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Newly Arriving Religious Congregations Find Few Koreans Willing To Join

Updated: December 14, 2005 05:00 PM GMT
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Women´s Religious congregations that have come to South Korea during the last 10 years are finding it difficult to attract Korean vocations.

"When I came to Korea in 1996, I hoped to find many Korean aspirants, because I had worked in Japan, where Religious vocations were rare," Sister Mary Joanna Suh said.

The School Sisters of Notre Dame nun told UCA News Dec. 8 that she and a Japanese member of her congregation worked together in South Korea, serving elderly Koreans and running a "study home" for elementary school students, until the other nun returned to Japan in 2003.

Sister Suh, a Korean national who was born in Japan and joined the Notre Dame nuns there, now teaches Japanese to Korean youths. This is part of her mission work and an opportunity to contact young women who might be interested in joining her congregation.

"If there is no vocation in five or 10 years, I am not sure that I can continue my work here," she said.

The Notre Dame motherhouse is in Munich, Germany, and the Japan branch belongs to the congregation´s St. Louis province in the United States.

Other congregations that face a similar lack of local vocations include the Capuchin Sisters of the Holy Family and Dominican Sisters of Charity of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin.

"It is true we have no single Korean aspirant here," Capuchin Sister Angela Martinez told UCA News Dec. 8. She and five other members of her congregation came to Korea in 1996.

The nuns began a day-care center in Bucheon, a western suburb of Seoul. They also established a supervised group home in Jeonju, 195 kilometers south of Seoul, for poor, abused or abandoned children and children of working couples.

Sister Martinez explained that they established the congregation in South Korea because it was relatively easy to get visas, unlike with other Asian countries such as India and Indonesia. Also, they want to expand their mission work to North Korea and China in the future.

"Although we don´t have a concrete plan yet, we need to have Korean aspirants for the mission," she said. Her congregation´s motherhouse is in Valencia, Spain. She and four of her fellow nuns are from Colombia. One is from Ecuador.

The Dominican nuns were the first of the three congregations to arrive, in 1995. But they too have failed to recruit any Korean aspirants, Sister Marta Luz Arango told UCA News Dec. 8. Since 1999, four nuns of the congregation have been running a day-care center for poor children in Bucheon. Sister Arango is from Colombia and her companions are from Mexico and India.

According to the Catholic Bishops´ Conference of Korea (CBCK), as of Dec. 31, 2004, the number of women´s Religious institutes in South Korea is 103, with 9,471 members in all. Twelve of the institutes arrived after 1991.

Sister Lugarda Seo is a formator with the Sisters of St. Paul de Chartres, the largest and oldest Religious congregation in Korea, where it has 972 members. But it has yet to gain local aspirants in either Mongolia or China, where several of the Korean nuns have been working since 1996 and 1999, respectively, according to Sister Seo.

"Ten years´ time is long, but not long enough to prepare to receive local members. It is important how often we contact local youth and what kind of apostolate we engage in," she told UCA News Dec. 9.

Sister Seo noted that the number of newcomers to her congregation in Korea since the mid-1990s has decreased to half the number in the 1980s. She said this has greatly affected its work here and in other countries.

In her analysis, the Church and Religious congregations in the country have not responded properly to rapidly changing Korean society and its youth culture. "What matters is how to respond properly to youth culture and become genuinely religious people," she stressed.

Meanwhile, Sister Rosaria Shin of the Passionist Sisters said her convent in Chuncheon diocese has 5 nuns, 3 novices and 1 postulant -- all of them Korean except their Spanish superior. Chuncheon city is 74 kilometers east of Seoul.

Sister Shin, who entered the congregation in the Philippines in 1992, added that except for her and the superior, members were recruited and trained here. The congregation came to Korea in 1996 to spread its charism by living with poor, suffering people, especially children from broken families, abused young women and youth.

"Due to the shortage of nuns in our congregation here, we serve a parish as resident nuns instead," she said, explaining that it is not their charism to do parish work but they do so because of their small number.

Sister Shin told UCA News Dec. 7 that like other Religious congregations in Europe, hers heard that the Korean Church has lots of vocations, which she acknowledges was true in the 1980s. "But when I came here, recruiting newcomers became quite difficult," she pointed out.

Nonetheless, she said her congregation would not give up its mission here in consideration of its responsibility to the Church, even though there may be "few vocations" in the near future. The Passionist congregation was established in 1815, and its motherhouse is in Florence, Italy.

According to the CBCK, the number of women Religious rose from 3,926 in 1984 to 6,844 in 1994 and 9,471 in 2004, reflecting a 74.2-percent increase over the first 10-year span and a 38.3-percent increase over the second.


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