Why don't Catholics evangelize?
A country evangelized without missions abroad
The Korean Church is relatively young. Its story began about 222 years ago when a group of young scholars came across Catholicism. And while they were studying Western literature, they were looking for a new idea to steer the changes in Korean society at that time. Their studies, initially driven by curiosity about a new theory, gradually turned into faith thanks to God's grace as they began to think about it. They had already worked through most of the Catholic teaching on their own. After realizing the importance of baptism, they sent one of their own to Beijing, China, to be baptized. In 1784 Lee Seung Hun, one of them, was baptized Peter in Beijing. Then he returned to Korea and baptized his colleagues. That was the beginning of the Korean Church. Korea was evangelized not by the foreign missionaries but by Korean lay people. So the beginnings of the Korean Church are really unique; There is nothing like that in the Catholic Church. The active engagement of the Korean lay people from the beginning was able to live on in the work of today's Korean Church.
Korean pilgrims in St. Peter's Square (Consistory, March 24, 2006).
The Korean Church was strongly persecuted by the government at the beginning of evangelization because Confucianism was the state religion at the time. The persecution lasted about 100 years and resulted in more than 10,000 martyrs. At that time there was no religious freedom. This has only existed since the pact that Korea and France signed with each other in 1886, 120 years ago. But this freedom did not last long: the Japanese invaders came to Korea in 1910. During these 35 years of Japanese rule, the Korean Church was controlled and monitored by the Japanese government. In 1945, with the end of World War II, Korea was finally able to achieve its independence.
However, the freedom brought by independence did not bring happiness. By decision of America and the Soviet Union, Korea was split into two parts: North and South. The pain that a people who have always been united felt about it naturally affected the fate of the Korean Church. When Korea was divided there were about 100,000 Catholics in about 100 parishes in the south; in the north, on the other hand, there were 55,000 in around 50 parishes. So two thirds of the Catholics were in the south, one third in the north. The communist regime that was in power in North Korea at the time began to fight against the church. Nothing is known about the fate of the 166 priests and religious who were active in the north at that time. You don't even know if they're still alive. There is no parish in the north; there is no priest and not a single religious sister. And we don't know how many Catholics there are either. In a word: the Church of the North has become a “Church of Silence”.
In the meantime, with God's help, the Church of South Korea may flourish. The Catholics of South Korea are now around 4 1/2 million - spread over 16 dioceses. This means that 9% of the population are Catholics. We are outnumbered by Buddhists and Protestants. But we are in third place among the countries of Southeast Asia, just after the Philippines and Vietnam. The Church of Korea has grown a lot and is at the forefront of evangelizing Asia. One of the methods of evangelizing Asia is to train seminarians from China, Vietnam and Bangladesh. This is particularly so in the Diocese of Seoul. In the meantime, the Korean missionaries have advanced as far as Africa, Mongolia, and China.
(from the homily by Nicholas Cheong Jinsuk,
Sunday mass on March 26, 2006 in his titular church,
Santa Maria Immacolata of Lourdes in Boccea)
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