Snapshots For The New Evangelization: Korea

We have a handful of Korean students at the student center. I’ve come to know a few of them, those involved in liturgical ministry. It’s always interesting to hear how faith has developed for different people in different cultures. My wife is genius for drawing out people’s faith stories. When she’s in the conversation, others follow soon. I keep my ears open.

So I read with interest this commentary at the excellent UCA News site. The heady years after Vatican II were good for Catholics in Korea:

The impact of the Council … helped move the Church towards a more participatory body in terms of religious dialogue and ecumenical movements.

As of the end of 2011, the local Church had 5.32 million Catholics, or 10.3 percent of the total population. In 1962 when the Council convened, it had only just more than half a million.

Many factors contributed to such a sharp rise in the Catholic community, but I think the Council was a principal one.

The Church in Korea saw a six to 10 percent increase each year after the 1960s. However, in the last decade the rate of increase has dropped to two percent, similar to trends in the West.

It’s difficult to maintain such a heroic pace. On a local level, the Church is sometimes bolstered by charismatic leadership. People are attracted to personalities. That’s not a bad thing, in moderation. The lived witness of the Christian life is an important part of the evangelical life. It’s biblical. One sees it in the life of the saints. One sees it in many modern charisms, both healthy ones and those less so.

(P)articipation in what is the core of the life of faith and an indication of spiritual maturity – the sacraments – has greatly weakened.

Many Christians, even Catholics, speak of that personal relationship with Jesus. One would think that the sacramental life is the key locus for Catholics to experience that relationship. So I wonder: what is it about the sacramental life that doesn’t nourish and deepen that relationship, at least on the scale of the larger Catholic culture? Regular readers here know I’m deeply skeptical of the supposed link to traditional Catholic piety and obedience. I think that intentional communities are closest to touching on this relationship in more than a casual, being-serviced, suburban way. Those communities usually happen off the mainstream and into the margins. Those would be places with well-defined missions: university communities, inner cities, particular apostolates. The rest of the parishes? Sometimes we flounder.

(T)he numbers of infant baptisms, first communions and Sunday school attendance, all of which are indicators of how well faith is transmitted to the next generation, has fallen steeply over the last decade.

These trends suggest the Korean Church may be repeating the failure of the European Church and requires analysis of socio-cultural challenges and factors within the Church.

That analysis would be interesting. If we can detach from political trends within the Church long enough to look at the signs and discern our directions. The most effective approach will include substantial input from various Catholic factions. We will need it. The task ahead is big, and since the late 70′s, we’ve been losing ground. A charismatic pope clearly wasn’t enough. Somehow, we need to get about a billion Catholic believers into the charismatic realm to convince the other five billion humans we have something more than a big, happy, dysfunctional family to offer.

Speaking for myself, I need to ponder the approach we’ll take at Catholic Sensibility to the Year of Faith. It won’t be completely congruent to the institutional path, mainly because others will cover this effort much better and more comprehensively. Ten weeks to figure it out. Any ideas?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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One Response to Snapshots For The New Evangelization: Korea

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful post Todd. Your second sentence of the next to last paragraph begins with the words “If we can detach…” Forget from political trends, but from our steadfast positions. If we can detach and discern, maybe, just maybe we can find our way.

    Like you, I am not sure that the personal piety and obedience angle wins the day. What is it about the connection of the sacramental life as guide, gateway and anchor for God’s people that does not seem to resonate for so many? And a sacramental life that is entirely eucharistic, but its very character, communal – for the common union of God’s people?

    As for the Year of Faith? I have not given it much thought, but I will take your question as invitation to begin doing so.

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