Catholic Church In Korea

 History

 

Church's Concern for Justice and Development of Culture

 

 

1. Context of the Times


    The 1970's was a significant time in the modern history of Korea because the military dictatorship which was symbolized by the Yushin System that was established in 1972. Under this system the dictatorial regime was tightened while tension and conflict between the democracy camp and dictatorship were increased, and the underground movements to defend human rights and democracy were activated. The government controlled the democratic movements by the Central Intelligence Agency. Several emergency measures were issued during that period.
    Meantime the Korean economy that was centered on the agriculture and light industry was switched to the chemical and heavy industry centered one. In this process the agricultural population diminished rapidly and fell down from 56.1 percent in 1961's to 28.4 percent in 1980's. Rapid economic growth was achieved by the economic policy based on the low income labor force. Korea has reached unusual growth of economy of 40.7 percent of annual extension rate of export and 8.9 percent of average economic growth through the first five-year economic development.
    The Saemaeul Undong (New Community Movement) was developed with full support of the government from 1971 and in the shade of economic growth the labor movement was developed on its way. The labor conflicts first began in textile, mine and chemical industries in the middle of 1960's. From the beginning of 1970's labor movement of those who were excluded from the export oriented policy and industries was emerged strong. The tragic incident of self-burning to death of Jeon Tae-il on November 13, 1970, a young male worker at a sewing factory of the Peace Market in Seoul under poor working condition, triggered a new labor movement in the history of Korea.
    The educational world in 1970's had no tranquil day. The military dictatorship tightly controlled the autonomy of the educational institutions and imposed a militaristic way on the campus to maintain its power. In this process the college students played a significant role of vanguard for democracy by standing up against dictatorship and corruptions. Also, in the world of culture and thoughts, a strong nationalistic cultural movement rose against the military controlled culture. By rejecting militarism and chauvinism the intellectuals pursued human liberation and committed themselves to the struggle for human rights, social justice, democracy and the peaceful reunification of the nation. People in the 1970's had strong sense of right to exist and sought for a better and dignified quality of life as human person. A long march of Korean people to ensure the human dignity and democracy was started.

 

2. Development of Justice and Its Realization 


    Around 1970's the Church in Korea reflected on the meaning and role of her existence for the Korean society as well as her place in the history of the Korean people. Also under influence of the Second Vatican Council the Church in Korea committed itself to self renewal. Along with an economy-centered development many problems emerged in Korean society while locally adapted theology such as the liberation theology developed. In such context people's movements for the realization of justice were emerged in 1970's.
    The full-scale justice movement in the Church was begun with the foundation of the Priests Association for Justice in 1974. From the end of 1960's the Church in Korea has shown interest in issues such as political democratization, industrialization and unification of the Korean peninsula. For instance when President Park Chung-hee attempted the 3rd amendment of the Constitution in order to perpetuate his military regime, the Church made clear her position against it. But the main interest of the Church from the end of 1960's was focused on the solution of social problems provoked in the process of economic development at the expense of human rights of labors.
    In 1971, the Archdiocese of Seoul introduced the Committee for Industry Pastoral Ministry. The National Association of Lay Apostolate Council held a study meeting with the theme, "The Catholic Church and Social Development". Also Catholics and Protestants formed "The Christian Federation for Social Action" and carried out prayer meetings for the promotion of social justice.
    Eventually the Church committed itself to correct structural defects of the society and focused its efforts on workers' welfare and eradication of human rights' abuse and exploitation. One of the key examples of it was the "campaign to expel corruptions". In this way the Church challenged the absurd reality of society and its structure.
    The 1974 was a new turning point for the peoples' movement for justice. The government announced the incident of the national league of students for democracy and in connection to it the late Most Rev. Daniel Tji Hak-sun, then Bishop of Wonju, was indicted in July, 1974 under of charge of rebellion and instigation. Thereupon the Korean clergy formed the Priests Association for Justice(PAJ) around Rev. Augustine Ham Sae-woong and challenged the military regime and its dictatorship. The PAJ, with full support of the Catholics, tried to bring light on the concept of social justice and love for the weak on the basis of the social teaching of the Church.
    The PAJ demanded amnesty of all prisoners of conscience and fundamental solution of social corruptions and denounced human rights' abuse and called for an end to the dictatorial regime. It also demanded to abolish the tip-off politics and guarantee of the right to life and to eradicate political and social corruptions.
    The justice movement of the Korean clergy and lay people was carried out with support of some Bishops, especially His Eminence Stephen Cardinal Kim Sou-hwan, then Archbishop of Seoul. The Cardinal spoke for the oppressed and the poor. He said that there is no freedom of religion where there is no political freedom and freedom of expression. Street demonstrations and prayer meetings were carried out continuously in most of dioceses throughout the country.

 

3. Growth of the Catholic Church in Korea


    The Catholic Church in Korea had 183,666 faithful in 1945 which was about only one percent of the population. Since the liberation of the country from Japanese colonial rule the number of Catholics increased rapidly and it reached its peak by the end of the Korean War. The increase rate was 6.2% in the 1960's and 5.2% in the 1970's. In the early 1970's Catholics numbered 788,082 but by the end of the same year it reached 1,246,268 or 3.5 percent of population.
    The increase rate of the 1970's is lower than that of the previous years but we have to note that many of those who became Catholics in the 1970's were intellectuals who were attracted by the Church's concerns for social justice and her commitment to its realization. The justice movement of the Church has played an important role in raising the people's interest in the Catholic Church. Impressed by the Catholic movement for the realization of justice many people joined it. Collective conversion of a Protestant youth group having tendency of anti-military regime is one of the good examples. In this regard the experts of socio-religious science said that the Church's involvement in social justice was the first reason for the growth of the Catholic Church in the 1970's.
    The rapid increase of new converts from certain particular social milieu and the middle class people created a new atmosphere in the Church. The new intellectuals rejuvenated the Church in general and those coming form the middle class contributed to the financial foundation. Before long the Church in Korea became self-supporting local Church, however, at the same time, the number of lukewarm Catholics increased gradually. The primary reason for it was the industrialization and urbanization which were in full swing at the time. Also negative attitude of the Church in fighting against injustice in certain areas can be considered as part of the reason. Some youth left the Church because they were discouraged by the Church's negligence in issues of justice in some areas.
    Despite it the expansion of the Church continued steadily. The Diocese of Jeju was established in 1977. With this new diocese the structural frame of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea was completed and with the Korean Foreign Mission Society that was founded in 1974 the Church in Korea initiated mission era to foreign countries. The Cursillo Movement was introduced at that time and made an important contribution to the revitalization of parish life. In 1971 and the Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help developed Bible study. The Charismatic Movement became widespread in response to the spiritual hunger of the multitudes and the Movement for Better World took its root in the Church in Korea. Also the traditional devotion to the Korean martyrs was strengthened and in 1976 the movement to canonize 103 Korean martyrs was launched under the initiative of the Lay Apostolic Council of Korea.

 

4. Development of the Catholic Culture in Korea


    The ecumenical movement was successfully developed in the 1970,s in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council. Besides the ecumenical effort for the common translation of the Bible various ecumenical cooperative systems between Churches were initiated in view to realize social justice together. However, with certain Protestant Churches it remained on the initiative of individual pastors and faithful. Consequently the movement for interreligious dialogue and the ecumenical movement lost much of its drive.
    The social function of the Church was developed along with the expansion of the Church. In 1976, large scale social welfare facilities were set up including the Kkotdongnae. Also central and local government entrusted to the Church the administration of many social welfare facilities. This can be interpreted as an expression of the trust from the part of the government and society in the Catholic Church. At that time the Church developed its own social welfare programs focusing on emergency relief for the needy people. For this the Church in Korea still needed the assistance of foreign Churches.
    The 1970's was also a period when various ecclesiastical studies were initiated with the return of many highly educated Korean theologians from overseas. Thanks to them theological studies were promoted and the study of Catholic philosophy was intensified and gradually known to Korean intellectuals. Also the Church in Korea initiated studies on her own tradition of faith and history. In such a climate the Church's interest in inculturation has matured gradually. So the 1970's was an epoch-making period for the development of ecclesiastical studies. The Church in Korea has developed its own art and culture while it tried to contribute to promote the culture of the Korean society.

 

5. Conclusion


    In the 1970's the Church in Korea experienced many challenges. In some way, the Church was changing more rapidly than the society. Compared to the previous decades the Church's growth in numbers was lower, but with many converts from the middle class and the intellectual milieu the Church developed many other distinctive qualities. The Church proclaimed to the Korean society the principle of justice and peace as the foundation of its progress. To do this the Church did not avoid suffering but embraced it willingly. In this process the Church came to be aware of its identity as a member of Korean society and as a national community. Efforts of the Church for social development and welfare were developed side by side and this image of the Church as a serving Church left a deep impression on the minds of the Korean people. The teachings of the Second Vatican Council were implemented and the Catholic culture began to take root in the Korean culture.
The 1970's was for the Church a time of deepening of faith, external expansion and social participation. Through the "experience of participation" with the experience of martyrdom the Church had taken firm hold in Korean society. From this perspective the 1970's can be seen as a very significant time in the history of the Catholic Church in Korea. However, all Catholics did not participate in the democratization struggle and some clergy and faithful did not agree with it. Yet the Catholic movement for justice had played very important role in the process of the democratization of Korea and realization of social justice in the 1970's. The Church's active involvement in social justice made indeed a great contribution to the evangelization of the Korean people. For this reason the justice movement of the Church in 1970's is evaluated as the 2nd Pentecost of the Church in Korea.

List of Articles
No. Subject Views
16 Catholic Church in Korea Growing and Rejuvenating 21102
» Church's Concern for Justice and Development of Culture 12121
14 Catholic Church in Korea in the 1960's 21057
13 Catholic Church in South Korea after the Korean War 20520
12 Establishment of a Divided Era and the Church 9604
11 Liberation of Korea and the Church 16192
10 Catholic Church and Korean Society under Colonial Rule(2) 15572
9 Catholic Church and Korean Society under Colonial Rule(1) 10901
8 Situation of the Catholic Church in the Colonial Period 10791
7 Korean Catholic Church and the Nationalist Movement 30324
6 Age of New Discovery 10173
5 Impact that the Catholic Faith has Made Upon Korean Traditional Society 28308
4 Persecution of the Catholic Church in Korea 20119
3 Development of the Early Catholic Church in Korea 13882
2 Characteristics of the Early Catholic Church in Korea 11735
1 Dawn of Catholicism in Korea 22069



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