Archbishop Peter Chung Soon-Taick of Seoul

By Agenzia Fides

Jan 17 2022

The new Archbishop of Seoul, Peter Chung Soon-Taick, talks about the pastoral path and the mission of the Catholic community in Korea

Archbishop Peter Chung Soon-Taick, what are your feelings as you start your ministry as Archbishop of Seoul?

The appointment of the Holy See was announced on October 28 during the Holy Mass which the Archdiocese of Seoul dedicates on the last Thursday of each month to disadvantaged people, urging the faithful to pay particular attention to the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable sections of the population. I was very surprised at the news and so did many other people.

The first thing that came to my mind upon hearing the news was that God is truly ‘beyond.’ He acts far beyond our human thoughts, so we cannot predict or estimate his plans or thoughts in advance. In fact, I got overwhelmed by so many thoughts running through my head, along with the ultimate question, “Why me?”

I know I should be thankful to God, but honestly I feel a great sense of responsibility rather than gratitude at this point. Therefore, I would like to express my deepest gratitude and appreciation to God once I have finished the race He has set before me.

What did you say or what would you like to say to Pope Francis?

First and foremost, I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to His Holiness Pope Francis for appointing me as the new Archbishop of Seoul and Apostolic Administrator of Pyongyang despite my lack of experience. I believe that there must be a good reason why His Holiness has placed me in this position, and I will make every effort to add value to the community as a good leader.

I also deeply appreciate his visit to Korea in 2014 which brought immense comfort and joy to all of us while asking His Holiness to pray continually for the Korean Church and peace on the Korean Peninsula.

What will be the main objectives and pastoral priorities?

I will try to keep the legacy of renewal achieved in the diocesan pastoral ministry by my respectful predecessor, His Eminence Cardinal Andrew YEOM Soo-jung while focusing on the following priorities and goals.

First, I will make every effort to assist in supporting and maintaining the spiritual health and well-being of the faithful. As we are relying more on our faith and spirituality during this pandemic than ever before, I would like to provide opportunities for all of us to take the time to examine our own experience of “life in the Spirit.” I firmly believe that spirituality should be the heart of the Church. Through these efforts to deepen our relationship with God, we will be able to explore together how the Church can play a vital role in contemporary society.

Second, as the Pope wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation “Christus vivit”, I will welcome and walk with young people who are protagonists of the future, especially those who are exhausted and struggling with so many issues.

Third, I hope and strive to make the Archdiocese of Seoul renewed and transformed through this synodal process. On the next day of my appointment as Archbishop, I asked the faithful to define a Church that lives the Synod in the presence of the Holy Spirit and walk together. In the ecclesial community’s synodal journey, I will strive to make the Church the salt of the earth, the light of the world by listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit and sharing His love with others in Communion with God.

What are the main challenges you find in this service?

Today, South Korea is certainly a materialistic society with an extreme performance-oriented culture which suffers from lack of ethics and standards as well as disrespect for human dignity. The 70 year-long division of South and North Koreas has caused political conflicts and turned them into enemies. Also the COVID-19 pandemic has further amplified social discrimination and inequality, while spiritual and evangelistic activities have been greatly reduced within the Church.

Last but not least, we must recognize and address the serious problem that all dioceses around the world have in common; lapsed Catholics make up the second largest religious body while young people depart church as young adults. Therefore, a priority has been identified in young people, to be recipients of special programs of evangelization and youth ministry which the religious are called to carry out.

Could you give us a numerical picture of the Archdiocese? (number of priests, religious, nuns, laity, social and educational works…)

As reported by the annual statistics of the Catholic Church in Korea (year 2020), published by the Bishops’ Conference of Korea, on a population of about 9.95 million inhabitants, the archdiocese of Seoul has 232 parishes, with 1.5 million Catholics, that are about 15% of the total population. There are 945 priests and 186 seminarians. Within 32 male religious institutes active and present in the area, there are 500 members, while for the religious women, about 2,100 nuns work in 75 female congregations.

In 2019 we baptized around 17,000 children and adults. The Church is strongly committed to social works that witness our faith in Christ: we manage 34 kindergartens, 12 middle and high schools, 2 universities. Our service is also carried out in hospitals, in 10 social centers that promote works of charity for the marginalized, the poor and the excluded. I would like to add the 5 cultural centers and point out the commitment and presence of the Church in the field of the mass media.

How and in what concrete forms and actions will your Carmelite charism be able to permeate your pastoral service?

A direct and intimate experience with God is the basis of Carmel spirituality. As “the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel” clearly explains our spirituality, Carmel is directed to Mary and oriented to her. At Carmel what is true of our Lady is also true of our Lord. I would like to live and share with all the religious and faithful Carmel spirituality which closely unites members of the “Carmelite family” to one another.

You are also the Apostolic Administrator of Pyongyang: how, according to you, will it be possible to be in contact with the brothers in the North and work for reconciliation?

To achieve peace, we need to reflect on ourselves and pray for peace. Prayer nurtures our faith in the presence of God, the Holy Spirit who is our teacher and guide of prayers. Remembering the tragic war, we must sincerely pray for peace on the Korean Peninsula through national unity and reconciliation.

And as part of this effort, the Archdiocese of Seoul had dedicated the Mass and recited the Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi for the reconciliation and unification of the Korean people and for the “Church of Silence” in North Korea every Tuesday at
7 p.m. at Myeongdong Cathedral over the past 26 years until all public Masses temporarily suspended due to the pandemic.

In addition, the former archbishops of Seoul including Cardinal Stephen Kim, Nicholas Chung, and Andrew Yeom all showed great interest and enthusiasm for humanitarian assistance to the North Korean compatriots regardless of the political situation. Accordingly, I will maintain the pastoral direction to continue supporting assistance to the North Korean people through various channels.

Will the local Church be missionary in the Seoul territory? With what means and initiatives?

Like the early church, the true form of the Church should make people drawn to it; and I think this is only possible when the Church has its own values and visions. When Pope Francis visited Myeongdong Cathedral in 2014, he blessed the Archdiocese of Seoul to be “the yeast of the Gospel.” I think it was meant for us to testify to the love of God by changing the Church into a world of warm love beyond Myeongdong and the Archdiocese.

How can the Seoul community and the whole Korean Church be an agent of evangelization in Asia?

The Archdiocese of Seoul already has a symbolic meaning in the Asian Catholic Community. In fact, it should play an important role in the Asian Church as well as the universal Church since the Korean Church has received great help from them in the past. Therefore, I believe that now is our time to return the favor. Asian Churches are composed of marginalized and poor communities, where violations of religious freedom are increasing and persecution still takes place, so I am more than willing to provide spiritual care as well as material support for them. – Agenzia Fides