Seoul (Agenzia Fides) - The Korean priests who, in 178 years of history, have spent their life following Christ and proclaming the Gospel are engaged in parishes, celebrating the Sacraments for the people of God, accompanying young people, doing catechesis or promoting works of charity. They are inspired by Saint Andrew Kim Tae-gon, the first Korean priest and martyr, ordained a priest in 1845. Since then, according to a recent publication of the Korean Bishops' Conference, the total number of priests in the entire history of the Korean Church is 6,921. The list, which was compiled by receiving and organizing data from the dioceses and religious congregations, shows the figures until 1 March 2023 and is also published in e-book form.
The list includes a total of 6,921 priests, from Andrea Kim Tae-gon (ordained a Catholic priest on August 17, 1845) to the most recent Fr Won-bin Lee (ordained a priest on February 3, 2023 in the Archdiocese of Seoul). Since 1845, 689 Korean priests have reached the kingdom of heaven, but 'the Lord always gives new labourers to his harvest': the number of new Korean priests from 1 March 2022 to the end of February 2023 is 99 (87 diocesan and 12 religious). In recent years, between 2011 and 2023, the annual average of new priests in South Korea is always above 100 with peaks of 184 and 185 new priestly ordinations in 2014 and 2020, respectively.
Currently, the text reports, there are 5,655 active Korean priests (including Cardinals and Bishops), including senior Pastors. Of these, 4,765 (84.3%) are diocesan priests who belong to the 16 dioceses of the Korean Catholic Church, while 865 (15.3%) are priests of religious orders, and 25 are active priests in overseas service or mission, including service in the Holy See. The yearbook is prepared as of 1 March each year and therefore reports numbers that are slightly different from those included in the official text of the 'Statistics of the Korean Catholic Church', compiled taking into account data as of 31 December of the previous year. The priests listed are of Korean nationality, belonging to the Korean Church at the time they received the priesthood, including those who are naturalized. The data are listed in chronological order, according to the date of their priestly ordination, and the yearbook also reports the special pastoral or theological skills of each priest, with a history of the main services carried out.
On the other hand, the text also lists the foreign priests who carry out missions or pastoral activities in Korea: today there are 126 priests in all (of whom 15 are from the United States, 12 from Mexico, 11 from Vietnam and Spain, 10 from India and Philippines, 9 from Italy, 8 from Ireland and France), often present on Korean soil in order to assist immigrants at a pastoral level. Among the various religious and missionary congregations, there are members of the Missionary Society of the Divine Word, St Columba Foreign Missions Society, Guadalupe Foreign Missions Society, and Paris Foreign Missions.
Korean priests strongly contribute to making the Catholic Church in South Korea "the most trusted religious group on the peninsula", as stated by the recent '2023 Korea Church Social Trust Survey' conducted by G&Com Research in January 2023 among 1,000 men and women over the age of 19. Among the respondents, 21.4% indicated the Catholic Church as the most trustworthy community, followed by the Protestant Church (16.5%) and the Buddhist community (15.7%).
For all Korean priests, the reference to Saint Andrew Kim Tae-gon (1821-1846), Korea's first priest in 1845 and, a year later, first martyr, beatified in 1984 by Pope John Paul II during his trip to Korea, remains constant. Unesco (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) granted patronage to the bicentenary celebrations of the birth of Andrew Kim Tae-gon, held in 2021. A statue of the saint will be placed in the coming weeks among those on the external wall of St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 23/8/2023)