The year 2020 ended while the world was fighting an unprecedented pandemic. However, the fight against the virus is still not over. The situation in Korea, which had seemed to be gradually stabilizing, also showed a different aspect with about 1,000 confirmed cases per day since December 2020. The first pandemic in Korea began with religious groups, and since then, mass infections through religious facilities have continued. This resulted from the act of pushing ahead with religious activities, even though unnecessary gatherings should be avoided. In this situation, the public was furious whenever religious groups caused collective infections of COVID-19.
Until now, there are two main cases in which COVID-19 has developed into a collective infection due to religious groups. The first case is the New Heaven and Earth (신천지) Church of Daegu, as source of the first wave. In the early days of COVID-19, Korea seemed to have succeeded in preventing epidemics as the number of confirmed cases remained below 30. However, the COVID-19 in Korea began to show a new aspect as the 31st confirmed patient and went to public places in Daegu on February 18. Also, the recent confirmation of a confirmed case at Sarang-Jeil Church also led to the mass infection of countless participants who participated in the Gwanghwamun rally held on August 15.
Now, the public has begun to arouse resentment in response to these selfish religious activities, in which the participants did not care about infecting each other. In this situation, the government temporarily issued an administrative order to stop all religious faith activities as the religious faiths continued to spread COVID-19. However, some religious groups have shown fierce confrontations with the government, arguing that the ban is tantamount to suppressing religious freedom, which is defined by the Constitution as a law so that it is clearly unconstitutional. Given this situation, what direction should religion take in the post COVID-19? To find out, CUF interviewed Professor Ji Yong-sik, who is teaching students in the Department of Law and Graduate School of Canon Law of CUK.
Professor Ji Yong-sik rather emphasized that religion should take the lead in making efforts and cooperating to overcome national confusion and crisis from the perspective of communality. He added, "I think that the distinction between freedom of faith confession and freedom of religious assembly is common, even if we don't necessarily take legal views or precedents. In other words, a freedom of faith confession is a fundamental human right that should be absolutely protected, but I think it makes sense that all rallies, including religious gatherings, can be limited in situations where the nation's order and people's lives and public welfare are threatened, such as this COVID-19 situation."
Some religious groups deliberately hid the list of believers to confuse the quarantine process or intentionally refused to be examined. However, not all religious groups are as selfish as previously stated. Professor Ji explained in this interview that the Catholic Church in Korea complied with the nation's quarantine measures, and that each diocese prepared separate quarantine guidelines during implementation. In fact, he explained that in Daegu Bridge, where the initial infectious disease was severe, the church's training center was changed to a treatment facility for the infected cases and that medical staff at Catholic University of Korea, Seoul St. Mary's Hospital, made a good model for the treatment. In addition, other religious organizations actively participate in the prevention of epidemics and conduct various untact religious activities to encourage religious activities of believers. For example, it offers non-face-to-face worship using Zoom and a Drive-in worship service that sings worship and hymns into the car.
The research firm Embrain Trend Monitor announced its analysis of the results of the survey of Koreans' perception of religion. According to this analysis, only 6 percent of people responded positively to the question 'Korean religious organizations are doing their part.' In addition, 72 percent of people agreed with the statement that "I honestly feel that there is no role of religion in the crucial situation of the COVID-19 crisis." On the future prospects of religions, 55 percent of the survey participants agreed that the COVID-19 incident would lower the status of Korean religions.
The CUF asked Professor Ji to interview that in the opinion that "all religious groups have played no role in the COVID-19," on what the role of religious groups means. He said, "The essence of religion is a social role, but to be more specific, it is to make a better world." Also, "The nature of religion and the role of religion in the post COVID-19 era are no different. I think the religious role in the post COVID-19 is to return to its original religious role," he said. He emphasized the restoration of the original purity of the Church by breaking away from distorted views of religion, material comfort and relief, and the belief in the next-life-centeredness. According to him, Korean religion should take the path of healing and symbiosis by restoring its original purity.
… This is a time when spiritual healing is needed. Until now, our society and religion have focused on material problem solving and have neglected to improve the spiritual environment. Now, not only do we need to improve the material environment, but also the corresponding improvement of the living environment in the spiritual sphere. In the future, it is difficult for humans to gain true freedom and happiness without dealing with spiritual and asceticism issues.
Also, the religion in the future should pursue the path of symbiosis, a way for mankind to live together as a practical spirituality. It goes beyond materialistic comfort and hearkens back to its original purpose, 'universal truth'. In the future, religion should create a culture of life that saves people, not a culture of material-oriented death. The religion must change so that material progress and the development of science and technology are truly for everyone, for humanity. …
The Korean religion has often been talked about in the COVID-19 incident. In the suffering of the times, there was no positive function of religion that consoled the world and gave directions. It should be realized that irrational faith can harm the public good, as it can become a blind belief and become a "selfishness" and a ”public harm." Professor Ji said, "I think the goal of education at the CUK is to nurture mature citizens. A mature citizen is a person with a warm heart who looks at society properly and cares for others. So, I believe the CUK students will also be such wise men in the post COVID-19 era." While it is very important for religious groups to be self-aware of the current serious situation, the view and attitude of the public toward these religious groups will also be paramount. Furthermore, CUK students as part of the Catholic University of Korea should take this opportunity to take the right view of Korean religion.