[Viewpoint]Cardinal’s spirit lives on in his love

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[Viewpoint]Cardinal’s spirit lives on in his love


I visited Myeongdong Cathedral at 11:30 p.m. on Feb. 17. Even at such a late hour, the cathedral was packed with mourners. We have never seen such heartfelt mourning nationwide. Koreans paid respect to the life of Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan.

He did his very best throughout his life, saying, “I am not confident whether I could do any better even if I were given another chance to relive my life.”

The force that led his life was, of course, his faith.

Cardinal Kim’s faith was shaped by the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, or Vatican II. The Second Vatican Council had such a tremendous influence on him that he said living according to the spirit of Vatican II was “constantly on my mind.”

The Vatican Council was a conference of the bishops of the Catholic Church called by the Pope. Twenty-one such councils have convened in 2,000 years, making a conference like this literally an event of a century. The Second Vatican Council took place from 1962 to 1965.

In the 100 years since the First Vatican Council, two world wars broke out, colonialism and slavery were ended, and communism was born. The church had isolated itself from the rapidly changing world, but the divisions in the Church could not be neglected anymore.

So Pope John XXIII convened the council and advocated renewal and unity. He pressed for change and reform, and championed dialogue and reconciliation.

Theologically, the Roman Catholic Church wished to reconcile with other religions, especially Protestant and the Orthodox sects, and secularly, the Church renewed its social commitment.

So the Protestants were no longer “evil heretics” but “long lost brothers.” Vernacular languages were allowed instead of Latin in liturgy.

When the Second Vatican Council was held, Kim Sou-hwan was a young priest studying sociology in Germany.

Criticism of the Catholic Church prevailed in Europe at the time, and sociology especially emphasized social participation. Father Kim was greatly moved by the efforts of the church to open its doors.

While studying in Germany, his radio was fixed on the broadcasts from the Vatican, and upon returning to Korea, as head of the Catholic Times, he personally translated and contributed Vatican news.

Cardinal Kim’s devotion to the Second Vatican Council was destined to be expressed as resistance against the autocratic regimes that controlled Korean society during the 1970s and 1980s.

In order to help his fellows “go out into the world and be reborn as God’s people,” he had to be devoted to defending the dignity of the people, God’s precious creation.

The results were his opposition to the Yushin regime under Park Chung Hee and the courage to shout out, “Trod upon me first!” as he sheltered student protesters in Myeongdong Cathedral during the democracy movement in 1987.

After democratization, the cardinal changed as the times changed.

But his love for God and love for the people remained the same until the day he passed away.

Shamefully, many people have misunderstood and criticized the cardinal. In authoritarian times, the conservatives condemned him, calling him the “red mastermind” of the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice.

In fact, some even sent a petition to the Vatican alleging he was a communist.

On the other hand, after democratization, progressives attacked the cardinal. When Cardinal Kim criticized demonstrations held at Myeongdong Cathedral and opposed abolition of the National Security Law, some called him “backward” and “ancient.”

However, Cardinal Kim has never even thought of being progressive or leftist and never done anything with a political intention or objective.

He just wanted to protect the dignity of the poor and suffering.

After democratization, he kept his distance from the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice because he did not agree with the idea of priests leaving their duties at the diocese and devoting their lives to other causes.

He rebuked demonstrators occupying Myeongdong Cathedral because powerful interest groups began staying for extended periods and damaging the sacred grounds.

The cardinal was no politician, ideologue or social activist. He was a clergyman first and foremost.

Fortunately, mourning for the cardinal upon his death seems to be clearing up misunderstandings and prejudices against him.

Now, we are left with the task of not forgetting his spirit.

The Catholic Church must look back on the division, discord and corruption that the cardinal had been so wary of and the Vatican Council was meant to end.

In his farewell remarks, Cardinal Kim said, “Let us love.” That is the eternal task for all of us left behind.


The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Oh Byung-sang

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