In memory of Cardinal KimFeb. 16 marked the 10th anniversary of Seoul’s former Archbishop’s, Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, death. Kim remains an unquestionably iconic figure in Korea’s bloody transition to a democratic society. He was a genteel and modest leader who had set an example for civility and religious comfort. This kind of leadership is missed, as language becomes increasingly vulgar and hostile across society.
The entire nation mourned for the loss of a religious and moral leader 10 years ago. Over 400,000 people gathered at Myeongdong Cathedral for his funeral. Since he became Korea’s youngest and first Roman Catholic cardinal at the age of 47, he remained the country’s most widely respected social leader even after he retired in 1998. He lived true to his conviction that the church must protect and stand up for the poor and pained.
He raised his voice against the ruthless military regimes in the 1970s and ’80s and was most affected by the tragedy of the May 18 Gwangju massacre. He granted students refuge at the Myeongdong Cathedral and defied raid police during the peak of the student democracy movement in June 1987, saying the riot police would have to pass him, the priests and nuns if they wanted to get to the students.
In 2019, Korean society is without such a voice of reason and genuine devotion from the adult generation. All we see from the elite class is narrow-mindedness that cannot respect differences in opinions, arrogance that does not admit any wrongs and contempt for others.
A handful of politicians, government officials and judges who have constitutional duties to the society stood trial and were sent to prison. It is hard to come up with the names of respectable figures in today’s elite society.
We miss the late cardinal and his teachings on humility, sharing and modesty. Kim’s final words were, “Thank you, love one another.” If members of political and bureaucratic societies took his death wish to heart, Korean society would look very different.
JoongAng Sunday, Feb. 16-17, Page 30