From Spero News
By UCA News
Although the number of priests and seminarians in South Korea increased from 2006 to 2007, Church officials say steady efforts to promote vocations are more important than numbers.
The number of priests exceeded 4,000 last year for the first time, according to statistics the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea (CBCK) issued on May 15. They say that as of Dec. 31, 2007, the country had 4,116 priests, up 142 from 2006, apart from 32 bishops.
The number of seminarians also increased after five years of decline, according to the statistics.
Among the priests, 3,373 belong to dioceses, and 55.8 percent of the diocesan priests are pastors in parishes, while 21.8 percent work in Church ministries such as education, communications, health and social welfare. Other diocesan priests are studying in or outside the country, serving in the Military Ordinariate or on overseas mission.
Father Peter Pai Young-ho, CBCK executive secretary, acknowledges the number of priests is encouraging, but the number itself has no special meaning, he told UCA News on May 19, because the local Church still needs more priests. "Society has become more complex, so we need more priests working for people of various sectors," he explained.
The CBCK statistics put the number of Catholics in 2007 at 4,873,447, an increase of 2.2 percent from the 2006 figure, or 9.7 percent of South Korea's 50,034,357 people.
The statistics also reveal that the number of seminarians at the seven major seminaries increased by 23 to 1,403. The number had decreased annually by 0.5 percent, on average, for the five years prior to 2007.
Father Luke Koh Chan-keun, vocation director of Seoul archdiocese, told UCA News on May 19 that such fluctuation in seminarian numbers countrywide is not significant. He noted that 30-40 high-school students join the Seoul seminary every year.
"Our archdiocese has made steady efforts to encourage middle- and high-school students and other young Catholics to become seminarians by holding pre-seminarian school programs, which some 1,000 students and young Catholics have joined every year," he said.
Such programs include monthly meetings, retreats, pilgrimages and catechism, highlighting spiritual values for a more holistic approach to education, he explained. "But it is becoming more and more difficult to gather new candidates amid overwhelming secularism," he admitted.
Father Pai also stressed the importance of steady efforts to promote priestly vocations. "In contrast with the Churches in Europe, the increase in seminarians and priests here proves that our Church has continuously grown. I believe each diocese has made great and steady efforts in encouraging young Catholics to be priests," he said.
The bishops' conference official pointed out these numbers cannot be predicted, because the vocation situation differs from diocese to diocese and from year to year. Nonetheless, he does not agree with the skeptical opinion some people express that the number of seminarians and priests cannot continue to increase. Due to the efforts of each diocese, Father Pai said, "I don't believe the number will dramatically decrease."
According to the Church statistics, the number of Religious also increased from 2006 to 2007, rising by 91 to 9,861 for women Religious, and by 95 to 1,539 for men Religious. The Church had 1,511 parishes and 1,084 mission stations in 15 dioceses and the Military Ordinariate as of the end of 2007.
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