Korean Catholicism: Martyrs and Drop-Outs Print
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 21 September 2009 18:55
September is the month of the Korean Martyrs. How fitting that the Korean Martyrs Museum-Shrine opened again last week. September 20 was the feast day of Andrew Kim Taegon, (the first Korean priest) Paul Chong Hasang and Companions.

The Catholic faith first reached Korea in the last 16th century when Japan invaded Korea. It appears that a group of Koreans were catechized and baptized, presumably by some Japanese Christian soldiers. This small beginning yielded little growth.

Around 1777, Christian literature obtained from Jesuits in China led educated Korean Christians to study. A home Church began. When a Chinese priest managed to enter secretly a dozen years later, he found 4,000 Catholics, none of whom had ever seen a priest. Seven years later there were 10,000 Catholics. Since then, there have been at least 10,000 Korean Catholic martyrs.

Fr. Mike wrote last year (during his trip to Korea) about the fascinating story of how the faith reached Korea and the plans to erect an enormous church in honor of those lay men who founded the Church in Korea at Chonjinam.

The Korean Church is unique because it was founded entirely by lay people. This fledgling Church, so young and yet so strong in faith, withstood wave after wave of fierce persecution. Thus, in less than a century, it could boast of 10,000 martyrs. The death of these martyrs became the leaven of the Church and led to today's splendid flowering of the Church in Korea. Even today their undying spirit sustains the Christians in the Church of silence in the north of this tragically divided land" (Pope John Paul II, speaking at the canonization of St. Andrew Kim Taegon).

For those who would like to get a different perspective on Korean Catholicism, there is a really interesting blog by a group of American Maryknoll priests: American Catholic Eyes in Korea. The bloggers remain nameless but clearly at least one has spent many years in Korea. (Just FYI, I read quite a number of the posts and this group of this group of Maryknollers does not seem to be either particularly left wing or prone to group think.)

And they talk about realities I have never heard anywhere else - such as this story about Catholic involvement in the resettlement of North Koreans in the south. Somehow, I thought that escaping North Korea was almost impossible but 20,000 are expected to arrive from the north this year. And the difficulty that northerners experience in trying to adapt to their new home. They may speak the same language but how 50 years of separation has changed things.

"One refugee sighing : "I will have to get used to being a foreigner. The culture, economy, the value system is just too difficult to adapt to." This will be a large problem when unification does come."

Or like the fact that contemporary Korean Catholics are prone to skip Mass and leave the Church just like American Catholics. From an August 19 post:

Nahnews visited again the issue of Korean Catholics increasing as are the numbers leaving the church. This is similar to what is happening in the States. Masan Diocese has the lowest percentage of Catholics going to Sunday Mass with 19.1% and Chun Chon Diocese with highest attending Mass at 29.9% .

In Korea we have the system started by the French Missioners of giving Catholics a card with their name and address which they are to place in a prepared basket during Lent and the Advent; this will be recorded in the parish books. If this card is missing for three years then the person is considered tepid ( to have left the church). A person may be going to Sunday Mass and receiving the sacraments but not having submitted the card for three years, these will be considered tepid. Those who have left the Church are not necessarily the same as those who are registered as tepid.

A Gallup poll taken in 2004 mentioned that 42.8% who consider themselves without a religion did have a religion at one time. 13.3% of these at one time were Catholic. Of those with a religion 14.9% were at one time Catholic.

The reason for leaving is not easy to determine. However, those who were not faithful in their Sunday observance, those from 30 to 4o years of age, a high educational background and with a pay scale that is lower or higher than average, have a higher rate of dropout.

The report ended with the mention that those who are now presently going to Sunday Mass 16.8% consider themselves tepid. 15.4% have considered changing their religion, and many who continue to go to Mass consider leaving. 30% of those that are baptized leave within 3 years.

In conclusion the report stated that it is important that those who enter the Church remember that the important part of the preparation is not the teaching, the preparation for the sacrament and what has to be done but the internal change of the person attained before being baptized.

The Catholic paper had an article on a parish in the Suwon diocese that has over 61 percent of those on the registers going to Sunday Mass. It is an example of what can happen when the community and the pastor take an interest. Originally the parish had a percentage that was higher than other parishes in the diocese but this was increased sizably by the work of the community.

In every culture, time, and place, intentional discipleship is the non-negotiable foundation of the Catholic life.