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Wealthy Korea needs a jolt from Pope Francis
14 August 2014 by Fr John Sullivan

It was about half way through May that I spotted the first billboard announcing the coming visit of Pope Francis displayed on the wall of the local railway station in Incheon, 20 miles south-west of Seoul. It was then that I also started noticing posters in many shop windows.

So Pope Francis touched down today amid more than usual anticipation and media interest. Even though the Catholic Church has its own TV channel, the Korean Broadcasting Service has promised 124 hours of TV coverage of the Pope's visit, one hour for each of the 124 martyrs to be beatified by the Pope.

There are 5,000 volunteers trained to marshal the ceremony of Beatification and the Catholic Sunday papers have been having a countdown for weeks.

So what do I as a missionary who has lived in Korea for the past 26 years hope that Francis can bring to the Korean Church? Firstly I hope that he can inspire the bishops, clergy and seminarians back to being a Church for the poor. The Church is very clerical and in some dioceses there has developed a kind of corporation mentality.

For example, the diocese of Incheon has recently built a 1,000-bed international hospital and a luxurious retirement village which they will be hard pressed to fill as both can be afforded only by the wealthy.

Meanwhile in the port area of old Incheon where I live, there are many old people who would benefit from more affordable housing and cheap hospital care. There are two soup kitchens for the elderly in my parish run by Religious and every morning at dawn you see old men and women sweeping the streets or pushing around old prams piled with cardboard, bottles and plastic for recycling so as to earn some extra money to help make ends meet.

And my hope for the ordinary people is that Francis will infect them with his love for Jesus. When the Korean faithful are dismissed at the end of Mass it is with the formula, "Go the Mass is ended and proclaim the Gospel". And this they do. Every parish has a push at least twice a year for catechumens.

Happily the numbers are large but it is a pity that, probably for that reason, the RCIA programme is not used, so that the emphasis during their preparation for baptism is on the catechism and neglects a personal encounter with Jesus – in contrast to the emphasis of the Protestant Churches.

So my hope is that Francis with his unique charisma may be able to share with them his love for Jesus as his personal saviour.

Fr John L Sullivan OSA, is a missionary priest in Incheon, South Korea



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Comment by: John Sullivan osa
Posted: 15/08/2014 23:01:06

In reply to Denis:
I have no problem with the church having money. Jesus had the community purse and the group of women of means who accompananied him. And Koreans are the most generous givers I've ever come across. It's surely a question of how the money is used.
What I see as valuable about the RCIA programme is that it gives a sense of belonging and a faith that is shared. Korean churches are large with many having between 5 to 7 Masses between the Saturday and Sunday evenings and can consequently be very impersonal. The experience in Korea is that if the newly baptized Catholic doesn't join some group, such as the Legion of Mary, in his or her parish he or she quickly drifts away. The sense of belonging to a group is very important and again it is the Protestant churches which do so well in this area here.

Comment by: Denis
Posted: 15/08/2014 09:28:35

This idea that wealth equates to bad is a hangover from the seventies. A "poor" church, whatever that is, is one which can do nothing to help those in need. It is all too easy to be profligate and too many priests who seem to think money is that tainted thing that they must spend as soon as they can (and then borrow from a bank/diocese to pay the bills).
As for the RCIA that has often proved a very poor preparation for Christian life. Perhaps we should try to emulate the remarkable growth of the Church in Korea rather than pressing them to follow our decline.