Seoul archdiocese has celebrated the 50th anniversary of its labor ministry with a renewed commitment to focus its pastoral care on "the weakest" workers.
Past and present members of the Young Christian Workers (YCW) and Christian Workers Movement (CWM) were among 300 priests, Religious and laypeople taking part in the anniversary Mass at the Labor Pastoral Center in Seoul on Oct. 5.
At the center, Father Andrew Hur Yun-jin, president of the Labor Pastoral Commission of the archdiocese, pointed out to UCA News that the Church cannot work for all laborers, so it works for "the weakest."
He particularly cited migrant workers, who cannot make their voices heard. Bianca Bae Sook, who heads the center's counseling services for such workers, told UCA News her priority is migrant workers and their families.
"If there is a request for help from Korean workers, which is very rare, we introduce them to legal experts to help them solve their problem," she said. The seven-story center, she added, is used usually for migrant workers.
"We have an interest in 'non-regular' workers, too," Father Hur said, "but they can raise their voices when they face a problem. Among them, we will first take care of the elderly and disabled."
He also noted that some elderly and disabled people are forced to work to support their families. "The Church needs to have a plan to help them soon," he asserted, because "no government organization or civic group helps them."
Contract, temporary and part-time workers, and other non-regular laborers comprise at least a third of South Korea's wage and salary workers, and are employed informally.
Auxiliary Bishop Lucas Kim Woon-hoe of Seoul presided at the anniversary Mass, which he concelebrated with a dozen diocesan and Religious priests.
Bishop Kim's homily recalled that the archdiocese's labor ministry began in 1958 when it organized the YCW as one of two "special ministries." Student ministry was the second. "Our Church could not afford other ministries at that time," he said. "It was a blessing and a small achievement in that situation."
He praised YCW members of that era for their courage in the early stages of the country's industrialization in the 1960s and 1970s, when laborers were treated inhumanely. Since then, he said, "the Church has been concerned about workers, and it will always do the same for workers in need."
A book on the ministry's 50 years was presented at the Mass Offertory. Then, nine YCW members took an oath to live as a "seed of the Gospel" every day in their families, villages, schools and workplaces.
YCW's situation in South Korea has changed much during the past decades.
Most members were factory workers in the 1970s and 1980s, Simon Kim Jae-kyeong, president of the Seoul YCW, told UCA News on Oct. 5, but most now are office workers or students. Those who just took the oath, he noted, are five office workers, three students and a teacher at a private language institute.
Among South Korea's 15 Church jurisdictions, Kim said, only the archdioceses of Seoul and Daegu have active YCW members, with nine and five teams respectively.
Seoul archdiocese organized CWM in 1964, and set up a pastoral committee and a counseling institute for laborers in the 1970s. The committee became the Labor Pastoral Commission in 1980. Responding to the increase of migrant workers in the 1990s, Kim said, it set up the counseling service in 1992.
During a symposium after the Mass, one presentation noted that as the situation of laborers in South Korea changed over the years, the local Church extended its pastoral care to different groups of workers at different times.
The target groups in the 1960s were rag-pickers and women bus stewards, and factory workers in the 1970s and 1980s. These days, the focus is on migrant workers, industrial disaster victims and multi-cultural families.
The late Cardinal Joseph Cardijn founded YCW in 1922 in Belgium as a diocesan young Catholic workers' association. It became national in 1925. In 1957, it became an international Catholic workers' movement and was recognized by the Church and other Catholic organizations.