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Korea’s Cardinal Kim was a ‘voice of protest’ against dictatorship

World News

South Korean Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, who has died aged 86, is being remembered as a campaigner for human rights and democracy when his country was ruled by the military four decades ago.

"In the days of military dictatorship, he raised a voice of protest. He kept soldiers out of [Seoul’s] Myongdong Cathedral, where students were holed up during their pro-democracy resistance," the Korea Herald wrote in an editorial after the announcement of Cardinal Kim’s death on 16 February. "Yet, he also knew how to make those in power listen to him and how best to bring peace to the opposing sides."

Kim was born into a poor Roman Catholic family in the southeast city of Daegu in 1922. He was ordained a priest in 1951 during the Korean War and made a bishop in 1966, becoming archbishop of Seoul in 1968. The following year he was made Korea’s first cardinal and at that time the world’s youngest.

The late cardinal was dedicated to the promotion of human rights and contribution to the democracy in the country where military regimes ruled in the 1960s and 1970s. Myongdong Cathedral became a symbol for democratisation, and also served as a refuge for human rights activists seeking to evade arrest in the South Korean capital.

"The cardinal demonstrated true leadership," the Korea Herald’s editorial stated. "He guided people in and outside the church to rise when the time was right and to restrain themselves when it was not. His soft words, that contained strong messages, gave people hope."

Medical staff and archdiocese officials said the cardinal’s final words from his hospital bed were, "Thank you."

From 1975 to 1998, the cardinal also served as the Vatican’s apostolic administrator of the Pyongyang Diocese in North Korea, the Catholic News Service reported. It stated that a focus of the cardinal’s work had been pressing for reconciliation between North and South Korea and for freedom of religion in the communist North.

Through Kim’s efforts, a religious organization was set up in 1995 to work for the reunification of the two Koreas.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak described Kim’s death as "a big loss to the nation, given his role as a revered senior in every critical moment of history especially in the process of industrialisation and democratisation".

The Seoul archdiocese scheduled a funeral Mass for Kim on 20 February. 

(c) Ecumenical News International

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