Living Hope Newsletter – May 2023
The Claretian Mission in South Korea
What began with a newly formed hopeful community of Claretians in South Korea in 1985 has blossomed over the years, with Claretians serving the spiritual and material needs of people in communities across the country.
Despite the challenges Catholicism faces in South Korean society, the Claretians have remained dedicated and faithful in their mission. The same foundational mission of Claretian outreach worldwide forms the basis of their ministries here: sacramental parish life, pastoral care for immigrants, help for the homeless and the poor, formation and accompaniment of lay Claretian missionaries, education, retreats, and youth programs. Together with the Caritas of Jesus Sisters, there is also a meaningful ministry caring for soldiers.
Claretian Major Superior, Fr. Vicente Lee, leads the South Korean mission residing in the Archdiocese of Seoul. Other missionary locations include Nampyong house in the Archdiocese of Gwangju and a community in Wontong, a village near the border between South and North Korea. In all of these regions, the Claretian missions strive to understand migrants in both the global and Asian contexts. This includes working toward a deeper understanding of the many migrant issues and policies at play. Migrants in South Korea come from the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Mexico, India, Cambodia, and Ethiopia.
The emphasis on ministering among migrant peoples means providing structured counseling, legal aid, medical care, and pastoral care to both legal and illegal migrants and refugees. The Claretians also provide temporary shelter for women in need and serve meals to nearby local people for whom food insecurity is a very real problem.
Catholic Christian Life in South Korea
There are many challenges with familial and societal bias toward the formation of vocations in South Korea and other Asian countries. Yet the formation of priests, brothers, and laypeople in their faith vocations is an integral facet of Claretian missions everywhere despite the difficulties they encounter, including in South Korea. Formation involves seminary education, Bible study, and retreats.
Catholics comprise 10% of the total South Korean population; the rest of the country’s main religions are divided between Buddhists (60%) and other Christian denominations (30%).
The Catholic Church in South Korea is clearly defined by the local dioceses, which offers positive structure but can make it difficult for religious congregations like the Claretians to find their place, especially for those newer religious arriving in the last 40 years.
Thriving Pastoral Ministries
There are three main locations that are home base to Claretian Ministries in South Korea: Seoul— the country’s capital, Gwangju—in the southern part of the country, and Wontong in the northern part of the country near the border with North Korea.
The first Claretian house in South Korea was built in 1988 in Seoul. Today this is the Provincial House where Fr. Lee, cmf, leads the Claretian delegation. Claretians in Seoul focus on the needs of the poor, and they also assist in various diocesan parishes. The Claret Missionary Center, built in 2000 in Seoul, is dedicated to research and development of missionary strategies to help form lay missionaries. The lay missionaries play a critical role in supporting and executing the ministries.
In Gwangju, in the southern part of South Korea, the Nampyong Spiritual House was built in 1997. This is a retreat house and Seminary of Philosophy and Theology. The work in the Archdiocese of Gwangju is essential to the growth of the Claretian Missionary family.
The Claretian community in Wontong is located in a rural area of South Korea, near the border between South and North Korea and not far from the eastern boundary. Formed in 2001 to play a role as bridgehead for the mission to North Korea, ministries here are focused on serving the many poor, providing outdoor services for the elderly, the disabled, abandoned children, youth, clergy, and soldiers. All the activities and programs in this remote area are staffed by religious lay missionaries and volunteers, who give generously of their time and talent.
The most recent of the Claretian centers to be constructed in South Korea is the Claretian Immigration Center, dedicated in 2018 in Bucheon, South Korea, to serve the steady needs of migrants.
The mission in South Korea faces a number of challenges, including a significant lack of personnel and unstable financial resources. With all of the ministries focused on serving the poor and marginalized, funding from benefactors is the main source of income. Yet the hope that shores up the Claretian Missionaries all over the world does so here, as they meet their challenges in South Korea with prayer, faith, and hope.