Friday, June 14, 2013

Communities of Religious Sisters in Korea

A large parish in Seoul  is no longer able to have Religious Sisters working in the parish because of the decrease in the numbers entering the convents.  A pastor has tried visiting convents to help in recruiting more sisters, but they shake their heads, the sisters are no longer there, they say. Parishes have to use laypeople to do the work the sisters did in the past. An article in the secular Chosun Ilbo newspaper discusses the problem.

They mention a congregation of sisters with only 10 members and a short history, which has extended the entrance age to 40, to make it more attractive to older women,  but only one has entered in 10 years. One community with 35 members hasn't had an applicant for the last 4 years. Another community managing a children's home once had 6 sisters working in the home; this has  been reduced to two, with lay people taking the place of the sisters.

A graph shows that during the peak years, the early 1990s, 857 novices were in training. In 2012 only 210 were in training. Although the number of Catholics is increasing, the number of  total sisters is decreasing. In the year 2009, there were 10,199 sisters; last year 10,023.

However, the number of priests continues to increase. In the year 2003 there were 3396 priests. In 2012 this increased to 4578. Each year there is an increase of from 100 to 160.

There are 111 women religious communities in Korea, according to the article, and outside of the large communities, which continue to have applicants, almost  60 percent of the communities have had no applicants. The larger communities are having a larger proportion of those entering in the elderly category.  In one community that began with a membership of 140, forty have retired.

What has happened in the West, beginning with the 1960s, is now appearing in Korea. When the number of priests were down, the sisters' role became more important. Now with the increase of clergy and the welfare work of the Church and the country's own efforts, the need is not as pressing as in the past.

Another reason is that single women now have many opportunities to work in society. One of the proposals suggested to remedy the situation is to accept women who are older, or have lost their husbands because of death and have finished raising their family. But the time for this may have to wait for later, many believe. Today the opportunity to serve the poor and the handicapped is available outside the auspices of the Church. 

Not all the congregations, however, are having difficulty. There are communities of cloistered sisters who have a restricted number of members, and these communities have a waiting list for those who want to enter.

A teaching  sister at the Catholic University does not see this as all  negative. In the past, the opportunity of doing work for the underprivileged was limited. Now there are many, she reminds us, who, guided by Gospel values but not affiliated with any Church or religious community, are doing this much needed work.

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