Pope Francis will visit South Korea in his second major overseas apostolic voyage in August, from the 13th to the 18th, in a visit that will be seen as a way to help boost morale and numbers on Korea’s growing community of Christians. In a piece that hit the newswires today, Bishop Mario Toso, who Chairs the Pontifical Council for Justice and Piece, told Catholic News Agency that he observed in a recent visit to the country that was designed to lay the groundwork for the Pope’s arrival next month that Korean priests are heeding the call of Pope Francis to reach out to the marginalized of society. The bishop said that he was “profoundly stricken by the interest and love of the Korean Church for poor and those who suffer. I was especially struck by priests who advocate for the weakest people and share their pain in different social contexts,” and that this “proves that Korean priests are a good example of what Pope Francis said: ‘Priests must go to peripheries, be a shepherd with the smell of the sheep. I could personally witness that the Catholic Church is a sort of ‘hook’ for poor and unemployed people in South Korea,” the Bishop told CNA.
Catholics represent about 11 percent of the population of the Republic of Korea, but they are a strong minority community with about 30 Catholics represented in Parliament, and Catholics in all sectors of Korean society. However, nearly 47% of the country identifies as irreligious or non-religious, and at least one statistical report says that around 15% of the population of South Korea identify themselves as convinced atheists. Hence, the Church enters a climate where its leaven is sorely needed in one of the most overtly secular democracies in the world.
Bishop Toso recounted to Catholic News Agency that he was saying Mass for the unemployed recently in South Korea and getting a positive reaction from atheists. “There was great participation. And among the participants, there were atheists. After the celebration, they told me that they were very stricken by the words of the Mass, 'only say the word and my soul shall be healed.’ When we took a picture all together, everybody wanted to hold, to shake my hands. This proved to me that people are looking for the Church, because the Church in Korea is very close to the people.” Many formerly secular people are converting, creating a climate of rapid growth in the country ahead of the Pope’s visit, the Bishop reported.