Easter conversions confirm South Korean Church's striking growth

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Catholic Church in Suji-gu, Republic of Korea (CC BY-NC 2.0). Credit: YoungDoo Moon.

South Korea Catholicism continued its rapid growth with another wave of sacramental initiations at the 2012 Easter vigil, according to a report in the newspaper of the Italian bishops' conference.

“Over the past ten years, the Catholic Church in Korea has gone from three to five million faithful; in Seoul we are 14 percent,” Seoul's Cardinal Archbishop Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk said in an interview cited by Father Piero Gheddo in his report for Avvenire, titled “Seoul: An Easter for the Record Books.”

In 2008, approximately 10 percent of South Koreans were Catholic. Figures cited by Fr. Gheddo show this percentage increasing annually by 2 percent or more. The trend is fueling the “Evangelization Twenty Twenty” campaign, aimed at making 20 percent of South Korea's population Catholic by 2020.

Whether or not the goal is attained, the program “demonstrates of itself the enthusiastic faith of the baptized laity, because they are the driving force, and everyone knows it,” wrote Fr. Gheddo.

According to his report, the average parish receives around 300 converts from Buddhism each year, particularly in urban centers. Because of a similar growth trend in the priesthood, two-thirds of the country's priests are less than 40 years old.

The situation contrasts with Western Europe, where local churches often struggle to evangelize and to overcome a shortage of priests.

As European Catholics seek to renew their churches through the “New Evangelization,” Fr. Gheddo believes South Korea offers a lesson: “Never be pessimistic about the future of Christianity and of the Catholic Church.”

“At Easter of this year … in Korea and in the world of the missions, tens of thousands of catechumens again entered the Church,” he noted.
“We of the Old Continent are going through a crisis in our faith, but in the young Churches the action of the Holy Spirit is giving us an injection of hope and of Paschal joy.”

One pastor, Father Paul Kim Bo Rok, told Fr. Gheddo that “each year, we celebrate two or three rites of collective baptism of adults: each time the baptized are 200, 300, or even more, after about a year of catechumenate.”

“That's not much, but we can't allow any more time because of the many requests for religious instruction.” He said Church workers were “overwhelmed by the wave of conversions.”

The pastor explained that converts receive careful formation after baptism, entering into a community “that draws you in deeply, gives you norms of behavior and effort, gives you prayers to say every day.”

“When one enters the Church one accepts everything,” Fr. Bo Rok reflected, noting that Koreans expect religion to be “something serious and demanding.”

“This is the Korean spirit: either you accept and commit yourself, or you don't accept and go away.”

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