[FOUNTAIN]Killer, victim in a reversal of their roles

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[FOUNTAIN]Killer, victim in a reversal of their roles

“I have become a song,” a poetry collection marking the fifth anniversary of Cho Tae-il’s death, contains a poem about a real person. “Short Poem ― To Jong-chul” is indeed short but profound. “Wham-bam on the desk/ and then came a death?/ Jong-chul,/ When you hit the desk denying the charge/ did the interrogator/ fall down and die /Is that how you live on today?
In 1987, Park Jong-chul of the poem was a junior majoring in linguistics at Seoul National University. The healthy young man was taken by the police on Jan. 14 because of the Seoul National University democratization committee incident. One day later, he returned as a dead body. At the time, the police came up with the lame excuse that an interrogator hit the desk with his fist and the youth died. The tragic death of Park Jong-chul triggered the June democratization movement of 1987.
But the poet, with historical insight, reversed the situation in his poem. Cho Tae-il wrote that Mr. Park, who died under water torture, lives on, and the interrogator who abused his law enforcement power and killed the young student is dead. More than a decade later, Mr. Cho’s insight has proven to be right.
The Korean Roman Catholic Priests’ Assembly for Justice confronted the military regime about the cover-up. Father Kim Sung-hun of the assembly persuaded the doctor in charge of the autopsy to testify. If he hadn’t disclosed the circumstances of the death, Korea might have gone a completely different way.
The assembly was established in 1974. When the group celebrated its 20th year anniversary with a symposium in 1994, the Jewish theologian Marc Ellis posed a poignant question. He asked, “Who benefited from your efforts in the last two decades?” Father Ham Se-ung, who attended the symposium, recalled that the priests were heartbroken as Dr. Ellis criticized their contributions that he said only fattened the enemies and the church, despite the assembly’s successes.
Another ten years have passed, and the assembly has renewed its vow of humility. In the relatively short 200 years of Catholic history in Korea, priests have pulled down the high walls of the church and came out on the street. Let’s pray that the slow march of the Catholic priests in the last 30 years survives, like the spirit of Park Jong-chul.


by Chung Jae-suk

The writer is a deputy culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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