Reflections From a Catholic Soldier in South Korea

According to Al Jazeera, a well-known international media network over here, Catholicism plays a significant role in South Korea, even though only 10 percent of the population is Catholic. Here in South Korea, the poll also states that nearly 45% of South Koreans don’t practice any religion.  However, Christianity, in general, is on a rise and seems to be the main religion. In South Korea, there are 15 territorial dioceses, which me it seems to be several for such a country that is the approximate size of Illinois, which has six.

Andrei Lankov sums it up in Why is Catholicism Important in South Korea?:

When military rule finally came to an end in 1987 and Korea at long last became a democracy, the Catholic church was widely credited for its role in this seismic change. Needless to say, such perceptions significantly boosted its popularity: Church leaders were seen as relevant, dedicated and ready to risk their life and freedom for a great cause. Indeed, while Catholic churches across the globe face increasing difficulties and dwindling numbers of believers, the Korean church is thriving. In the mid-1990s the Catholics constituted merely 6 percent of the total population, but in twenty years the number nearly doubled, reaching 10 percent.

Korean Catholic leaders stood twice on the right side of history and as a result Catholicism continues to enjoy popularity among South Koreans.

The Pope spent five days in South Korea, where the Catholic Church is growing. There are over 5.4 million members, about 10.4% of the population. Archbishop Igino Kim Hee-Joong, the president of the Korean Bishops’ Conference, asked the pope to pray for peace and to help the Korean people. Pope Francis told religious leaders that Catholicism is important because the world:

. . . looks to us for answers and a shared commitment to various issues: The sacred dignity of the human person, the hunger and poverty which still afflict too many peoples, the rejection of violence, in particular that violence which profanes the name of God and desecrates religion, the corruption that gives rise to injustice, moral decay, and the crisis of the family, of the economy and, not least of all, the crisis of hope.

From A Soldier’s Perspective

While being here I have encountered Jehovah Witnesses and Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), who go about and proselytizing much like they do in the states. I find this a bit unique and bit homey as am used to discussing with these groups in the states as well. For me, I find speaking with other evangelizing religions to help me become deeper rooted in my faith. This is from topics of discussion helps me study the apologetics of our faith.

Now much like in America, it depends on where you go and the population. If you go to Seoul, the fifth largest city in the world, it is a mixing pot of cultures. There are several Filipino people that live here, which most have Catholic based faith. Here, however, especially on a military installation, the Catholic service times are limited, unlike stateside. The military mass services in my area have only one on the weekend. Of course, there is a reason for this, they need to share the chapel with other Christian based religions. Now, if all service men and women attend that are Catholic, the percentage could change and possibly have more times to attend. There are plans of opening a new chapel, which could open more opportunity times to attend. Now, when attending most Sunday’s, you need to get there early enough to get a seat and not 10 minutes after because then it nearly becomes a standing room only.

Like I stated, this depends on where you are, other locations could have a Saturday evening mass. I could attend a Korean service, but the language would be a big barrier, though the mass would be the same. If did decide to go to a Korean Mass, they too are limited to churches. Once again, much like stateside, you may only have one Catholic Church in the area and several other various denominations to choose from.