Sunday, June 10, 2012

New Archbishop of Seoul

On  June 25, the Seoul archdiocese plans to hold an inaugural ceremony for the new archbishop, Yeom Soo-jung. On the opinion page of a secular newspaper, the writer gives us some background on the appointment.

Archbishop Yeom is a fifth-generation Catholic, 69 years old, who entered the seminary after graduating from middle school. Twelve years later, in 1970, he was  ordained. He worked in the diocese in many different positions and in many parishes, as well as in the minor and major seminaries. In 2002 he was made auxiliary bishop of Seoul and Vicar General of the diocese. He will follow Cheong Jin Suk as the 14th ordinary of Seoul.

The new archbishop has been in the Seoul archdiocese for 54 years, with a background that is conspicuously different from his predecessors. Cardinal Cheong, after 28 years, returned to Seoul to become the ordinary after being the ordinary of the Cheongju Diocese. His predecessor, Cardinal Kim, was a priest of another diocese, and after a period as the ordinary of the Masan diocese was made the ordinary of Seoul.  In the past, auxiliary bishops of Seoul have become ordinaries of other dioceses, but this is the first time that a Seoul priest who spent his whole life in the Seoul diocese was made its ordinary. He is considered an older brother to the 1100 priests of the diocese, and they have responded to his appointment with great joy.

There is a great difference from the two ordinaries that he follows, says the writer. Cardinal  Kim is remembered as a prophetic voice and a light in the darkness during the autocratic years from 1970-80s. Cardinal Cheong, on the other hand, was a canon law scholar and continued his writing during his busy years as ordinary, with a total of 36 books published. And Bishop Yeom stands out as a pastoral worker during those many years, and, in contrast to his two predecessors who had very strong charisms, Bishop Yeom is seen as a humble and gentle person. Those who have met him see him as informal and  warm.

The new ordinary will be the head of a diocese that has 27 percent of the Catholics of the country and  13.5  percentage, for the ratio of Catholics in Seoul to the total Seoul population, the highest in the country. However, at the same time, there are problems. The number of Catholics attending Mass has decreased, the number of babies baptized has fallen greatly, and the number attending Sunday schools are small. The future seems far from promising.

The changes in the world and society will demand a strong voice from the Church. Bishop Yeom, since he was involved directly in the  diocese, will have much working in his favor.The writer hopes that with the change of leadership in the Seoul diocese it bodes well for a change, both in society and in the Church.                                                                 

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