On Dec. 30, Bishop Timothy Yu Gyoung-chon was appointed by Pope Francis as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Seoul. Bishop Yu was born in Jung-gu, Korea, in 1962 and was ordained a priest in 1992.
In an email interview with Our Sunday Visitor, Bishop Yu talked about the state of the Church in Korea and Pope Francis’ upcoming trip to the country, when he will beatify 124 martyrs. Bishop Yu’s responses were in Korean and translated into English.
Our Sunday Visitor: In your view, what are the most outstanding characteristics of the Catholic Church in Korea?
Bishop Timothy Yu Gyoung-chon: The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea compared to Western conferences is young, and the Korean Catholic faithful are actively involved in the church community and devoted to their parishes.
OSV: What do you see as the significance of Pope Francis’ visit for Korean Catholics and for the Korean people and nation at large?
Bishop Yu: This is the third time a pope has visited Korea. As in the previous two visits [Pope St. John Paul II in 1984 and 1989], we expect that there will be more people knocking at the Church’s door (i.e., more converts to Catholic faith). I think this will be an opportunity for the Catholic Church in Korea to experience qualitative growth.
We expect that Pope Francis, who emphasizes a life of simplicity and poverty, will spread the Gospel message to Korean society. His visit to Korea will stimulate the country to work for peace on the Korean Peninsula — the only country in the world that remains divided — and to become a peaceful society that respects the underprivileged, the weak, and works to cure social conflicts and heal the wounds of society.
OSV: What do you hope will be the fruit of Asian Youth Day for young people in Korea and those who are coming from other countries?
Bishop Yu: It is very meaningful to gather youth from all over Asia into one place through Asian Youth Day. Even though they come from countries with different languages, they will have the experience of unity by sharing their common interest in faith. It will be an especially good opportunity for Korean youth, who have relatively few opportunities to communicate with other Asian youth. Most of all, this will be an unforgettable moment for them, since they will be sharing this moment with the pope.
OSV: What role do the Korean martyrs play in the lives of Korean Catholics? Is there any particular Korean martyr who is especially important or helpful to you personally? If so, in what way?
Bishop Yu: The history of Korean martyrs is not ancient history; it has been no more than 130 years since the oppression ended. We find sites related to this history all around us. We make pilgrimages to these memorable sites, think about the lives of the martyrs and pray for the help that we need today.
These martyrs who died have been wonderful role models for today’s Korean Catholics. Personally, St. Andrew Kim Taegon, who is my patron saint, is special to me, as I live the life of a priest as he did, and his faith, courage and virtue are still needed today.
OSV: How, if at all, might Pope Francis’ visit be able to improve the situation with regard to North Korea?
Bishop Yu: Our committee has invited North Korean Catholics to come to the closing Mass for peace and reconciliation, which will take place on the last day of the pope’s visit. Although we have not received any reply yet, if they do come, it will be a great opportunity for the improvement of South-North relations and dialogue from both the national and pastoral perspectives.
OSV: Is there anything else you would like to say about the pope’s trip, its importance or what it means to you?
Bishop Yu: Because Pope Francis is so popular, his visit is drawing a lot of interest, not only among the Catholic faithful but also among ordinary citizens. Even for non-Catholics, the pope’s visit will be a refreshing event with a positive impact. For Pope Francis, who in spite of his old age is making available himself during his vacation time to come to Korea, I pray to the Lord to help him maintain his good health through the busy schedule. I hope all that he has planned during his visit will succeed.
John Lindblom studies in the World Religions and World Church doctoral program at the University of Notre Dame.