Korean Church, Now Bigger, Looks to Revitalize Its Ranks

Lukewarmness Seen Among Laity and Clergy

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SEOUL, South Korea, MARCH 13, 2002 (ZENIT.orgFides).- The hierarchy of the Catholic Church in South Korea is marking its 40th anniversary amid a growing sense that the clergy and laity need to be revitalized.

The hierarchy was established March 10, 1962, when its apostolic vicariates were promoted to dioceses. Since then, the Church in Korea has grown steadily structurally and financially, increasing the number of native clergy.

According to statistics published by the bishops´ conference, as of the end of 2000, there were 2,891 South Korean priests, about 10 times as many as in 1962. Korean bishops numbered 23 out of the 25 in the country, and there were 4,071,560 Catholics in 1,228 parishes under 15 dioceses (including the Military Ordinariate). About 19% of South Korea´s 46.4 million people are Protestants.

Despite the quantitative growth, the Catholic Church now faces difficult problems, such as fewer baptisms and fewer participants in the sacraments. The laity are less fervent and the clergy are more bureaucratic, say observers in the Church.

“To become a more creative and future-oriented Church, the Church in Korea should foster a relationship of communion between the clergy and lay people, including mutual respect and partnership,” said Father John Shim Sang-tae, director of the Korean Christian Thought Institute.

In particular, “epoch-making steps should be made to elevate the status of women in the Church and to take a clear position on pending issues of society in accordance with social teachings of the Church,” the priest added.

Father Mark Pak Sang-dae, professor at the Catholic University of Pusan, stressed: “The power to open the Church´s future depends solely on the sanctification of priests.” He also urged priests to be adequately prepared for Mass and homilies.

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