ASIA/SOUTH KOREA - The new Archbishop of Seul: “Priority to Evangelization and the reunification of Korea”

Seul (Fides Agency) – Priority will be evangelization in a country where the Catholic community is growing but also “missio ad gentes”; equally important is the work for reconciliation and reunification with North Korea and hold high in Asia the flag of defence of life: this is what the new Archbishop of Seul, His Excellency, Andrew Yeom Soo-jeong, 69 years, released to Fides in his first interview after his nomination.

Your Excellency, what are your feeling after your appointment?

First of all, I would like to thank and praise God for his grace upon us. And I deeply appreciate His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI who always shows much affection for the Korean Church and who continually prays for us. When I was appointed as Vicar General of Seoul, I humbly obeyed the will of God and the Holy Father with just as I did when I was ordained as a priest and bishop. This appointment reminded me of the story of the blind man in the Gospel of John chapter nine. He was born blind, though neither he nor his parents had sinned; it was so in order that the works of God might be made visible through him. In this regard, I particularly asked for the prayers and support of priests, monks, nuns and the faithful. I firmly believe that the unity of the association of priests is the most crucial aspect of diocesan pastoral ministry. Keeping that in mind, I will make everyeffort to unite priests to gether in our Lord, JesusChrist.

What are your pastoral priorities?

As I mentioned above, the unity of diocesan priests is most important. Likewise, monks, nuns and the lay-people should be one in Christ, as well.

I will keep the legacy of renewal achieved in the diocesan pastoral ministry by my respectful predecessor, His Eminence Cardinal Cheong, Jin-suk, who led the Archdiocese of Seoul in an excellent manner for 14 years. The two main pillars of pastoral ministry are “life” and “missions.” Indeed, mission is the core of the Church’s life itself. Therefore, I am determined to keep the Church constantly focused on it’s missionary works while, at the same time, encouraging local initiatives. Jesus, who devoted his whole life to evangelization, and He wants us all to actively engage in efforts to spread the Word of God. In this regard, we should play the roles of light and salt embodying the presence of God in our families and in society, as well as in our parish communities. These roles imitate the life of the early disciples and witness to the world the Church’s devotion to missionary activity. To this end, I will strive to revive the Church through evangelization initiatives and, at the same time, pro-actively support the “Evangelization 2020 Movement” initiated by His Eminence Cardinal Nicolas Cheong, which proposes to increase the Catholic population of Korea by 20% before 2020. Evangelization can be achieved when the Church becomes truly itself playing the roles of light and salt to the world.

What attention will you give to the defence of life?

The Church should also plant the seed of the “culture of life” in our society. His Holiness Pope John Paul II expressed serious concerns about today’s social phenomenon of neglecting life by calling it the “culture of death.” However, at the same time, he stressed hope for the “culture of life.” In regard to this serious threat to life, Korea is no exception. Protecting life is about following the order of God’s creation and it is a prophetic activity that should be carried on by the Church for the sake of society. Indeed, the culture of death prevails everywhere. Our devotion to protect life goes hand in hand with living our faith. It is one of the very basic teachings of Christ that we should not ignore the marginalized and any form of life. I strongly believe that the protection of life is given to the Church is the prophetic call for these times we are now living in. With great interest in intractable diseases treatment, the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Seoul has supported adult stem cell research which does not jeopardize life. Certainly, there will be positive research outcomes in the near future. Meanwhile, it is critical to learn and spread the teachings of the Church regarding major social ethical issues such as abortion and intrauterine insemination. Indeed, the protection of life should be the fundamental work of the Church’s pastoral ministry.

What are the main challanges for the Church in Seoul today?

Today’s society is facing various challenges such as class conflict, breakdown of education and family, an ever decreasing birth rate, as well as Mormonism. I believe religion can be helpful to resolve social conflicts and promote a spirit of solidarity in a society. Solidarity can be achieved when people divided by political ideology, wealth, educational background are united together. Here, solidarity does not mean making everyone exactly the same. Rather, solidarity means finding ways to co-exist while respecting each other’s uniqueness. We need to remember that values like consolidation and unity can be realized only when we embrace and try to understand others first. In particular, today, families are affected by materialism, individualism, and confusion of values brought by industrialization, urbanization and informatization. Human ties among family members have been weakened, while moral values have lost their ground. Nevertheless, despite all the difficulties and challenges we face, the family unit is the most important and precious place where we experience the love of God for the first time in our life. Against this backdrop, every effort in pastoral ministry should be focused on making and promoting healthy family life which God originally gave us as a gift. The Church and the family are closely linked to each other. In order to help families to be a small community of life and love, the Church should not spare its support. From the stage when a couple prepares for marriage, the Church needs to ensure that pastoral ministry raises awareness about the importance of life. It would also be a good idea when running a parish in a youth-oriented way, to draw more young people toward God. Moreover, by practicing love and sharing, the Church should try to heal division and conflict in our society. There is, therefore, an urgent need to challenge every member of society, ranging from children to the elderly, to shape a large and true family-like community by nurturing a sense of solidarity.

What is your hope for the relationship between South and nord Korea?

The Archbishop of Seoul is also the Apostolic Administrator in the Diocese of Pyongyang. The inauguration Mass will be celebrated on 25 June, the date on which the Korean War broke out. We will pray for everlasting peace on the Korean peninsula. It has been more than a half century since the two Koreas were divided. To achieve reunification we need first to build trust. The Church should also play its part by praying for and supporting this goal. There should be more efforts to understand each other better through reunification education. It is necessary, for instance, to promote research and other activities preparing reconciliation and reunification. Inter-Korean issues should be resolved by dialogue. The Seoul Archdiocese has gone to great efforts to provide humanitarian aid to our brothers and sisters in North Korea through Caritas Seoul. Nevertheless, only God fully open the heart of the two sides toward each other. I believe humanitarian support by the Catholic Church for the North, as an expression of Christian love, will help North Korea open its mind, though we should maintain this humanitarian aid with patience. Since Korea is divided into two, reconciliation is one of the most critical issues of our time which should be dealt with by the mutual cooperation of government and non-governmental parties from both South and North Korea.
(PA) (Agenzia Fides 22/5/2012)

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