By Lisa Zengarini
The new president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea (CBCK), Archbishop of Suwon Mathias Lee Yong-hoon, says that in 2021 world needs to respond to the ongoing challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic with the “virtue of hope”. He expresses this view in an interview in which he summarizes the dramatic events of 2020, stressing that in this global crisis which has caused the loss of so many lives and livelihoods we are all called “to support and encourage each other”.
Pandemic connected to ecological damage
“I pray that the pandemic will end soon and I ask the Lord for mercy”, Archbishop Yong-hoon says, noting that the virus is one of the effects of the destruction of our environment and of the abuse of our common home. “The Lord asked Adam: ‘Where are you?’ (Gn 3,9). Let us therefore meditate on this call and whether God is addressing that same question to man today", he adds.
Need for discernment
The prelate also calls for discernment: “Let us identify what is important in our life. We must stop and reflect on what happened and take on the fundamental commitment to give love and help those who suffer”, he says, recalling Pope Francis’ words. This means, in practice, applying what he calls the “golden rule” of the Gospel of Matthew: “Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them” (Mt 7,12).
Bicentenary St Andrew Kim Dae-geon
Referring to the bicentenary celebrations of the birth of St. Andrew Kim Dae-geon (1821-1846), the first Korean priest and martyr, Archbishop Yong-hoon points out that during this Jubilee year Korean Catholics are called to “become light and salt of the world”, reaffirming their identity. According to the prelate, in 2021 the Korean Church should be therefore even more committed to defending life, protecting the environment and accelerating the reunification and reconciliation process between the two Koreas.
Increase in number of Catholics
The prelate goes on to speak about his archdiocese. Noting the significant increase in the number of local Catholics, which is close to reaching the million, he says renewal and involvement in pastoral activities will be the cornerstone for further growth in his community.
Situation in the country
Archbishop Yong-hoon also reflects on the present social conflicts and political leadership in the Country. He emphasizes that differences can be overcome only by peaceful dialogue, while respecting each one’s role and ideas. According to the CBCK’S president, political leaders must make an effort to find some common ground, because, he says, “only the culture of listening and of mutual respect can guarantee us a future”. “Even in the most complex situations we must be able to follow the example of the Good Samaritan”, he adds, noting that“ a true leader is never self-referential, but knows how to listen and not be overwhelmed by his own ideas”. Archbishop Yong-hoon hence points out that the example to follow is Jesus Christ himself: “You can exercise your authority and change the world only if you are willing to serve your neighbour”.
Archbishop Mathias Lee Yong-hoon was elected as head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea during its General Assembly last October. In his speech after the election, he mentioned amongst the main pastoral challenges of the Church in South Korea the COVID-19 pandemic and life issues, namely the abolition of death penalty, for which Korean bishops have been advocating for years, and the legalization abortion, which the National Assembly is currently discussing. He also mentioned as priorities for the Korean Church the reconciliation and reunification process with North Korea and the commitment against climate change and to the protection of the common home.