ASIA/SOUTH KOREA - Decline in birth rates: Catholic Church launches concrete initiatives and support for families

Tuesday, 7 May 2024 human rights   human life   birth   childhood  

Seoul (Agenzia Fides) - The decline in birth rates is an issue of national importance and subject to public debate, and the issue also enjoys particular attention in the Korean Catholic community, because the faithful are deeply committed to the task of preserving human life since its conception. This results in a concrete commitment to support women who want to have a child and the families who care for the children, both at the family and school level. The Catholic Church in South Korea aims to spread a culture of respect for life from within, by making families with newborn children feel welcome and helping them through spiritual and material support. For example, the initiative of the so-called "Mass of the Crying Child" in Uijeongbu aroused sympathy and emotion, a celebration in which, having abandoned the traditional liturgical strictness, babies and small children are allowed to run around in an area of the church for a moment and their possible crying is not seen as a disturbance. In addition to enabling young couples to attend Sunday mass, measures to support childcare and education are seen as a means of overcoming the low birth rate: in Catholic communities this extends to childcare services, in a welfare system that means help with school fees, family allowances and incentives for families with children. For example, since 2018, the diocese of Cheongju has been providing a subsidy for the birth of every child, while a monthly Mass in defense of life is celebrated for parishioners, with special attention given to pregnant women. The Archdiocese of Gwangju offers the faithful maternity allowance and a monthly child benefit for every child under 20. In addition, 50 percent of the total school and university fees that every Catholic family pays for school and university is financed as educational subsidies. The Diocese of Suwon also provides a subsidy to families with children studying, and the dioceses of Incheon and Andong also provide subsidies for school fees, while in Daejeon and Jeonju, families with children under 18 receive a child allowance.
Father Park Eun-ho, dean of the Graduate School of Life at the Catholic University of Korea, emphasized: "Since the low birth rate is also closely linked to the declining number of marriages, efforts are needed to raise awareness among young people to convey the meaning of marriage and family. This is the fundamental direction in which the Church should work". The Auxiliary Bishop of Suwon and Chairman of the Bioethics Commission of the South Korean Bishops' Conference, John Moon Hee-jong, spoke in a message for the "Sunday of Life" on May 5th of the "common responsibility of the community for the birth of a child, for the upbringing a child and for the care of the elderly". Bishop Moon said: "Giving birth, raising children and caring for the elderly are not painful and meaningless actions. Caring for these people belongs to the family, to the economy, to society, to the entire community. The State and the church must share that ‘joy’ and see it as a shared responsibility," he said.
Regarding the phenomenon of declining birth rates, he also said: "There is no hope for a society that does not recognize the precious value of children." He pointed to difficult situations such as the "polarization of wealth", excessive child support costs, private education costs, rising property prices and inflation. In this regard, he recalled that "the family, born of love and unity between a man and a woman, is the cradle of life", quoting the saying: "It takes a village to raise a child" , and urged everyone to get involved and participate in the process of birth and growth. Finally, the bishop called for real help to couples with infertility problems and called on lawmakers to enact laws that always protect and promote unborn life. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 7/5/2024)