Korea, The Catholic Church in
KOREA, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
Located on the eastern coast of the Asian continent, the Korean peninsula borders on China in the north and
is surrounded by the Yellow Sea to the east and the Sea of Japan to the west. Politically the peninsula is divided into the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the north and the Republic of Korea in the south. The Annuario Pontificio treats Korea as a single entity.
The Korean peninsula, mostly mountainous and poorly endowed with natural resources, was unified politically from the 7th century onward. Bitter experiences with invaders led the kingdom to close its doors to all foreigners except Chinese at the end of the 16th century. For the next 250 years or so Korea was known as the Hermit Kingdom. From 1910 until 1945 it was annexed to Japan. In 1948 North Korea came under communist rule, and the ensuing civil war between North and South Korea (1950–53) ended in a stalemate. Subsequent rapprochement between the North and South resulted in in a marked reduction in border tensions, limited family reunion meetings, reopening of rail connection and closer trade ties. For his peacemaking efforts, Kim Dae Jung, the first Catholic to be President of South Korea, was awarded the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize.
Korean Religion. The earliest form of Korean religion exhibits close affinity with the nature cults of north-central Asia and may be described as animism. It embodied a belief in the existence of numerous spirits and demons in the sky and on earth, in the sun, moon, and stars, and in mountains and rivers. Ancestor worship is a marked feature of the old native religion, and there is a belief in a High God (Hananim), identified with the firmament, or heaven. The shaman (mutang) has had so central a role since prehistoric times that the native Korean religion may well be called shamanism. Even after the coming of Confucianism and Buddhism, shamanistic beliefs and practices continued to flourish, and they are still very much alive in modern Korea, especially in the countryside.
Confucianism was introduced from China as early as the 1st century b.c., and gave strong support to the native ancestor worship. It exercised a marked influence on Korean culture and government until it was eclipsed by Buddhism from the 4th and 5th centuries a.d. Neo-Confucianism spread from China into Korea several centuries later and in 1392 was adopted as the official religion of the Korean state under the Wang Dynasty. Despite the official supremacy of Confucianism until the Japanese occupation of Korea beginning in 1910, Buddhism continued to have an important place in the religious life of the people. The severe measures employed by the Japanese in the 1930s and during World War II to suppress all forms of religion in Korea that were regarded as inimical to Japanese imperial policy and their efforts to introduce Shintoism were marked largely by failure even before the recovery of Korean independence in 1945.
Among the numerous non-Christian sects that developed especially during the Japanese domination and since 1945, Ch'ondogyo (Religion of the Heavenly Way) deserves mention. Formerly known as Tonghak (Eastern Learning), Ch'ondogyo is an indigenous Korean religion that was founded by Ch'oe Cheu in 1860. It is a syncretic blend of Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, shamanism and Roman Catholicism.
Origins of the Catholic Church in Korea. During the Japanese invasion of Korea from 1592 to 1599, some Koreans were baptized, probably by Japanese Christian soldiers. Koreans were among the Christians put to death during the severe persecutions in Japan early in the 17th century: 9 of the 205 martyrs beatified in 1867 were Koreans (see japan, martyrs of). Attempts at Christian evangelization were frustrated by Korea's refusal to permit contacts with the outside world except for an annual embassy to pay a tax to the overlords of the imperial court in Beijing. Christian literature, obtained from the Jesuit missionaries there on these occasions, was brought back to Korea. In 1777 a group of educated Koreans began to study these books, and one of the scholars advised Yi Sung Hun, a member of the annual delegation of 1783, to contact the missionaries in Beijing. There he was baptized by Jean de Grammont, a Jesuit previous to the suppression of the order, and took the name Peter. Upon his return to Seoul he soon converted his influential friends Yi Pyok (baptized John Baptist) and Kwon Il Shin (Francis Xavier). The first church was located in the home of Kim Bom Ou in Myongdong. So successful was the apostolate of these first converts that James Chu, a Chinese priest who managed to enter the country secretly (1794), found 4,000 Catholics, none of whom had ever seen a priest. By 1801, when Father James Chu and 300 others were put to death for their faith, the Church had grown to 10,000.
Growth under Persecution. In 1831 the country was removed from the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Beijing and placed under the newly created Vicariate Apostolic of Korea, which was entrusted to the Paris Foreign Mission Society (MEP). Bishop Barthilemy Bruguière, the first vicar apostolic, died in 1835 before reaching Korea. Pierre Maubant, his companion, arrived in 1836 and was soon joined by another priest, Jacques Chastan, and by the second vicar apostolic, Laurent Imbert. These three MEP missionaries were martyred in the persecution of 1839, leaving Korea without priests until 1845, when Andrew Kim Te-gon, the first Korean priest, arrived from China with Father Daveluy and Bp. Jean Ferriol. Thomas Choi, the second native priest, arrived in 1849. In 1857 Korea had 7 priests for its 15,000 Catholics, and counted 1,924 baptisms; and in 1866 it had 12 priests for 23,000 Catholics. The first century of the Catholic Church in Korea was one of growth in the face of persecutions, which became particularly severe in 1801, 1839, 1846, and above all from 1866 to 1869, when some 10,000 Catholics were put to death. The final royal decree against Catholicism appeared in 1881, but it was not seriously enforced. During his pastoral visit to Korea in 1984 Pope John Paul II canonized the first Korean priest Andrew Kim Te-gon, the seminarian Paul Chong Pasang and 111 others who died in the persecutions (see korea, martyrs of).
The Church since 1883. Religious freedom was granted in 1883 when Korea was opened to foreigners, and a period of steady growth followed. Bishop Fe1ix Ridel, who had escaped from the 1866 persecution, returned as vicar apostolic in 1877. He was soon arrested, but French and Japanese pressure effected his release. Ridel sent 22 Koreans to Malaya to prepare for the priest-hood and began building red-brick churches in the Western style. The cathedral in Seoul was begun in 1888. The Sisters of St. Paul (Chartres) arrived in 1888, and the Benedictines in 1908. The seminary at Seoul opened in 1891. In 1901 a riot on the island of Cheju, fomented by jealous shamans, resulted in the massacre of 700 Catholics. Two Paris Foreign Mission Society (MEP) priests, who had baptized hundreds there, narrowly escaped death.
Korea had 77,000 Catholics in 1911 when the Vicariate Apostolic of Seoul was divided to create that of Taikyu. As the Church grew, other vicariates were erected. Paul Ro, who became bishop of Seoul in 1942, was the first native bishop. Another Korean, F. Hong, became bishop of P'yongyang in 1944. The Korean War seriously disrupted the Church. In sections that were invaded by Communists, persecutions occurred: bishops and priests were imprisoned and put to death; Bp. Patrick Byrne, one of the Maryknoll Missioners, perished during a forced march. In South Korea, the Catholic Church experienced tremendous growth after 1953. Very little is known about
the Church in North Korea since then. In 1962, when the Korean hierarchy was established, three ecclesiastical provinces were created Kwangju, Seoul and Taegu.
The Impact of Vatican II. The Catholic Church in Korea in the 1960s and 1970s was strongly influenced by the Second vatican council. The use of the vernacular in the Mass and the liturgical reforms were eagerly embraced. The Catholic Conference of Korea had the documents of the council and many explanatory works translated quickly into Korean. Since there had been a lack of materials for religious education, these materials filled a vacuum. In the 1970s Korea became a sending Church. The Korean Foreign Mission Society was founded in 1975, and religious institutes of women began to send missionaries abroad. By 1992 Koreans had also joined such foreign missionary societies as the Columbans and Guadalupe Missioners. Koreans were serving as missionaries in Papua-New Guinea, Taiwan, and several countries of Africa and South America. In addition, many Korean priests and religious were serving Koreans living abroad, especially those living in the United States. This post-conciliar period coincided with a period of economic expansion in South Korea that had begun in the late 1950s. The rapid economic development, led by a strong central government that favored large monopolistic corporations (chaebols), involved much exploitation and injustice. To mobilize the population for this development effort, and to counter North Korea's strong military, the central government employed a strong anti-communist stance and pervasive control of the media and squelched opposition. Thus, the main challenges to the Church during the 1970s and 1980s were issues of justice and human rights. Bishop Daniel Tji of Wonju and Cardinal Kim, Archbishop of Seoul, became outspoken critics of the regime and a group of clergy formed the Catholic Priests' Association for Justice.
Changing Status. In the 1980s the Catholic Church enjoyed high prestige in South Korean society. It was considered urban and modern. Its churches and liturgies
gave Koreans a sense of awe and of the divine. The Koreanization of the clergy and visible involvement of Catholic priests and laity, especially young people, in the struggle for justice lent credibility to the whole Church. Priests in general became regarded as trustworthy persons, and Cardinal Kim was perceived by many as the most trustworthy person in the nation. Furthermore, the sense of insecurity following the Kwangju massacre helped turn many Koreans to religion. The Catholic laity, organized in the parishes into neighborhood groups or into lay organizations such as the Legion of Mary, were zealous in evangelizing the non-Christian Koreans. The Church enhanced its prestige by holding two huge events involving papal visits: the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of the Catholic Church in Korea, held in 1984, and the Eucharistic Congress in 1989. These large celebrations fitted in with the mood of the nation hosting the Asian Games in 1986 and the Olympic Games in 1988.
Ecumenical Collaboration . From the 1990s onwards, Christians comprised almost half of the South Korean population, and are strongly represented in all parts of society. This was the result of Christianity's rapid growth after religious freedom was granted in 1883. A sizeable proportion of Christians are Presbyterians and Methodists, followed by the Roman Catholics. Charismatic movements have attracted many Korean Christians. The Protestant charismatics have often formed around a charismatic leader, such as the case of Cho Yonggi, founder of the Full Gospel Central Church in 1958, which grew rapidly to over 250,000 members by the 1980s and eventually began sending out missionaries internationally. In other cases charismatic healers have set up prayer houses for faith healing, and have attracted huge numbers of the sick or of penitents. In the Catholic Church the charismatic movement is much more subdued and has for the most part been incorporated into the parish or diocesan structure. On the other hand, suspicious private revelations have influenced many of the Korean faithful, both Protestant and Catholic, and several Catholic priests have been suspended for promoting them.
Ecumenical collaboration between Protestants and Catholics in Korea has been slow for a number of reasons. Catholics and Protestants use a different name for God. They have produced a common translation of the New Testament, but it has been adopted widely only in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is generally tolerant and open, but many Protestant groups attack the Catholic Church, and some even attack other Protestant churches. This divisiveness is often associated with competition for members. One of the few areas of ecumenical collaboration has been among Christians engaged together in the social movements for justice.
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