[Viewpoint]The ability to move peopleJust like the sick woman who sought to be healed by touching Jesus’ garment, people reached out to touch the hearse carrying Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan.
No one asked them to come out that chilly day, and many were not even Catholic. Neither money nor power can move people like this. Who else can move people’s hearts in such a manner?
In the modern history of Korea, the death of Kim Gu was grieved as sincerely as Cardinal Kim’s. Kim Gu was the president of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea in Shanghai. He was seen as the spiritual leader of a people who had lost their country during the Japanese occupation.
After the liberation, the political right and left fought to govern Korea, and Kim Gu was assassinated on June 26, 1949. On July 5, the first national funeral was held in the history of the Republic of Korea. The Chosun Ilbo wrote about the funeral in its July 6 issue.
“Crowd gathered from Seoul and all around the country, filling the streets from Kim Gu’s office in Gyeonggyojang to Seoul Stadium via Sejongno and Jongno. Tens of thousands of citizens lined along the route of the funeral procession. Such a crowd, literally waves of people, was unprecedented in history.”
The paper’s obituary read, “Thirty million citizens pray for the repose of Kim Gu. We say farewell to you. Mountains, rivers, grasses and trees mourn your death, and the overwhelming grief delayed the funeral procession.”
We have seen many state funerals since. Independence movement leader and first vice president Lee Si-young and speaker of the National Assembly Shin Ik-hee were remembered in national funerals.
Former First Lady Yuk Young-su, the wife of former President Park Chung-hee, was the first woman to be grieved by the nation. She was shot to death by a pro-Pyongyang ethnic Korean in Japan at a Liberation Day ceremony on August 15, 1974.
Although the country was under authoritarian rule, Yuk’s death came as a shock to many Koreans, who grieved her passing. Her life ended because of the division of the country, and her death was tragic. Having worked for the underprivileged in Korean society, Yuk is forever cherished by Koreans.
At her funeral, Cardinal Kim prayed, “Just as the grains fall to the ground and bear fruit, Ms. Yuk has planted the seeds of peace and love in our heart, which will bloom into beautiful flowers.”
According to the Joongang Ilbo, “Over 2 million citizens and students filled the route from the funeral site to the National Cemetery in Dongjak-dong. People started to gather from 7 a.m., and by 10 a.m., over 300,000 people stood along the street of Sejongno.”
As the country was under autocratic rule, the government certainly had a hand in mobilizing a crowd to mourn. But many people still remember the tragic death and cherish Yuk’s memory sincerely.
On Nov. 4, 1993, Venerable Seongcheol, leader of the Jogye Order and spiritual pillar of Korean Buddhism, passed away. His legacy was the teaching of silence by practicing strict and rigorous ascetic exercises.
On the chaotic, mundane world, Venerable Seongcheol said, “A mountain is a mountain, and water is just water.” While the words of many leaders have long been forgotten, many people keep his teaching deep in their hearts.
Venerable Seongcheol’s funeral was held at Haein Temple on Nov. 10. It was a cold, rainy day, but over 3,000 monks and 100,000 citizens were present.
As we say farewell to Cardinal Kim, we feel a great sense of loss. Many Koreans feel as though a senior member of their own family has passed away.
Would this loss feel as keen if we still had other respectable elders in our society? There are five former presidents, and dozens of former prime ministers, National Assembly speakers, supreme justices, academics, religious figures and business leaders. Whose death will make Koreans come out to mourn despite the cold, heat or rain? Whose death will make men and women reach out to touch the hearse?
*The writer is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin