[Outlook]The righteous live on

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[Outlook]The righteous live on

On Feb. 19 when I drove through Namsan Tunnel No. 1 and turned toward Seoul Station, I saw a long line of people stretching past the front of the Sejong Hotel. Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan had just passed away, and they all wanted to see him one last time. All of them wore serious expressions on their faces as they quietly waited for their turn. For a brief moment, I felt like I was witnessing a modern miracle.

Looking back, I have met many good people who went to Roman Catholic churches. There was no kindergarten in my neighborhood when I was little, so my parents sent my brothers and me to a school far from our house that was run by nuns. My parents also believed that if their children learned Catholic teachings, they would grow up to be good people.

The journey to the kindergarten wasn’t easy for us. We had to travel by bus for around 15 minutes and then walk for quite a long time to get to the back gate of the school. It felt like we had to trudge on forever, and by the time we made it up the steps to the kindergarten, we were panting with exhaustion.

My brothers and I went to the elementary school on the same campus, which also had a university. The school had a religion class once every week. In those classes, we went to church and listened to the teachings of blue-eyed priests and nuns. I did not become a believer, but from hearing stories about God from the time I was very young, I developed the habit of praying.

When I was in fourth grade, I once raised my hand and asked the nun in charge of my class a question.

“Why are many wars and miserable things going on around the world, even though there is a God in heaven?”

My teacher could not answer my question right away. My curiosity not sated, I asked the nun something else that I had been wondering about for a long time.

“If it had been predestined in heaven for Jesus to die on the cross, that means a person who would betray Jesus was needed. So why did Judas have to go to hell when he simply fulfilled his God-given duty?”

This query left my teacher at a loss. I was perhaps a little mature for my age when it came to my religious ponderings.

My teacher thought about my questions, and after a long time she wrote a me a very kind letter with her explanation. She also said that she had included me on her list of 50 people for whom she would pray for the rest of her life, and that she had been praying for me every morning and every night.

Even now that I have grown up, I still remember what she said from time to time. I gather courage from the fact that there was someone who was always praying for me, and am grateful to her.

The Catholic school had a middle school too, but it was girls-only, so we boy students ended up getting scattered among different schools. But my old classmates and I sometimes had the occasion to meet the nun later on in life.

When I got married, she blessed me and my wife. Wearing a gentle smile on her face, she said “Yuji-kun, you’ve found a very good person. More and more Korean students come to our school and many of them are very talented.”

Sadly, she passed away a couple of years ago. Hearing the news, I felt as though I had lost my most precious treasure. I was even more saddened because I couldn’t rush to her wake, as I lived in Korea.

About a year later, I visited her grave and my old school. The campus hadn’t changed much from the old days. Old memories flashed in my mind. A classroom where my friends and I had had a great time with our teacher one Christmas Eve was still the same as it was back then. Thinking about the beautiful spirit of my teacher, who loved me regardless of my religion, I looked up at the sky. It was a blue, cloudless day, and I felt like I could hear her voice, the voice that told me stories and prayed for me.

For the righteous, death is perhaps not an end, but a new beginning. Their body may go back to the earth, but their spirit touches the souls of the people they loved. Their flame is carried by those they leave behind. The scene on the streets of Myeong-dong in mid-February taught us this truth.

*The writer is a professor of Japanese studies at Sejong University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Yuji Hosaka
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