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Church in South Korea sees 24% rise in baptisms

The number of baptisms in South Korea increased by 24% in a year, according to statistics published Wednesday by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea. 

Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul, South Korea. kallerna via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

A total of 51,307 people were baptized in the East Asian country in 2023, compared to 41,384 in 2022.

Although the year-on-year rise is sharp, annual baptisms remain well below pre-pandemic levels, when there were more than 80,000 baptisms a year.

The “Statistics of the Catholic Church in Korea 2023” report, published April 24, broke down baptisms into three categories: children, adults, and “baptisms in danger of death.”

The 51,307 people who were baptized in 2023 consisted of 12,832 childrens, 34,511 adults, and 3,964 people in danger of death.

In comparison, there were 11,853 infant baptisms, 26,031 adult baptisms, and 3,500 baptisms in danger of death the year before.

The report said that the total number of Catholics in South Korea increased to 5,970,675 in 2023, a rise of 0.3% from 2022. 

Catholics account for 11.3% of the country’s total population of 52.7 million — a percentage that has remained steady for the past few years.

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The Catholic Church’s expansion in South Korea in the last 30 years has been described as “explosive.” In 1995, the country was home to 2,885,000 Catholics. A decade later, in 2005, that had risen to 5,015,000. But the annual growth rate has slowed significantly. 

In a mark of the Church’s now well-established position in South Korean society, a record 80 Catholics were elected to the country’s 300-seat National Assembly following legislative elections this month.

Prominent cultural figures such as K-pop idol Rain have converted to Catholicism, further raising the Church’s profile. Other well-known Catholics include the singer and actor Taemin, the figure skater Yuna Kim, and the singer-songwriter Bada

The country’s best-known churchman is Cardinal Lazzaro You Heung-sik, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Clergy since 2021. 

Catholicism’s visibility is likely to be further increased when the nation hosts World Youth Day in 2027. An estimated 1.5 million people from more than 200 countries attended the closing Mass at last year’s World Youth Day in Lisbon. 


According to the new bishops’ conference report, average Sunday Mass attendance in South Korea rose by 1.7% in 2023 to 805,361, meaning that 13.5% of Catholics are regular churchgoers.

That puts the country at the lower end of the Mass attendance spectrum compiled in 2023 by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, between Latvia at 11% and Canada at 14%.

The 2023 figure suggests that Mass attendance in South Korea is slowly approaching pre-pandemic levels, when more than a million people attended Mass on an average Sunday.

The new report highlighted considerable variations in Sunday Mass participation rates in South Korea’s 16 dioceses, with 11.6% of Catholics attending in the Archdiocese of Seoul and 17.7% in Diocese of Chuncheon, in the north of the country.

Seventy-five men were ordained to the priesthood in South Korea in 2023, down from 96 the year before, the report said. There were a total of 1,018 students enrolled in seminaries in 2023, compared to 1,030 in 2022.

In February this year, Archbishop Peter Chung Soon-taick ordained 16 new priests and 25 deacons for the Seoul archdiocese, which will host World Youth Day events in 2027.

There were a total of 5,669 priests in South Korea in 2023, 18 more than in 2022.

The report said that there were a total of 158,448 Korean Catholics living outside of South Korea, including more than 102,000 in the U.S. and 16,000 in Canada.

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