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Church \ Church in Asia

S. Korean bishops deplore falling birth rate amid ruthless competition to excel

Pope Francis among Korea's young Catholics in August 2014.  - ANSA

Pope Francis among Korea's young Catholics in August 2014. - ANSA

23/10/2017 13:43

Catholic Church leaders of South Korea deplore the nation’s low birth rate, blaming it on a culture where coming first rules society, where hard work and sweat are less appreciated, and outperforming others is taught in the family.  According to Bishop Lazarus You Heung-sik of Daejeon, president of the National Justice and Peace Commission, the only answer to this malady is by “living according to the Gospel”, which he said teaches us to live together as brothers and sisters.

South Korean authorities are concerned by the drop in the country’s birth rate, a potentially dangerous trend for its continued economic growth. Last year, the number of births reached a historic low, with only 406,000 newborns, and a fertility rate at 1.17, the lowest in the last seven years.

Competitors not brothers, sisters

Speaking to AsiaNews, Bishop You explained that the problem of fewer births begins in families, which should be "the first school where one learns to live with others.”  “Unfortunately, now this happens less, and so the right human preparation is found less and less in young people and children,” he said adding, “it is a very worrying issue."

Bishop You, whose diocese hosted the Asian Youth Day in 2014,  noted n that throughout South Korean society there is a widespread pressure to compete in a social climate that drives the young to consider others as competitors as they fight for their career.  Young people aim at white-collar jobs, with giant conglomerates or government while jobs that require sweat and hard physical labour are less appreciated in society.  

Obsessed with economic development

In addition, Bishop You said, there is the problem of unemployment that stems from technological progress that has reduced the need for blue-collar workers. For this reason, it is important to highlight the importance of the evangelical spirit of brotherhood, to share what we have with other people, and tackle this problem together," he said.

The 65-year old bishop noted that after the devastating Korean War (1950-1953), South Koreans became obsessed with economic development, sacrificing certain precious values​. “Now, our society is facing the results of that obsession in its shockingly low birth rate.”  He said the Church in Korea is doing its best to teach the young people to acknowledge others not as objects of competition, but brothers and sisters with whom one has to walk together. “The world is not a battlefield, but a place to live together with others," he added.  

Potential of youth

Noting how a peaceful candlelight revolution last winter led to the resignation of then-President Park Geun-hye, Bishop You said young people have great potential, with a righteous, pious and generous heart deep down.    Most of the protesters demanding a just society, he said, were young people  Besides, young South Koreans can be found all over the world to provide services to others, especially in economically less developed countries.

Gospel spirit of brotherhood

"Catechism lessons to educate children and young people about the Gospel in each parish serve this purpose.” The bishop said it is not an easy task in a society where the spirit of competition is still promoted as a value to be jealously guarded.  “Many push young people towards ruthless competition arguing that they must pass their exams, be more competitive in their field, and be first if they want to survive or avoid joining the poor classes.”  He however admitted that while competition is useful and necessary in some situations, humans were created to love one another.  “This is the truth about human beings that the Gospel teaches us. The Lord wants us to help, work, study, and be good with others."  (Source: AsiaNews)

23/10/2017 13:43