The Legacy of Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan

      February 20, 2009 11:38

      Has the death of a leader in recent memory reverberated as widely as that of Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan? The long and passionate procession of people mourning his death at Myeongdong Catholic Cathedral reached 400,000 over the past three days. The mourning transcended age, social status and political ideology.

      People gathered at the cathedral from 2 to 3 a.m., and by 6 a.m., when people were allowed in to pay their condolences, a line stretching for 3 km had already formed, while people continued to pour in until midnight when the cathedral closed its doors. Mourners had to wait three to four hours in the freezing cold, but there was no jostling, shouting or cutting in line. Rather, people yielded their spots to let the elderly go first.

      We’ve all waited in long lines to buy tickets to our hometowns during holidays or to sign up for new apartment units. But never has there been a time when we formed a line for something that transcends personal gain. Cardinal Kim, who taught us the spirit of sharing through his words and actions, left us something much more valuable.

      A wise society uses the deaths of great people to mark the era that preceded that event and to prepare for the next one. The 58 years that transpired from 1951, when Cardinal Kim was ordained as a priest, until his death in 2009, were a microcosm of Korea’s history of trials and accomplishments, ranging from war and devastation, the division of a nation, dictatorship, industrialization and democratization to social polarization. Cardinal Kim embraced all Koreans living in such difficult times, consistently urging us to be patient. He told us that there is an end to pain. And in doing so, he gave us both courage and hope.

      The spirit embodied by people coming from all over the country to mourn his death should not simply end in their sorrow over the loss of a moral pillar. Rather, his legacy should be sublimated into efforts to find and realize a new calling that will open the next era, as Korea still faces numerous tasks that must be accomplished. We need to enhance social awareness to the levels of advanced nations, make the idea of noblesse oblige take root and work to contribute to the advancement of humanity.

      Cardinal Kim requested that his grave be the same dimensions as those of ordinary clergymen and for a humble wooden coffin. After Cardinal Kim donated his eyes to two blind people, we are seeing a rise in the number of people seeking to donate their organs, something unpopular until now. We have already begun to see the unfolding of a quiet revolution that cannot be achieved by strength and numbers alone. The teachings of Cardinal Kim are reverberating with greater force through his absence. If his death can lead Korea to undergo genuine change, it would be the greatest gift he has bequeathed us.
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