Roman Catholicism in South Korea

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Myeongdong Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of Mary and St. Nicholas

The Catholic Church in South Korea (called Cheonjugyo, Hangul: 천주교; Hanja: 天主教; literally, "Religion of the Lord of Heaven") is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope in Rome. It is Roman Catholic in that it belongs to the Latin (or Roman) Rite of the Catholic Church. As of December 31, 2013, it had 5,442,996 members (10.4% of the population) with 4,901 priests[1] and 1,668 parishes.[citation needed]


Portuguese Jesuit priest Gregorious de Cespedes was possibly the first Catholic missionary in Korea, arriving in Busan on December 27, 1593.[2][3] However, Catholicism (and Christianity in general) in Korea more generally began in 1784 when Yi Seung-hun was baptized while in China under the Christian name of Peter. He later returned home with various religious texts and baptized many of his fellow countrymen. The Church in Korea survived without any formal missionary priests until clergy from France (the Paris Foreign Missions Society) arrived in 1836 for the ministry.[4]

During the 19th century, the Catholic Church was targeted by the government of the Joseon Dynasty chiefly for the religion's opposition to ancestral "worship", which the church perceived to be a form of idolatry, but which the State prescribed as a cornerstone of Korean culture.

Despite a century-long persecution that produced thousands of martyrs — 103 of whom were canonized by Pope John Paul II in May 1984, including the first Korean priest, St. Andrew Taegon Kim, who was ordained in 1845 and martyred in 1846 — the Church in Korea expanded. The Apostolic Vicariate of Korea was formed in 1831, and after the expansion of the Church structure over the next century, the current structure of the three Metropolitan Provinces, each with an Archdiocese and several suffragan Dioceses, was established in 1962.

Recent Developments[edit]

The Catholic Church in South Korea has seen prodigious growth in recent years, increasing its membership by 70% in the past ten years.[5] Part of this growth can be attributed to the Church's relatively positive perception by the general public for its role in the democratization of South Korea, its active participation in various works of social welfare, and its respectful approach to interfaith relationship and matters of traditional Korean spirituality. As of December 31, 2011 the church has 5,309,964 Catholics in South Korea — 10.3% the population. South Korea (and by extension the Catholic Church in all Korea, north and south) has the fourth largest number of saints in the Catholic Church since 1984 as categorized by nation. There are 15 dioceses including three archdioceses of Seoul, Daegu and Gwangju, and the military ordinariate. The North Korean Catholic Church, ecclesiastically united with South Korea, is composed of the two dioceses of Pyongyang and Hamheung (suffragan to the Metropolitan of Seoul), and the only territorial abbey outside Europe, that of Dokwon.

In 2012, the Church grew by 1.6%, as nearly 85,000 Koreans became Catholic. There has also been an increase in vocations to the priesthood and religious life in recent years. Earlier this month, two auxiliary bishops and 38 new priests were ordained for Seoul. Government surveys have shown that more than 45% of South Koreans practice no religion and that about 22% are Buddhists. Yet when Catholics (11%) and Protestants (18%) are combined, Christianity as a whole claims the largest number of religious adherents. By contrast, Christianity is officially suppressed in North Korea under the communist regime, and unofficial estimates by South Korean Church officials place the number of Catholics there at only 5,000.[6]

Pope Francis Visit[edit]

Pope Francis accepted an invitation to visit South Korea in August 2014. The four-day visit from 14 to 18 August 2014 was to culminate with a Papal Mass at Myeongdong Cathedral, the seat of the Archdiocese of Seoul on 18 August. During a mass on August 16th, the Pope beatified 124 Korean Catholic martyrs.[7] An invitation for North Korea's Catholics to attend was declined, due to South Korea's refusal to withdraw from military exercises it had planned with the United States.

Dioceses and Archdioceses[edit]

South Korea has fifteen territorial dioceses (three archdioceses and twelve dioceses) and one military diocese. The list is as follows.[8][9]


Catholicism in South Korea is unique in that it has syncretized with traditional Mahayana Buddhist and Confucian customs that form an integral part of traditional Korean culture. As a result, South Korean Catholics continue to practice ancestral rites and observe many Buddhist and Confucian customs and philosophies.[10][11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Corea, la Chiesa cattolica continua a crescere: i fedeli sono il 10,4% della popolazione". April 23, 2014. 
  2. ^ Donald F. Lach (15 July 2008). Asia in the Making of Europe, Volume I: The Century of Discovery. University of Chicago Press. p. 721. ISBN 978-0-226-46708-5. 
  3. ^ Chai-Shin Yu (1 January 1996). The Founding of Catholic Tradition in Korea. Jain Publishing Company. p. 141. ISBN 978-0-89581-892-8. 
  4. ^ The Liturgy of the Hours Supplement (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1992), pp. 17-18.
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^
  7. ^ Rupert Wingfield-Hayes (August 16, 2014). "Pope Francis beatifies 124 South Korean Catholic martyrs". BBC. 
  8. ^ Catholic Dioceses in South Korea
  9. ^ Catholic-Hierarchy: Current Dioceses in South Korea
  10. ^ Park, Chang-Won (10 June 2010). Cultural Blending in Korean Death Rites. Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 12–13. ISBN 978-1-4411-1749-6. 
  11. ^ [2]

Further reading[edit]

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