Seoul (AsiaNews) - The Maryknoll community and many Catholics in South Korea bid a final farewell to Fr James Sinnott during a moving Mass, attended by a large number of people.
The courageous missionary spent a lifetime bearing witness to the Gospel. Under South Korea's military regime of General Park Chung-hee, he was expelled for defending the truth.
The priest, who had been ill for years, died on 23 December after a brief stay in hospital. His funeral was held in Paju's Cathedral of Repentance and Redemption, on the border with the North.
Fr Sinnott arrived in South Korea in 1960, seven years after the signing of the armistice between Seoul and Pyongyang, and was assigned to the Diocese of Incheon. Here, he was involved in pastoral work and health care for the poor, building a hospital for them.
He showed society's outcasts the value of Christ's love, whilst seeking to open the hearts of those who have a better role to play in the system.
This period was characterised by various military dictatorships, in particular under Park Chung-hee, who imposed the Yushin Constitution and ruled under martial law.
Violating the human rights of opponents became commonplace. Pushed by his conscience, Fr Sinnott left the poor to go to Seoul to support the pro-democracy movement.
In November of 1974, he organised an 11-hour sit-in with the wives of eight political prisoners, who had been sentenced to death on trumped-up charges.
Along with George Ogle, an American Methodist minister, the Catholic missionary began gathering evidence in favour of the condemned and managed to bring Members of the United States Congress to South Korea so as to alert the American public and influence Park.
South Korea's strongman granted them an audience and ensured them that the sentence would not be executed. However, at the beginning of 1975, Ogle was expelled from South Korea. On 8 April, the Supreme Court confirmed the sentence against the eight dissidents. The next morning they were dead.
This profoundly shocked the missionary and the victims' relatives. Three weeks later, Fr Sinnott was told that his visa had expired and that it would not be renewed. He had two days to leave the country.
He came back only in 2005, after he was appointed to the "Truth Commission" charged with investigating crimes committed under the dictatorship. In 2007, the eight dissidents were retried and acquitted.
Shortly after he was diagnosed, Fr Sinnott retired to the Maryknoll Mother House. Here he began to paint, write poetry and pray.
Since then, his paintings have become one of the gifts most appreciated by guests at the house.