Monday, January 20, 2020

Gap Between Life and Religion

In a world where money is everything... the life of the Christians and religion little by little are separating. This is not only true in Korea but we see this in many other parts of the world. The Catholic Weekly gives us some statistics of the situation in the Korean Catholic Church. In 2020, the Bishop's Korean Catholic Pastoral Institute analyzed the Korean Catholic Church Statistics for the past 20 years from 1999 to 2018.

Although the numbers of Catholics continue to increase since 1999, there was a 48.6 percent increase of believers but a consistent yearly decrease in the numbers coming into the church. Last year the increase was 0.9% the lowest it's ever been.

Those entering the church, which can be used to check the religious life of believers, continue to fall. In 2014, there was a temporary increase of 2.2%. This can be seen as a "Francisco effect" influenced by Pope Francis' visit to Korea that year.

The ratio of believers to the total population has risen by about 0.1% each year, from 8.3% in 1999 to 11.1% in 2018. However, the Sunday Mass attendance rate, the main indicator of the believer's life of faith, fell more than 10% from 29.5% in 1999 to 18.3% in 2018. The proportion of believers is increasing but the rate of believers who participate in Sunday Mass, the duty of believers, is falling rapidly.

It is worth paying attention to the decline in the attendance rate of believers at Sunday Mass. In a rapidly changing world, the polarization of life, materialism, and the reality of a competitive society are deeply rooted in the church, showing the gap between believers' lives and their beliefs. It is not only recently that the issue of apathy in the church has been highlighted. The Church has been trying to identify and solve these problems, represented by statistical numbers.

The statistics over the past two decades are not optimistic. There are many negatives, a decline in believer growth, a decline in mass attendance and a decrease in the number of children. Believers are turning away from the church because of the anxiety of life due to secularism, relativistic values, extreme consumerism, individualism, and neoliberal capitalism. The public's appetite for Catholicism is also decreasing.

The Catholic Pastoral Institute of Korea proposed a solution to the pastors: get rid of authoritarianism and become a church of the poor. It is time for the pastors to draw people by their human attractiveness as priests, and concern for the poor and the marginalized. Pope Francis wanted pastors  "who smell like their sheep"; he said he wanted a church "that is poor and for the poor." He envisioned the church as a field hospital, where those shattered by a "throwaway culture" can receive mercy's balm. In all of this, Pope Francis sought to move the church toward the very same goal his predecessors had desired: a "new evangelization for the world and a "new springtime" for Catholicism.

POSTSCRIPT: A Gallup Survey on religious preference among the citizens of Korea excepting Chejudo was made in May of 2019. Citizens from 13 years old and above were the subjects of the personal interviews of 1,700 persons. The results showed that Buddhism was the most favored religion with 25% in 2014 and in 2019, 26%. Protestantism showed a favorable response of 21% in 2014 and 20% in 2019. Catholicism in 2014 was 16% favorable and in 2019 dropped to 11%. Those who had no good feelings toward religion in 2014 were 38%, in 2019 it rose to 43%. Something for Catholics to ponder and ask why?

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