FROM THE KEIHIN REGION (29) A VISIT TO SOUTH KOREA
[SOCIAL AND PASTORAL BULLETIN No. 146 / Nov., 15,2008]

FROM THE KEIHIN REGION (29)
A VISIT TO SOUTH KOREA

Abe Keita (Franciscan priest)  
As part of my job I visited lately South Korea. During my stay there I paid a visit to two different institutions, a Hansen disease center and a special home for the elderly.
Compared to the Catholic Church in Japan where local Japanese, Koreans in Japan and people of different nationalities together count about 1 million, the Korean Catholic Church counts for more that 5 million people. It is for this reason that the Catholic welfare and medical institutions there are much bigger and numerous than in Japan.
For instance, one of the Franciscan institutions, the rural welfare village in Jeollanam-do is a general local institution in a small town, Jangseong. Depopulation has left the elderly alone or in need of care and, in order to cope with their growing needs year after year, religious orders, the administration and developing companies together implement a total regional welfare system where homes for the elderly, hospitals, daycare centers, residences for the staff and housing units with given preference to elder people are fully equipped. I felt that such a welfare system with a development orientation could not take place in Japan.
Compared to 6 years ago when I last visited this project several institutions have been already added and the numbers of foreign welfare workers visiting the place have greatly increased. On the other hand, such Catholic welfare institution comes under the category of a small welfare enterprise in South Korea where there exist welfare towns that also include welfare universities. They are well-equipped massive institutions corresponding to the welfare needs of the localities where many of the residents are Christians and consequently their wishes are also reflected in public policies. The beginning of the projects and new supporters groups proceed hand in hand and, every time I visit there I feel that such projects become feasible, because in South Korea enough funds can be raised.
Visiting those projects I often felt that, in Japan, the Church becomes so overwhelmed that has nothing to offer, but this time I took a different view regarding the future. In other words my question is can such projects be maintained at the same level? I came to ask myself that reflecting that South Korea and Japan face the same problems. Namely, in both countries children are diminishing. Confucianism that exerts a strong influence in Korea thinks that a life style DINKS (Double Income No Kids) where both parents work without bearing children is not ethical, but in spite of it the tendency towards diminishing the numbers of children is already being introduced.
It is worthy to look at the postwar history of the Catholic Church in Japan. Right after the Second World War many missionaries came to Japan and with the financial help from outside churches and institutions were built and through the years many people were converted to Christianity. Nevertheless, conversions came to a halt and vocations for the priesthood and religious congregations diminished. As a result, many institutions established by dioceses and the religious had to be reduced or were totally closed.
In many cases the diminishing of children was one of the main factors. If we compare the baby-boom Japanese g
eneration with the following one, we find out that the generation that supported the Japan's economy with its technology has retired from the front line and as a result fields that have failed into decay are not so rare at all. The actual Japanese Church is experiencing the lack of successors to replace priests or religious to run educational or welfare institutions.
On the other hand, these experiences are opening new ways to continue running in the future those institutions in collaboration with others that are not even from the Church. If there is something that the Japanese Church might offer to the South Korean Church I could mention the Japanese experience of how to bear the painful times and prepare the continuity with future generations. This time my visit to Korea was very helpful.
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