South Korean priest on mission to get St Lawrence’s youth back to church

Marco Carvalho

The parish of Saint Lawrence will celebrate the First Communion of about twenty children on June 19th. The celebration, which takes place on the solemnity of Corpus Christi, which this year is commemorated three days earlier on June 16th, is one of the pinnacles of the pastoral year in the long-established parish, Father James Ryu Jae Hyoung emphasizes.

The South Korean parish priest of Saint Lawrence, Father Hyoung tells O Clarim that the number of children receiving the Body and Blood of Christ for the first time ever at Saint Lawrence’s Church has remained stable on a year-on-year basis.  A missionary from the Clerical Congregation of the Blessed Korean Martyrs, Father Hyoung says that while educating young children on Catholic values has not been a problem, keeping the local youth involved in the parochial life has proven to be difficult. “Every year, we have around 20 children receiving their First Communion in Saint Lawrence’s parish. These children are, for the most part, Chinese children. The number of kids enrolled in catechesis hasn’t changed very significantly in the last few years,” the South Korean missionary explains. “However, one of the big problems that we are currently facing is that we have a lot of elderly people in the Church, but we have almost no young people at all. Sometimes I ask myself why this happens, and I wonder where they are, where have our youth gone. One of my goals is to try to have a better understanding of what is happening. I want to meet with the young people of the parish, I want to understand what problems they face, understand what they value, what they consider important and understand what their expectations are,” the parish priest tells O Clarim.

The progressive aging of Macau’s population is particularly evident in Saint Lawrence’s neighborhood, but the phenomenon does not explain the alienation and estrangement of the younger generations. Father Hyoung believes that the toll of the Covid-19 pandemic is one of the main reasons why the younger generations turned their back on the Church. “In Saint Lawrence’s parish, the population is increasingly aged and that is one of the issues. Over the last two years, ever since the Covid-19 pandemic began, in early 2020, people have been frequently told that they should remain at home. They got used to exploring Instagram, Youtube and other platforms on social media, and now, some of them feel that they don’t need to assume a more active role either in social terms or in taking part in the life of the Church,” Father Hyoung says. He continues, saying, “Many are also not particularly interested in making sacrifices.”

Despite the everlasting impact that the public health crisis continues to exert on the local population, the parish priest of Saint Lawrence contends that the Covid-19 pandemic should, nevertheless, be seen also as an opportunity. The South Korean missionary argues that however traumatic the experience of surviving a scourge like this may have been, Catholics have a responsibility to assert themselves as witnesses of the faith. He says, “The Covid-19 pandemic gave us the opportunity to internalize that God is truly our Lord. Many people died, many more got sick and this entire situation brought a lot of sadness and a lot of disappointment, but we managed to stay alive in our faith and that is why we have a duty to speak. We have a duty to share the gospel with the people who are around us.”

The South Korean missionary adds, “The pandemic should be seen as an opportunity. I’m always telling people to look around, because the people around them may be in need of their help and their prayers. As Catholics, we must be willing to make sacrifices for them. And the pandemic is an opportunity because our Lord summons us. He summons me and He summons you, and we have to accept His call, we have to go out and announce the Good News. This is a good way to help people.”

Celebrating Saint Lawrence

The First Communion celebration is one of the highlights of the pastoral activity being carried out in Saint Lawrence’s parish, but it is not the only one. Another great festivity takes place on August 10th, the day that the Catholic Church consecrates to the celebration of the life and legacy of martyr Lawrence of Huesca.  The feast will, once again, be celebrated with a solemn Mass, presided over by Bishop Stephen Lee Bun-sang. A meal will also be shared with the parishioners. “We will have a solemn Mass that will be celebrated by Bishop Stephen Lee. Soon after, we will go to a restaurant where the parish community will gather to share a meal,” the parish priest explains. He continues, saying, “If you think about it, the idea of ​​sharing a meal is full of meaning. We are going to share a meal, and this moment of sharing is also an opportunity. Some of these people – some of our neighbors, some of our brothers and sisters – don’t have a lot. They are very poor. Being able to share a meal is not merely a gesture of charity. It is also a way of stating that our thoughts are with them. It is our duty and our salvation.”