Ecumenical experts journey to South Korea

2013-10-28 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) A Catholic delegation of ecumenical experts, headed by Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, arrived in Seoul, South Korea at the weekend. The delegation will be attending the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Busan from October 30th to November 8th. But first, the group is meeting with local churches and members of other faiths in the capital.
Philippa Hitchen is travelling with them and filed this report:

My first impressions of Seoul are of a bustling, vibrant city centre of high rise office blocks and teeming street markets, with neon signs beckoning from every store front. Easy to see why this is a so-called Asian Tiger, with one of the fast growing economies in the world.
But as we climb the steps of Myeongdong Catholic Cathedral, leaving the surging crowds of shoppers behind, we find a different, more traditional kind of Korean society: ladies wearing lacy white mantillas to cover their heads, people praying before the relics of their martyrs in the crypt and long queues of locals waiting patiently to attend one of the 13 Masses that are held here every Sunday.
Around 10 percent of South Koreans call themselves Catholics, while about twice that number belong to one of the Protestant churches and another 22 percent are of Buddhist religion. By far the largest percentage of the population though, is those who say they have no religious faith at all.
Yet church leaders we speak to disagree with that analysis: they insist that Koreans are very spiritual people, open to religious values and a sense of the transcendent, even if they prefer not to belong to any particular church or religious group. Certainly Confucian culture and traditions are deeply ingrained in the mentality here: everyone knows his or her place, respecting the elders and bowing low to people in positions of authority.
Amidst these colourful contraditions and challenges, the Catholic Church continues to grow: parishes are flourishing, several hundred seminarians are in training in the Seoul diocese alone, and many priests, religious and lay people are sent overseas to serve in other mission countries. After a history of persecution and suffering, the Church also offers an increasingly important voice on social issues, ranging from environmental concern to the plight of the urban poor – some of whom we see hoping for handouts in the shadow of the cathedral’s soaring neo-gothic spire. The economic miracle continues, but there are many who’ve been left behind

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