The Catholic Church in South Korea recorded its lowest growth rate in new churchgoers last year at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
As of end 2020, there were only 5,923,300 Catholics in the country, up only 8,631, or 0.15 percent, from the previous year, according to statistics from the Catholic bishops’ conference.
A report by Yonhap news agency noted that the increase rate was significantly lower than the corresponding figures of 0.9 percent and 0.8 percent tallied in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
The report said the low growth rate was due to the prevailing coronavirus pandemic.
The figure was the lowest since a proper census of Catholic churchgoers in South Korea was first conducted in 1954, a year after the two Koreas reached an Armistice Agreement.
The number of baptisms also went down 62.6 percent on-year in 2020 to 30,285, while the number of marriages recognized by the Catholic Church fell 43 percent to 7,915.
Data on attendance for regular Sunday Masses were not compiled due to restrictions on tallying in-person services amid the pandemic, said the bishops’ conference.
The bishops said Masses were directly affected by COVID-19, considering that the number of communions more than halved from over 80 million to around 37.6 million.
The report noted, however, that TV viewership ratings for Sunday Masses aired on Catholic Peace Broadcasting Corp. and its YouTube channel surged as more churchgoers opted to attend Mass online.
“Many church members have striven to participate in Eucharists streamed on televisions and YouTube amid difficulties stemming from COVID-19, but the value of in-person worships, the core of Catholic life, should not weaken,” said the bishops’ conference.
Catholics comprise 11.2 percent of South Korea’s population of 52.9 million.