When thinking about the continent of Asia , many people assume the place to be filled with Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus, and other unfamiliar religions of which the West has little experience. This was the case many years ago, but it is not the case today. It is important for people to understand Korean Catholicism in our modern world in order to have an enriched faith experience in their own situations.
Though many do not realize it, there are many Koreans in South Korea as well as the United States who are Catholic. According to statistics, about ten percent of South Koreans are Catholic. Ten percent may not seem like much, but for a country formally filled by Eastern religions, ten percent is a staggering number. Imagine one out of every ten people one meets in the United States is Buddhist (the current number is less than one percent). This number shows the openness of the people of Korea and how they are willing to change for what they believe is right, even when the vast majority of people are not in accord with their beliefs.
Attending a Korean Mass is a worthwhile experience. It is always interesting to note the unique cultural experiences that the priest and congregation bring to Mass when they are from countries other than one’s own. Korean churches often have a futuristic appearance and feel, something not seen in churches from other countries. The priests are usually down to earth and are able to connect well with the people.
What is most striking about Korean Catholicism is the devoutness of the people. Most of them faithfully participate during Mass, go to Confession, and practice devotions such as the rosary. One interesting thing to note is that many of the women continue to wear the veil on their heads during Mass. Many of both men and women will dress well during Mass and not take the event casually.
Also, during the Mass in Korea , one may experience a different sort of collection of donations. Instead of baskets being passed around, the people line up as if it were a Communion line, approach the altar, and slip their donation into a donation box. In addition, during the sign of peace, people do not shake hands, as is the tradition of the West. Instead, the people do a polite bow to each other and greet each other with peace, as is the tradition of some Eastern countries.
Although most ordinary objects owned by people contain the words “Made in China ” written on them, when it comes to religious objects, the words most commonly found are “Made in Italy ”. However, if one were to purchase religious items in Korea , one may commonly find the words “Made in Korea ”. This is a country whose Catholicism ought not to be neglected. Saint Andrew Kim Taegon, Saint Paul Chong Hasang, and many other Korean Catholic martyrs have proven God’s entry into this country, and its modern Catholic presence should continue to be recognized by Catholics. Asia ’s Catholicism is a pearl waiting to be discovered by the world. Korea is just a small part of this pearl.