[FOUNTAIN]Keeping the faith in these times

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[FOUNTAIN]Keeping the faith in these times

"There is neither the Lord's supper nor the Church without the dignity of the bishop," said St. Ignatius in a letter he wrote in 107 A.D., putting emphasis on the importance of priests.

Ignatius wrote seven letters that would be the spiritual cornerstone of early Christianity. The bulk of the letters emphasized the bishop's authority. An archbishop, he offered, could be interpreted as a protege of the Twelve Apostles, who preached the authority of Jesus Christ. The pope is himself a bishop and also a successor of St. Paul, who was the eldest of the Apostles. Cardinals have the right to elect the Holy Father.

Only archbishops could hold masses in early Christianity. Priests, who originally were representatives of bishops, could not conduct holy services at first but the right to hold masses was handed down to priests as bishops had busier schedules.

Priests perform baptisms but only bishops can conduct the sacrament of confirmation, by which one joins God's army.

Roman Catholicism has one of the most rigorous hierarchies. The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea, which extols the virtues of autonomy and martyrdom, also has a strict hierarchy. The conference is composed of 21 bishops and 15 parishes. Ahn Myung-ok is in charge of South Gyeongsang province. The bishop, a former professor of ethical theology, has dedicated his entire life of 58 years to fighting unethical practices and ideas, such as human cloning and capital punishment. He heads the bioethics committee of the conference.

The bishop held a mass on Monday in memory of the two girls who were killed by a U.S. Army vehicle in June. The mass was also to urge the amendment of the controversial Status of Forces Agreement that governs the activities of U.S. military personnel in Korea.

The holy service was the first held by a bishop on political issues since 1980, when the late bishop Tji Hak-soon held a mass to protest military rule.

"May God bless this country so that there will be no more untimely deaths, such as these two young children," Bishop Ahn said. The prayer transcends religious denomination because the bishop has been teaching and practicing how valuable and sublime a human being's life can be. His voice was low but the echo of the bishop's words will be spread everywhere -- first to Jesus Christ.

The writer is popular culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Oh Byung-sang

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