Monday, February 16, 2009

Called Home from Korea

The longest-tenured member of the papal senate has died -- elevated to the College of Cardinals in 1969 by Pope Paul VI, Cardinal Stephen Kim was 86.

Archbishop of Seoul from 1968 until his retirement three decades later, the first Korean cardinal oversaw a sixfold expansion of the church's membership south of the DMZ during his time at the helm, winning acclaim even beyond his own fold as "the nation's spiritual leader":
The cardinal, also known as Kim Sou Hwan, was a staunch advocate of human rights and one of the key figures in bringing democracy to a country where military strongmen ruled for decades....

Kim became an international figure in 1986 and 1987, when tens of thousands of South Koreans took to the streets in rallies calling for the end of military rule and the start of free elections.

His red brick cathedral in central Seoul became a rallying point for protests. Kim, who gave refuge to protesters sought by the police, called on the president at the time, Chun Doo Hwan, to allow for the country's first open presidential elections.

"He awakened the values of human rights and social justice in the South Korean society, guiding the nation towards democratization," said Ro Kil Myung, an expert on religion and a sociology professor at Korea University.

For many in South Korea, Kim was the moral conscience of the struggle.

"He was not politically motivated in spearheading the democracy movement," Ro said. "His actions were rather based on the spirit of Catholicism."

Kim delivered stinging sermons from his pulpit calling for democracy while the opposition leaders Kim Dae Jung and Kim Young Sam, who would both later become president, sat in front rows.

After the democracy struggles that resulted in South Korea's first open presidential election in 1987, Kim fought for better human rights protections for migrant foreign workers and for Japan to take greater responsibility for the damage it caused during its 1910-1945 colonial rule over Korea.
In fulfillment of his "lifetime wish," the cardinal's organs were removed following his death for donation to others.

With preparations for the cardinal's funeral already underway, this morning Pope Benedict recalled Kim's "devoted service" and "noble soul" in a telegram to his successor, Cardinal Nicholas Cheong, who received the red hat in 2006.