Number of South Korean Catholics spikes almost 50 percent in 20 years

The number of Catholics in South Korea has increased nearly 50 percent over the last two decades, although that rate of growth has slowed in recent years, a new report shows.

There were 5,866,510 South Korean Catholics in 2018, up from 3,946,844 in 1999, a 48.6 percent increase, the Korea Herald reports, citing a study by the Catholic Pastoral Institute of Korea.

During that period, Catholics’ percentage of the South Korea’s population rose from 8.3 to 11.1 percent.

The report, however, noted that the actual rate of growth has dipped below 1percent in recent years. By contrast, in 2000 and 2001, the Catholic population increased by 3.2 and 3.9 percent, respectively, the Korea Herald reports. The growth rate further slid below 2 percent in 2009, hitting 1.7 percent in 2010 before rebounding to 2.2 percent in 2014.

That spike was attributed to a visit by Pope Francis to Korea that year.  According to a Pew Research Center report at the time, 86 percent of South Koreans said they had a favorable view of Pope Francis.

Meanwhile, as the actual number of Catholics grew, Mass attendance actually declined from 29.5 to 18.3 percent during the same 1999-2018 period.

“The steep fall in the Sunday Mass attendance rate is noteworthy. All dioceses have made various efforts to bring back tepid Christians and overhaul the Church, but any significant change has yet to come. The same problem has repeated annually,” the Korean daily cites the report as saying.

“It’s time to reflect on our current missionary work and reconsider the direction of domestic evangelism,” it added.

A demographic shift in the Catholic population was also registered.

From 2003-18, the number of Catholics under 9-years-old decreased by 32.4 percent, while the teenage Catholic population fell 33.2 percent. By contrast, the number of Catholics in their 50s increased by 76.9 percent, those in their 60s rose by 93 percent, those in their 70s jumped by 117 percent and those in their 90s spiked 251.6 percent.

Nuptial Masses also dropped 41.5 percent from 24,227 in 1999 to 14,167 in 2018.

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