Tuesday, March 5, 2024

World's Lowest Birthrate

Diagnosis of the Times of the Catholic Peace Weekly by a Catholic University professor gives the readers an interesting look at our Korean birth rate.

Our country's low birth rate is unprecedented in world history. In 2022, the total fertility rate (the average number of births a woman is expected to give birth to during her childbearing period) was 0.78, and predictions are made that it may collapse to 0.7 in 2023. The New York Times diagnosed that Korea's ultra-low birth rate was a result of a population decline greater than that of Europe during the  Black Death.

If this diagnosis is correct, our country’s ultra-low birth rate phenomenon is a disaster. Korea's total fertility rate entered the 1-point range (1.74) for the first time in 1984 and collapsed to the 1-point level in 2018 (0.98). In 2003, low birth rates began to emerge as a social agenda in our society. In 2002, the total fertility rate was the lowest in the world, recording 1.17. Since then, our society has dealt with the birth rate issue as a social agenda for over 20 years. As a result, a large budget was invested that was previously unimaginable. However, Korea's budget investment remains at the bottom, ranking 31st out of 38 OECD countries as of 2022. At this point, it can be said that our country's low birth rate measures have failed, despite efforts made over the past 20 years.

Various diagnoses were raised regarding this ‘failure’. One of them is that women's avoidance of childbirth is believed to be at the root of the failure. They argue that we need to create policies and a social atmosphere that encourages women to give birth. Examples include restricting women's participation in the labor market or providing incentives to women who have given birth. The idea that childbirth can be encouraged is at the root of the recent anecdote in which the chairman of a certain company offered 100 million won per child to employees who gave birth. However, this one-time provision alone cannot solve the low birth rate problem. Because the problem of low birth rates is not this simple. 

The low birth rate problem cannot be solved with money alone.

To look back on past ‘failures’ and find solutions, the low birth rate problem must be viewed as the result of people’s rational choices based on cost calculation. In other words, the low birth rate problem is not due to people's wrong actions, but the result of people's rational choices to survive. People believe that to adapt and live in Korean society, they cannot get married, and even if they do get married, it is foolish to have children. 

When we view the ultra-low birth rate problem as a rational choice of people and a natural phenomenon, the low birth rate cannot be solved simply with money. The issue is not that simple. Policies of various government ministries must be actively implemented under long-term plans with changes in the overall educational system including the cost of private education for children, cutthroat competition and long working hours, lack of cultural infrastructure, and expensive housing costs. However, it seems impossible to expect this from the current government. This is because the current government's family policy is mainly limited to raising the existing benefit level for childbirth and childcare. The basic birth income and housing support measures proposed by the opposition Democratic Party are somewhat advanced from existing policies. Still, it is unclear whether these alone will solve the low birth rate problem.

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Church Interest in Climate Change-

 A member of the Catholic Climate Action Steering Committee gives the readers of the Catholic Times some thoughts on Climate Change and what we can do.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a specialized agency of the United Nations, announced that human influence is the cause of climate change in 2023 and that carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere has reached its highest level in the past 2 million years. In addition, it was announced that a 1.5°C rise in global temperature has been advanced from the previously predicted period of 2023 to 2052 to the near future, 2021 to 2040, making short-term response important. We are entering an era of global boiling, not global warming.

In a global climate crisis, the present government is going backward. The target for the share of renewable energy generation, which is important in the transition from fossil fuel energy, was lowered from 30.2% to 21.8% by the previous government. In addition, among this year's budget increases and decreases, the project with the largest budget reduction in the 'Industrial Small and Medium Business Energy sector' was the 'Renewable Energy New Industry Revitalization Program', which decreased by a whopping 463 billion won (-40.3% compared to 2023).

What about the Church? Last year, Pope Francis announced the apostolic exhortation “Praise God” (Laudate Deum) targeting the 28th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28). Through this recommendation, the COP28 General Assembly called for an effective and binding energy transition centered on renewable energy and a binding policy agreement for the elimination of fossil fuels. However, as a result of the COP28 conference, a decisive plan for reducing important greenhouse gas emissions was missing. It focuses only on reducing coal power generation, rather than a phased reduction, and omits reductions in major emission sources such as oil and gas due to the influence of oil-producing countries.

It appears that Pope Francis is working alone to respond to the climate crisis in the Catholic Church. Of course, since the publication of the encyclical “Laudato Si’,” the “Laudato Si Movement,” a climate movement group of the church in solidarity with Korean Catholic Climate Action, has been active.  However, the movement of local churches appears to be minimal. 

In 2020, the Korean Church also presented practical methods to protect our common home, Earth, by announcing a special pastoral letter, ‘Before Our Crying Mother Earth’, and practical guidelines following the 7-year journey of ‘Laudato Si’. However, except for a few dioceses, that have declared carbon neutrality, news of efforts and actions to respond to the climate crisis are rare.

There was a general meeting of Korean Catholic Climate Action not long ago. At the meeting, activists read the 10 oriented values of the ‘Laudato Si’ movement and shared how they felt called to the climate movement. In an era of global boiling, we seek hope by sharing the 10 values of the ‘Laudato Si’ movement to respond to the climate crisis in local churches.

1. Grounded in faith. 2. Committed to spiritual transformation. 3. Caring for one another. 4. Being Prophetic. 5. Taking an integral approach. 6. Cultivating unity in diversity. 7. Being in the  Church and the world. 8. Building Bridges. 9. Embracing contemplation in action. 10. Living in hope. 

"I ask everyone to accompany this pilgrimage of reconciliation with the world that is our home and to help make it more beautiful because that commitment has to do with our personal dignity and highest values"(Praise God paragraph 69).

Friday, March 1, 2024

The Cardinal and Theologial Virtues


The catechism defines virtue as a habitual and firm disposition to do good” (1833).  They are the building blocks for Christian moral living.

Both in the East and West we have the Cardinal Virtues of Prudence, Justice, Courage and Moderation. (the word  cardinal goes back to the Latin adjective cardinalis, which meant 'serving as a hinge'.The root of this word is the noun cardo, meaning hinge of a door permitting its opening and closing. 

They are considered natural moral virtues and have a history that goes back to the Greek and Roman Philosophers and also appear in the Catholic Bible in the Book of Wisdom. The Stoics considered these the road to happiness.

In the old Chinese Culture connected with Confucianism, we have the maxim: The brave general is not as good as the wise general, and the wise general is not as good as the virtuous general. They have added in modern times, a lucky general is better than the three of them but here we have the misunderstanding of virtue which may be the result of humor but a more serious misunderstanding of virtue.

In the Book of Proverbs, we are reminded that "Better an equable man than a hero, a man master of himself than one who takes a city" (16:32).

 A  priest in the Catholic Times gives us some thoughts on these virtues that come from one's own efforts.

 We hear often the saying that heaven helps those who help themselves. To gain these Cardinal  Virtues that lead to Christ, we must give up our obsession with worldly things. If the wise men had not dared to give up everything they had for the true meaning of life, they would not have followed the star. If you don't grow in the Cardinal Virtues you won't feel the attraction of the Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. 

 The theological virtues are the foundation of Christian moral activity; they animate it and give it its special character. They inform and give life to all the moral virtues. They are infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and of meriting eternal life. They are the pledge of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the faculties of the human being. There are three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity. (1813)

 The wise men from the East had these cardinal virtues allowing them to see the star in the sky that led them to the Savior. The star in the sky were the Theological Virtues.

 The Cardinal Virtues are the basis of all virtues that humans should pursue and which depend on our efforts. They provide the true meaning and direction of life. 

 "The human virtues are rooted in the theological virtues, which adapt man's faculties for participation in the divine nature: for the theological virtues relate directly to God. They dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity." Catechism of the Catholic Church (1812).





Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Offline and Online Church

The Catholic Times in its featured article gives the readers a pastoral observation of the church since the past-corona era.

The “Korean Catholic Church COVID-19 Pandemic Pastoral White Paper” published on January 31st by the Korea Catholic Pastoral Research Institute of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference states that the pandemic has affected Korean society and the church. 

‘Pastoral Outlook in the Post-Corona Era’, contains contributions from experts in eight fields, including society, religion, medicine, religious orders, liturgy, youth/young adults, ecology, theology, and pastoral care. Focusing on the fields of religion, liturgy, theology, and pastoral care, we reflect on the reality of the church community that has gone through the pandemic and forecast the church's pastoral care in the future.

‘The impact of COVID-19 on our lives and faith’ included in the pastoral white paper are data that provide a glimpse into the reality and immediate tasks of the Church. One priest introduced the salient features of the survey results and said: "In the journey of secularization, religion has been reduced to an element of culture, for people faith is taking a lower priority than economic life, health, and various existential issues." The importance of faith and religious life in the life of a believer is not that great.

A pastor who wrote a pastoral paper in the liturgical field with the title ‘Our life and faith about liturgical life after COVID-19’, also said: "Even if I don’t attend Sunday Mass or participate in devotional group activities, there is no substitute for that in my life. There is a lot to do." This was a problem revealed in the survey.

What problems have become more evident due to the pandemic and how can we solve them? “The time ahead should not be limited to resolving the problems that have arisen, but should be a time to newly recognize the problems within us that have been highlighted again by COVID-19 and seek alternatives.”  

"We must remember that COVID-19 has asked the fundamental question of faith, ‘Why'?   Those of us who have been living only worrying about ‘How'? should not worry only about applications and methods according to changes and trends in the world. Rather, ‘why’ we must live our faith and ‘why’ our faith is important?" 

"The purpose and direction of faith must be found especially in Baptism and the Eucharist. Considering social changes where face-to-face and non-face-to-face methods coexist, it is important to experience the presence of God in the same space and at the same time." 

COVID-19 has clearly shown the limitations within the church, it has been suggested that an accurate diagnosis and analysis of the reality and phenomenon of the church should be made and that public discourse should be formed toward change and renewal.

“The survey results show that the people, regardless of whether they are believers or not, believe that the church should strengthen its social publicness. Based on a strong change in consciousness that the church must make efforts to lower the church’s threshold and widen its doors.”  

In an age of secularization, paradoxically, expectations for religion still remain. People hope that religion will awaken the importance of mental and spiritual values through its public role and become a source of alternative values.

Along with the reflection that the localism of the church could fall into crisis as the non-face-to-face culture spreads, there was also a suggestion that the possibility of changing into a hybrid church that utilizes online and offline simultaneously was reviewed. There is a possibility that the combination of offline and online will become common. Focusing on the face-to-face liturgy, education, and care for faith maturity in a non-face-to-face manner should be complementary, not a replacement.

Another participant also said: Considering the continued aging and reduced mobility of believers who are currently active participants, face-to-face meetings continue but— A hybrid church that actively accepts and utilizes online methods, which are also the communication method of future generations in addition to offline methods will expand the reach of Church. 

Monday, February 26, 2024

Remembering the Birth of the Korean Church

This year, 2024, is the year of Gapjin (甲辰年 a Chinese term that refers to the 41st year of the 60-year cycle in the traditional Chinese calendar). The Catholic Times in the View from the Ark Column gives us a brief summary of the beginning of the Catholic Church in Korea in 1784. The Columnist is a Catholic university professor. 

The Korean Catholic Church celebrated its fifth Gapjin Year. The Korean Church was born 240 years ago, in the spring of the first Gapjin year of 1784. At the recommendation of Yi Byeok (John the Baptist), Lee Seung-hun (Peter) was baptized with the name Peter at a Beijing church in China and returned, sharing some of the books and sacred relics he received from missionaries with Yi Byeok. After studying the books of Western learning in detail, Yi Byeok met again with Lee Seung-hun, and others to discuss and preach the gospel. The year in which these great, beautiful, and holy events occurred was the year of Gapjin, 240 years ago.

Yi Byeok spoke of ‘gospel,’ ‘good news,’ and what living by accepting the gospel proclaimed by Jesus meant. It was life-threatening. When Yi Byeok was spreading the gospel, the nobles who heard this news sensed that this was 'overturning' the religious customs and social order of Joseon at the time, and tried to make Yi Byeok return to Confucianism.

The person who took on this task was a scholar who followed Confucianism faithfully and a person who served as a magistrate. He was the son of Lee Seung-hun's sister. He visited Yi Byeok and held a discussion to persuade him to return to Confucianism. Even though they debated for three days, he could not persuade Yi Byeok. On the contrary, he was persuaded by the new teachings of the Catholic Church. However, had no intention of publicly accepting this teaching. He said as he left: "This doctrine is good and true. However, it will bring misfortune to those who follow it." (History of the Korean Catholic Church by Charles Dallet)

The magistrate was right in his evaluation of Catholicism— for a century this was to be the situation. However, although Yi Byeok was himself a victim he did not die a martyr's death but his last years ended in mystery since his family was opposed to his newfound faith.

What is the gospel? Jesus’ first proclamation was delivered in the Gospel of Mark: "The time has come he said and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News." What is clear is that we are in the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom is within us.

That we are in God and God is in us, this is the ‘gospel’. This means that God is our father and mother, and we are his children. That we exist as His daughters and sons in His kingdom. Imagine the ‘son who has found his father’ being filled with joy and not knowing what to do as he welcomes this good news into existence. 

He ends his sharing with the question that arises as he meets Yi Byeok in Gapjin year. "Does our church live in God? As His children?" Let's remember this beginning in Korea was without the help of the clergy.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Church's Confession of Fault First Step

 In the  Catholic Times Readers' column, the director of a Theological Research Institute gives his opinion on where the changes in the church need to begin.

The steady decline in the number of believers over the past several decades in Europe, a Christian cultural area, is due to a combination of factors, including secularization and cultural change, and the debate between the teachings of the Catholic Church and modern social values, such as contraception and abortion, same-sex marriage, and the role of women in the church.  Above all, the impact of scandals related to sexual abuse by Catholic clergy was significant. These scandals not only caused immediate shock and anger among believers and ordinary citizens, but also had a long-term impact on perception and trust in the church, and the effects are still ongoing.

When the report on the sexual abuse investigation commissioned by the bishops' conferences of major European countries, including Germany, France, Spain, and Poland, was published, although it was not well covered in the church media, the Catholic bishops' conferences in those countries humbly accepted it and announced follow-up measures. The German Catholic Church’s ‘Synod Path’, which was controversial due to a conflict with the Vatican over the level of reform, also started with a report published in 2018.

In 2018, when the 'MeToo' movement’ was active, the Catholic Church in Korea also promised an apology from the bishops and a promise to prevent a recurrence. At the bishops' conference level, follow-up measures were implemented, including a public apology press conference, gender equality education for priests, the establishment of a committee on countermeasures, and the operation of a 'MeToo' hotline, but there is no way to know what activities have been carried out even after six years. Although it is important to clearly confirm the facts of each victim's case, the European Church's report on sexual abuse is important to remember that it was a process of reflection on the Catholic Church's failure to confess and take action promptly despite being aware of these facts. This is so since the investigation into sexual abuse was conducted by external agencies.

The Catholic Church and its leaders in countries that commissioned external experts to release reports on Catholic sexual abuse suffered a severe blow to their trust. This had a direct impact on church attendance, and the financial burden on the church was significant enough that many dioceses were sued by abuse victims. In some cases, dioceses have declared bankruptcy. Following the release of the report, believers, civil society, and the state called for important reforms within the church, including greater transparency and accountability in the church and the participation of laypeople in church management.

It takes great courage to confess that the church does not always heal the wounded, but at times hurts them. The reason why this shameful picture of the church was confessed through the sexual abuse report is probably because church reform can take its first step properly from such an honest confession. 

Among the 20 themes in the comprehensive report of the first plenary session of the  Synod of Bishops, item number 9, ‘Women in the life and mission of the church,’ contains the shameful confession of the church facing a reality that cannot be hidden. "Many women expressed deep gratitude for the work of priests and bishops but also spoke of a church that was hurting them. Clericalism, male chauvinism, and inappropriate use of authority continue to mar the face of the Church and damage communion. … Sexual abuse, power, and economic abuse continue to call for justice, healing, and reconciliation. … When dignity and justice are compromised in the relationships between men and women in the church, the credibility of our proclamation to the world is undermined. The synod process shows that a renewal of relationships and structural changes are needed."

The reason why the voices of women in the Korean church were not heard well, unlike in the Western churches, during the listening process at the diocesan stage of this Synod of Bishops is not that the synodalitas with women was well implemented, but because there are few women left in the church to raise the necessary voices. The columnist asks— would this be an exaggeration? 

What if the church first honestly confesses how it has hurt the people of God, including women, and civil society before it is too late?

Thursday, February 22, 2024

The Science and Philosophy of Life

In the Diagnosis of the Times column of the Catholic Peace Weekly a Catholic University professor gives us some thoughts to mell over on the Philosophy of Life.

The perplexity experienced by many Christian believers when Darwin published his theory of evolution in 1859 is well known. This book, first published under the title: "On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection",  clearly confused Christians at the time who believed that life was created in its current form. But no serious Christian today would renounce faith in God or the relationship between God and humanity because of knowledge of evolution. What is the reason?

Pope Saint John Paul II also declared that the Church has no opposition to any knowledge revealed about life by natural science. Nevertheless, the Pope went beyond such knowledge and clearly stated that the fact that God is the owner of life is the firm foundation of our faith.

Are these two declarations contradictory? Not at all. This is because scientific knowledge and the truth of faith have distinct hermeneutical horizons and diverse realities. 

First, the truth of faith is related to the area of trust and commitment to the source of existence and its meaning. The source of life and its meaning is based on the relationship with God, the source of all existence. The confusion arises when we cannot distinguish between an object and its existence.

Natural scientific knowledge reveals coherent facts about objective reality. Natural science presents this as scientific knowledge. The ontological meaning and interpretive truth of that knowledge lie outside the realm of science. The philosophy of life is the study of thinking about these truths about life. Life philosophy does not elucidate coherent knowledge of life sciences or is overly concerned with knowledge in such areas. Rather, we work to understand and explain the meaning of life and its ontological context, which is not the object of Science. Philosophy is not separate from objective knowledge, but it also does not remain within it.

Today, the idea that knowledge in life science appropriates the truth about life is widespread. This is nothing more than narrow scientific thinking that does not truly understand the meaning of life. Human thinking does not just remain in objective knowledge. Rather, the essence of thinking lies in going beyond this factual realm and revealing its ontological meaning. This is why philosophy is essentially transcendental.

Hannah Arendt's book "Eichmann in Jerusalem" (1963), which covered and analyzed the trial of Eichmann, who drove countless innocent lives to execution in Nazi extermination camps, is commonly known to speak about the banality of evil. However, the banality mentioned here does not mean that evil is widespread but exposes the problem of not thinking about it.

Sensitivity to life and existence, loss of respect for human life, and obsession with the unimportant issues in daily life blind our eyes to evil. When we lose the wonder of existence and become immersed in the banality of everyday life, when we do not go beyond this, even our goodness can flow into evil. 

The philosophy of life contains a transcendence that goes beyond this banality of life, the everyday buried life. When the sense of wonder and beauty in life disappears, and the respect for life becomes a mere formality, the philosophy of life tries to overcome this banality through reflective thinking. Life is inherently transcendent, and this philosophy of life speaks of this transcendence.