Liberation of Korea and the Church
1. Context of the Times
Korea was freed from the rule of Japanese imperialism on August 15, 1945. National liberation was the starting point for a modern Korean history as well as that of the Catholic Church in Korea. Immediately after liberation the Allied Forces were stationed in Korea in the name of demilitarization of Japan. With the 38th Parallel as border, the Soviet military was stationed in the North and the U.S. military in the South. In the beginning, Korean people considered them as liberators. However the Allied Forces defined South Koreans as people who are liberated but still living in the colonized land of a defeated empire. Thus they carried out an occupation policy on the Korean peninsula.
The Cold War era began with the end of World War II. The confrontation framework of the USA and USSR influenced the political situation on the Korean peninsula under their occupation, and the 38th Parallel became the border line between capitalism and communism. Korean people committed themselves to the independence and national movements fighting hard to prevent the division of Korea. However their efforts turned out to be in vain. Finally, two separate governments were established on the Korean peninsula as a result of the Cold War between the USA and USSR. Some politicians of the South and the North took political advantage of such a situation: Politicians of the South based on the capitalistic system and the North based on the socialism. The establishment of the two governments in a context of totally different ideology incited the possibility of a domestic war among the Koreans. Finally the Korean War broke out in 1950.
From 1945 to 1950, the Church, in a rapidly changing society, had shared the joy and pain of all the Korean people.
2. Liberation and the Church in the South and the North
At the time of independence the Church in Korea had five Apostolic Vicariates, three Apostolic Prefectures and one Abbatia with about 180,000 faithful (some 50,000 in North and 110,000 in the South and 20,000 in the Diocese of Yenki of Manchuria) or 0.7 percent of the population. There were 169 foreign missionaries, 139 Korean priests and 400 nuns. Educational and social service organizations which were run by the Catholics were quite limited in number. The Catholic Church did not show any leading figures in the struggle for national independence. Therefore the influence of the Catholic Church in Korean society at time of independence was not significant.
However, the independence was a great event to the Catholic Church in Korea as she expected that it could bring an end of Japanese intervention and repression to the Church. The Church considered national liberation as a gift of the Blessed Virgin Mary because the independence came on the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Thanksgiving Masses and special celebrations for the national liberation and world peace were held all over the country.
In September, 1945, the US Military forces landed in Korea and Archbishop Spellman came to Seoul. He visited Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul and consoled the Korean Catholics who suffered from the colonial rule. A Mass and welcoming reception of the Allied Forces were held at Myeongdong Cathedral as well as reception for those who fought for the national independence. On the other hand, the Soviet Army stationing in North Korea officially guaranteed the freedom of religion. The Church in North Korea joyfully celebrated national liberation and tried to make it a springboard for new progress. However, the Church in the North eventually had to undergo serious difficulties because of prejudices of Communists against religion.
The Church in the South and the North had her share in the joy of the independence of the country. But, the Church did not make a humble self-examination of the past for tolerating Japan's war policy or collaborating with Japan even if it was against her will. In fact, during the Japanese occupation, the Church had very little power to influence on the public opinion of Korean society for the Japanese imperialists forced it to collaborate with their war policy. French Apostolic Vicars were replaced by Japanese bishops. In this context the Church caused trouble of conscience for many Catholics by asking them to attend Shinto worship. Self-examination over such mistakes was precondition for new progress. However, the Church leaders did not want to admit officially their faults.
In a situation where the Cold War had been intensified, self-examination of the Church, which belonged to right wing, became more difficult because such conduct could motivate leftists?attack against the right wing.
3. Characteristics of History of the Church
In the period of stabilization of the division on the Korean peninsula, the Church in Korea suffered from the division of the nation. The Apostolic Vicariates of Pyongyang and Hamhung and Abbacy Nullius of Dokwon were under the communist rule of the North Korea that was under the guardianship of the Soviet Union. Also Hwanghae Province, which was a part of the Apostolic Vicariate of Seoul, was subsumed into North Korean territory. In these areas of North Korea, religion activities had been conducted actively since the liberation of nation. For instance in Pyeongyang, Catholics attempted to build a cathedral and in certain places they committed themselves to political movements and took part in anti-communist parties such as the Korea Democratic Party. In this process the Catholic Church in the North encountered immediate opposition of the North Korean communist government that established the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in 1948. They also witnessed the preparatory process for the Korean War during which Catholics and their religious activities were repressed. Until just before the outbreak of the Korean War most of the clergy in the North were arrested, churches were closed and religious communities were ordered to be dissolved. At that time many Catholics moved to the South seeking for the freedom of religion.
On the other hand, the majority of the faithful of the diocese of Yenki, Manchuria, was Korean residents. At the end of World War II, when China recovered its sovereignty over Manchuria in 1946, the Apostolic See in Rome separated the Diocese of Yenki from the Church in Korea and integrated it into the Church in China. This brought about some changes in the Church in Korea. By the end of Japanese colonial rule Japanese clergy were appointed as Vicariate Forane of the Apostolic Vicariate of Taegu and Kwangju, but they were replaced by Korean clergy immediately after the independence of the country.
In 1910, when the Japanese colonial rule began, Japan prohibited publication of the Gyeonghyang Sinmun, Catholic-run newspaper, and all periodicals of the Church eventually followed the same fate. Immediately after the independence the Church in the South was able to reissue the Gyeonghyang Sinmun which has taken root in Korean society as one of the most influential daily newspapers. The Church used it as a vehicle to express it's views and opinions concerning the direction to be taken by the Korean society. With republication of Gyeonghyang Sinmun all other Church-run publications, that were discontinued under colonial rule, were reissued. With the independence of the nation, the Church in Korea undertook active missionary works.
The Church also participated actively in the push for education in the country, by founding schools and educational associations, hospitals, clinics, orphanages and nursing homes across the country. It also gave impetus to Catholic activities by founding the "Korean Catholic League?in 1949. Efforts for devotional movements, including devotion to the Korean martyrs continued to flourish.
The Apostolic See in Rome showed much interest in the Church in Korea since the national independence and sent an Apostolic Delegate to Korea in 1947 even before the establishment of the South Korean government. In 1948, the Holy See was the first state to recognize the South Korean government when it was founded. Also the Catholic Conference of Korea(CCK) was organized to carry out evangelization works more effectively. The CCK was a national organization of bishops aimed at organizing and coordinating the Church activities on national level such as education, medical services and social works.
The Catholic Church in Korea did not make direct contribution to the independence of the country and tolerated the Japanese policy of aggression though it was against her will. If the Church wanted to work for the evangelization of the Korean people after the national independence she should have made a sincere self-examination of the errors of the past, but it did not.
The Church in Korea had to undergo many obstacles in carrying out her mission because of division of the country. The Church in the South could develop her missionary works under the protection of the U.S. Army, but it encountered a great deal of difficulties caused by the social situation and the confrontation between right and left wings. In such a complex situation the Church in the South continued to make efforts to do effective missionary works. The number of believers gradually increased and Church-run educational and social organizations continued to develop. Through influential publications the Church could express her views about the foundation of the new nation. In this way the Church tried to reach out to people and increase her influence on Korean society.
Immediately after the national independence the Church in the South made a successful efforts for evangelization while the Church in the North experienced great deal of difficulties under the communist regime. Spiritual and moral assistance from the Apostolic See and the Catholics of foreign Churches made a significant contribution to the progress of the Catholic Church in South Korea. However, as far as the national division is concerned, the Church did not engage in effective resistance against it.
As it can be seen from all the above reflections, the national independence from Japanese colonial rule was a very important event in the development of the history of Catholicism in Korea.