Seoul, South Korea - The witness of the laity in Korea has emerged powerfully from the Congress of lay Catholics in Asia, which ended yesterday. Not only the great testimony of Prof. Thomas Han, who has just been appointed the new ambassador of his country to the Holy See, who pushed for this Congress with all of his strength and who expertly guided each encounter. The days were held and were a success thanks to the free and tireless efforts of dozens of lay volunteers who managed the event organization with professionalism and devotion.
Kim, a former manager in the iron industry, now retired, dedicated his entire week to arranging travel for the 400 representatives; from visits to the shrine of the martyrs, tours, travel to and from the airport; the director of "Peace", one of Catholic newspapers, took charge of organizing the press centre, not only dealing with journalists, but also cleaning the room, collecting the waste and taking care of the operation of air conditioning to alleviate the almost tropical heat and humidity.
In order to work at the Congress, many of them sacrificed their holidays, which in Korea are only three or four days a year. Focolari and Neocatechumenal members provided the simultaneous translation of speeches in Italian, English and Korean; Stella, Stefano and Philomenus, along with other journalists covered the events with photo and reporting services. Young people from parishes throughout Seoul in turn offered their service as choirs to enrich the liturgy in the cathedral and in the Congress hall.
And then there was the army of ladies, mothers, housewives or clerks, who with a dedication that is uniquely eastern offered lent themselves to whatever task was at hand - coffee, cleaning, decorations, .. - Arousing the gratitude of all participants.
At yesterday's concluding mass in the Cathedral of Myongdong, filled to capacity, attended by many Korean faithful alongside Congress participants. Card. Nicholas Cheong Jinsuk, who presided at the celebration, spoke of the Catholic, universal atmosphere experienced in these days. "You can say – he noted in his homily - that the whole Church in Asia is gathered here today, in effective and affective communion with our Holy Father, through the Pontifical Council for the Laity."
Card. Cheong highlighted the pillars on which the life of Korean Church rests, a church that has grown by 66% in the last 30 years reaching about 6 million faithful (10% of the population). It is above all the tireless "service of charity to people in need and a clear and strong affirmation of the Church in the fields of justice, defending workers' rights under authoritarian regimes" that has propelled the Christian community "to the centre of national life."
This commitment draws from the cult of the martyrs, on which the Korean Church was founded. Over a period of 100 years, at least 10,000 Korean Catholics were killed for their faith. The devotion to them is such that the month of September is dedicated to the memory of all martyrs. An important issue that should be noted: among the Korean martyrs, there are also French missionaries. Without hesitation or inferiority complexes of colonialism or dependence, the Korean Catholics exalt the sacrifice of their compatriots and foreign missionaries who brought the faith to them. To confirm this unity of national and universal aspects (a sign of true Catholicism) there is another fact: the Korean liturgies include sacred music by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and songs of local tradition: all have a place in their hearts.
For the Korean Church, being a minority - as for all the Churches of Asia - is not something that discourages, rather it makes their communities similar to those of early Christianity: "Being a minority - said the Cardinal. Cheong - is a characteristic of the prophets "and must not lead to being" pessimistic or inactive".
"The evangelization of Asia - he concluded - is not a 'mission impossible'. The Church in Asia has profound need for new apostles, well educated on the Church's social doctrine, able to express their mission in dialogue and evangelization. A new millennium, a great springtime for evangelization has dawned in Asia. It is time for new apostles to act as witnesses of Christ, without fear, consecrating Asia as a continent of hope for the world. "