In Korea the Church started and grew when books about the Church came in from China. Reading not only nourishes our souls as food nourishes our bodies, it can also help nourish the Church, as it did in the early years of the Korean Catholic Church. In the late 1800s, the first book from China to awaken the Catholic spirit in Korea was Matteo Ricci's "The True Doctrine of the Lord of Heaven."A few years later, Yi Seung-hun, baptized by a Chinese priest, brought back books and articles on Christian doctrine that were distributed to Korean scholars, who subsequently dared to preach the Faith openly, converting many people.
At the present time, the Church in Korea is promoting the spread of reading programs to foster a deeper understanding of the Faith and a broader commitment to personal growth that will eventually benefit all of society. There is, however, a major obstacle that must be overcome if these goals are to be realized: Catholics are, for the most part, not interested in reading. But the fault lies,according to an editorial in one of our Catholic papers, not with Catholics as readers or non-readers, but with a climate within the Church that is not conducive to reading. A climate that one could trace back hundreds of years to the time when the only translation of the Bible was in Latin, a language only understood by the educated few.
A graphic and disturbing picture of this wide-spread disinterest in books can be seen by going over a few figures from a survey made in 2007. The survey showed that 58.6% of Catholics during the year do not read anything having to do with Church matters. Only 4.9% have read more than 6 books. However, 44.8% of Protestants have read at least one spiritual book during the year. They are setting an example we need to follow.
Just as in the early days of Catholicism in Korea in the late 1800s, when "the word" was carried from China to Korea, we need once again to renew our efforts to bring the message of Christ to those who are willing to hear. Jesus is the word of God and can be found in the words of the Church and in the lives of the saints but, first and foremost, this word is found in the Scriptures. It is the hope of the Bishops that a renewed interest in scripture study (their immediate goal) will encourage the spread of reading programs throughout the country. If these reading programs succeed in turning a large number of our Catholics into readers of "the word," we may witness a return to the proselytizing spirit of those early years, when books were the means by which the Church began to grow, and might now bring that growth to new heights.