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Updated: March 16, 2003 05:00 PM GMT
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A Catholic diocese serving an area of largely poor and aging farmers in South Korea is gearing up to undertake new efforts for pastoral ministry and evangelization more attuned to the local reality.

Father Anselmus Kim Hak-rok, pastoral administrator of Andong diocese, told UCA News that his bishop has set up the Special Committee for Evangelization to prepare "a pastoral plan for 2003 as well as a long-term pastoral vision" for the diocese. Andong is about 200 kilometers southeast of Seoul.

Bishop John Chrysostom Kwon Hyok-ju of Andong pointed out in a pastoral letter early this year that he would set up the committee to study changing local conditions and to target groups that need more attention.

Bishop Kwon´s pastoral letter stressed that the essential Church mission is "to preach the Good News to the poor," and that setting up the committee was meant to achieve just that. He called on Catholics to "take the poor as the primary target for preaching the Gospel."

The bishop, installed in late 2001, also explained that the committee will prepare new pastoral initiatives for the diocese, where "only 4 percent" of the people are Catholics, about half the rate of all Catholics in the country.

The committee was launched Feb. 20 with eight members, all priests. Father Kim, the committee vice-president, said that during its first meeting on Feb. 28, members decided to set up an ad hoc sub-committee to research the kinds of pastoral work that the diocese needs.

He pointed out that the diocese has many mission stations, reflecting the fact that "there are many farmers in the area." He stressed that the diocese should especially find ways to help farmers who have been suffering due to South Korea´s increased importation of agricultural products.

Father Kim said Andong diocese is "aging" because many youths have left for the cities and more industrialized areas of the country. The diocese, third largest of South Korea´s 14 dioceses, has the lowest proportion of Catholics. According to 2001 Church statistics, its 44,000 Catholics live among 899,000 people in 31 parishes and 82 mission stations that are served by 67 priests.

Father Thaddeus Chung Jin-hoon, the sub-committee head, told UCA News the area´s population has dropped by 50 percent over the last 30 years. He said his sub-committee "will analyze" the situation and its implications, but for now, "it is important to grasp the current situation, such as the diocese´s relationship with farmers and the government´s agricultural policy."

Father Chung said the sub-committee, to be comprised of priests, Religious and laypeople in the diocese, will hold a workshop or retreat for diocesan priests to help them understand the situation after the research is completed.


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