding Sunday mass around 70 percent were women.
According to the survey, 58.8 percent of Catholics above the age of 50 in North Gyeongsang Province and Seoul reported that they were not attending Sunday mass.
The survey also revealed that 13.6 percent of Catholics who participated in Sunday mass regularly throughout the pandemic period attended mass on special occasions or do not attend at all.
The trend of avoiding Sunday mass is high among believers who have lived a religious life for more than 31 years and high-income households, CPBC reported.
A separate, independent survey conducted online by K-Stat Research among 1,000 people evaluated the Catholic church's response during the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the survey, 41.9 percent of respondents stated that the Catholic church’s response was “good”, and 33.7 percent stated the response as “insufficient.”
The decline in mass attendance is viewed as an alarming sign as the Korean Church has been recording a drop in priestly vocations due to a decline in birth rates and an increasing lack of religiosity in the country.
The number of newly ordained priests dropped to 87 in 2023 from 131 in 2011, a decrease of 35 percent, according to the Statistics of the Catholic Church in Korea, media houses reported.
Besides, the number of students at seminaries nationwide decreased by about 30 percent from 1,587 in 2011 to 1,137 in 2021. During the same period, the number of students enrolled in seminaries decreased by 40 percent from 223 to 138.
Despite the decline in vocations, the church data showed that the number of Catholics in South Korea increased from 5,442,996 in 2013 to 5,938,045 in 2023.