Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Korean Religious Sisters

Globalization can include the less publicized idea that we are coming closer together, not only economically, but by sharing our thinking and acting in other areas of life. This increasingly smaller world of ours is influencing us for good or ill. And this merging of cultures will exert its influence, knowingly or unknowingly on each of us, depending on the values we hold. A daily secular paper refers to this particular 'globalizing influence' as possibly contributing to the recent lack of women entering the convent in Korea.

A sister, in her sixties, meeting the wife of her brother, laments, "We don't have any young sisters anymore. Not having younger sisters available, parish work is no longer going as smoothly as in the past, she said. One sister said that her community in recent years has had no prospects.

What we have seen in Europe, where Catholicism was once strong, we are beginning to experience here in Korea. In the year 2000, 318 sisters entered the order; in 2013, 112 entered.

Although the number of Catholics has increased, the number of vocations to the religious life has decreased. Those who have studied the issue believe that the changing, more secular values of the younger generation and the change in family life are mainly responsible for the lack of vocations.  A religious sister teaching in the religious studies department of the Catholic University says the more open a society becomes, the fewer are the  number of vocations. Today, women have easier access to the workplace, and more opportunities to develop themselves in the way they want. This greater freedom in the workplace for women will make it difficult for them to choose the restrictive lifestyle of the convent.

Devout Catholics, for the most part, have looked upon a vocation to the religious life as a blessing. And even though the desire for grandchildren was strong they were willing sacrifice for what they considered a greater good. Today, with many families content to having one or two children, this way of thinking is disappearing.

With less sisters available, the work in the parishes is taking a serious blow, as well as the welfare work of the church. In the 60s and 70s, the sisters were working with orphans, nurseries and day-care centers. Now they are working with unmarried mothers and the elders--perhaps the clearest sign of the changing values of our society.

A seminary rector said, "This is not just a Catholic thing; we see this happening in most of the religious world." What is not easily seen, he went on to say, is overlooked by society. One sister said that the values of society, materialism and pleasure seeking do not fit in with the values of the religious life. One sister who has worked in the medical field feels that if this trend continues, the future prospects of Catholic hospitals will be jeopardized.

Another opinion was expressed by a sister who said that the religious were doing the work that society should have been doing all along. Now that the government has gotten involved by providing the necessary personnel and finances, the work of the sisters is no longer necessary. She believes there is no need for concern.

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