[Viewpoint]Cardinal lessons

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[Viewpoint]Cardinal lessons

When the late Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan retired as the Archbishop of Seoul and the Apostolic Administrator of Pyongyang and moved his residence from Myeongdong Cathedral to Catholic University in Hyehwa-dong in 1998, Korea was in the middle of the Asian financial crisis.

Cardinal Kim spent ten years there, calling himself “Hyehwa-dong Grandpa.” In his humble study at his residence is a small cup just large enough to hold pencils. On the cup were words of counsel, “Let’s be food for one another.”

Kim Hyeong-tae, who had driven the prelate’s car since 1978, recalls that Cardinal Kim used to say to himself, “I have to be food.” Cardinal Kim wished that he could be the mental, material and spiritual food needed by anyone in the world.

Mental food:

In August 1969, 47-year-old Stephen Kim Sou-hwan was a young cardinal who had been elevated to the rank only three months before. He visited the youth camp at Mount Yongmun in Yangpyeong-gun, Gyeonggi Province.

It had been raining so those students camping outdoors were having a tough time. Cardinal Kim was immersed in thought, watching the rain pouring off the tents. High school sophomore Kim Mi-hwa approached the cardinal and asked for an autograph.

The cardinal smiled and wrote, “There’s always an end to the monsoon season, and there is always an end to adversity. From Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan.”

Ms. Kim has treasured the note for 40 years and read the comment whenever her life became difficult. The words of the cardinal were mental food that sustained her life.

Material food:

As an effort to overcome the financial crisis in 1998, Koreans donated gold to pay down the national debt.

Cardinal Kim donated a golden cross. The Venerable Songwolju, chief executive of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, who was with the cardinal at the time, asked him, “Are you sure you want to give away the sacred cross?”

The Cardinal responded, “It is only natural for me to donate the golden cross to save the country when Jesus gave himself to save the world.”

Cardinal Kim never had a bank account or a credit card to his name. Retired priests receive 2.5 million won per month from the Archdiocese of Seoul. Cardinal Kim had his secretary take charge of his retirement payments. The cardinal was very frugal and spent little on himself, giving most of his money to the poor and needy. The cardinal provided food to people even, it seems, after death. As the mourners lined up all over Myeongdong, businesses in the vicinity - from restaurants to cafes, convenience stores to street vendors - enjoyed an unexpected boom. The cardinal himself became food to those who are struggling in the slowing economy.

Spiritual food:

The cardinal’s posthumous cornea donation gave sight to two people. More than that, he spread light to all of us, making millions of people open their spiritual eyes once again.

As evidence, consider the long procession of mourners and their heartfelt farewells. What was it that made so many people stand in the cold and wait for hours just to say farewell to the late religious leader?

People might have lamented losing one of the senior members of our society, the very person they wished to rely on in these hard times. Maybe the mourners lined up to get some spiritual food from the cardinal.

After all, we are all hungry for spiritual inspiration.

Koreans have said farewell to Cardinal Kim. Now that he has passed on, he dwells within our hearts.

What is left for us is to become food for one another as Cardinal Kim had wished. We can provide material, mental and spiritual food for one another. The food will help us endure the hard times and lead us to final victory.


*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Chung Jin-hong
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