Pope Francis tells Korean bishops to keep evangelization as primary mission


Catholic News Service

SEOUL, South Korea — Pope Francis warned South Korea’s Catholic bishops not to let their country’s “prosperous, yet increasingly secularized and materialistic society” distract the church from its essential duty to evangelize.

Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, the southern half of the peninsula has risen from poverty to become the world’s 13th-largest economy, good fortune that Pope Francis said posed cultural and spiritual perils.

Pope Francis arrives for a meeting with the bishops of South Korea at the headquarters of the Korean bishops' conference in Seoul Aug. 14. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis arrives for a meeting with the bishops of South Korea at the headquarters of the Korean bishops’ conference in Seoul Aug. 14. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“In such circumstances, it is tempting for pastoral ministers to adopt not only effective models of management, planning and organization drawn from the business world, but also a lifestyle and mentality guided more by worldly criteria of success, and indeed power, than by the criteria which Jesus sets out in the Gospel,” the pope said Aug. 14 at the headquarters of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea.

Pope Francis met with the bishops on the first day of a five-day trip to South Korea, his first pastoral visit to Asia. Earlier in the day, he met privately with South Korean President Park Geun-hye.

The told the bishops the life and mission of the Korean church must be measured in the “clear light of the Gospel and its call to conversion to the person of Jesus Christ.”

Pope Francis also celebrated what he described as the characteristic virtues of the church in Korea, including its tradition of lay leadership, starting with the 18th-century nobles who converted after reading Catholic books imported from China. He cited this history as an inspiring counter-example to a problem he has frequently criticized: an excessive deference by laypeople to bishops and priests.

The first Korean Christians “did not have the temptation of clericalism, they were able to go on alone” to the found the church, the pope said.

The pope said the 10,000 Koreans martyred for their faith in the 18th and 19th centuries now offer an inspiring example of Christian hope to a “world that, for all its material prosperity, is seeking something more, something greater, something authentic and fulfilling.”

“You and your brother priests offer this hope by your mystery of sanctification, which not only leads the faithful to the sources of grace in the liturgy and the sacraments, but also urges them to press forward in response to the upward call of God,” he said.

Pope Francis praised the “prophetic witness of the church in Korea (as) evident in its concern for the poor and in its programs of outreach, particularly to refugees and migrants and those living on the margins of society.”

But he warned against reducing charitable work to mere handouts, “while overlooking each individual’s need to grow as a person and to express in a worthy manner his or her own personality, creativity and culture,” a need he said can only be served by “social, occupational and educational promotion.”

Charity, the pope suggested, is also a powerful form of evangelization, especially among the young: “I am convinced that if the face of the church is first and foremost a face of love, more and more young people will be drawn to the heart of Jesus ever aflame with divine love in the communion of his mystical body.”