By Robin Gomes
The Catholic Church in South Korea has steadily grown over the past two decades according to a study by the Catholic Pastoral Institute of Korea (CPIK) of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea (CBCK).
11.1% of South Korea’s population
The number of Catholics has increased by 48.6 per cent, from 3.9 million in 1999 to 5.8 million in 2018 and today they make up 11.1% of South Korea’s some 51 million population.
A copy of the study report sent to the Vatican’s Fides news agency shows the Diocese of Suwon leading with an increase of 89.1 per cent. It is followed by Daejeon (79.6 per cent) and Uijeongbu (78.9 per cent).
However, the year-to-year growth rate in the Catholic population has gradually slowed to below 1 per cent. In 2000-2001, the Catholic population grew 3.2 per cent and 3.9 per cent, respectively, before falling to the 2 per cent range until 2009. The growth rate dropped to 1.7 per cent in 2010 and briefly rebounded to 2.2 per cent in 2014 due to Pope Francis' visit to South Korea. It then levelled off at around 1% per year.
As for the ratio of Catholics in the nation's population, it rose from 8.3 per cent to 11.1 per cent in the 1999-2018 period.
Declining church attendance
However, Sunday Mass attendance, considered a key indicator of faith life, has declined by about 10 points, from 29.5 per cent to 18.3 per cent during the past 2 decades.
The report speaks about the efforts of dioceses to revamp church attendance but there hasn’t been any significant improvement as yet. The Catholic Pastoral Institute of Korea is urging the Church in the country to reflect on its missionary thrust and reconsider the direction of “domestic evangelization”.
Ageing Catholic population
The rapid ageing of the Catholic population is another aspect that the study is drawing attention to.
Between 2003 and 2018, Catholics younger than nine years old and in their teens made up 32.4 per cent and 33.2 per cent, respectively. But those in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s have expanded by 76.9 per cent, 93 per cent, 117 per cent and 251.6 per cent, respectively.
Meanwhile, the number of nuptial Masses have decreased by 41.5 per cent from 24,227 in 1999 to 14,167 in 2018.
The number of priests increased 52.2 per cent from 2,972 to 4,456 over the same period, though the number of seminary students fell 17.7 per cent from 1,547 to 1,273. The number of Korean missionaries sent overseas has surged by 204.2 per cent from 356 in 1999 to 1,083 in 2018. (Source: Fides)