South Korea leads to world in conversions to Catholic faith
South Korea is Asia's third most Catholic country, after the Philippines and India, and has the highest annual adult baptism rate in the world, according to statistics published by the Fides missionary news agency.
Some 150,000 adults are received into the Church every year. There was a boom of new Catholics, following John Paul II's first visit in 1984. Catholics comprise 3.95 million, or 8.3%, of the country's 46 million people.
Th South Korean Church has a strong missionary spirit, sending missionaries to the former Soviet republics, other Asian countries (including China), Africa and South America. There are even Korean priests staffing parishes in France.
The country's Catholic Church is a catalyst in the reconciliation with North Korea. President Kim Dae-jung, one of last year's Nobel Peace Prize recipients, and a noted defender of democracy in the country, is the first Catholic to hold this office. He is responsible for the first peace talks with Kim Jong II, leader of the Communist regime, which took place in Pyongyang last June.
Evangelisation began in Korea at the end of the 18th century when, after reading Christian writings brought by Catholics from Beijing, Confucian scholars decided to follow Christ. Pope Gregory XVI created the Apostolic Vicariate of Korea in 1831. Catholics were granted freedom of worship in 1884, after a period of intense persecution during which half the Catholics were killed. Missionaries were allowed to return to the country in 1875. Another period of persecution followed from 1973-1979.
The Church in South Korea has 2927 priests, 1715 major seminarians, 1170 religious brothers, 8551 religious sisters, 1092 parishes, 12,243 catechists, and 420 foreign missionaries.