Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk, archbishop of Seoul and Apostolic Administrator of Pyongyang, is the first Korean to be appointed cardinal since now retired Stephen Cardinal Kim Sou-hwan was elevated to the cardinalship 37 years ago.
The 74-year-old prelate was born in Seoul on December 7, 1931. He entered the seminary at a young age and was ordained into the priesthood on March 18, 1961. He was consecrated bishop of Chongju on October 3, 1970, and was named archbishop of Seoul on May 29, 1998.
With his new appointment he also replaces Cardinal Kim, whose resignation was accepted by the Pope, as Apostolic Administrator of Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.
The prelate is well-known for his commitment to end social inequalities in South Korea. His speeches have frequently touched upon the need for policies that "are closer to people and more attentive to the needs of the weakest strata of the population".
He has also spoken out on the issue of stem cell research and has stood firm against embryonic stem cell research by scientists like Prof Hwang Woo-suk. Instead Archbishop Cheong has set up a 'Fund for Life' to raise money for adult stem cell research.
Last August 17, he delivered a homily on the 160th anniversary of the first Korean priest and martyr, Saint Andrew Kim Dae-gon, which caused a stir. He used the occasion to make a "strong appeal in favour of religious freedom in the northern half of the peninsula". In sharing his "pastoral concern as Apostolic Administrator of Pyongyang" with more than 20,000 worshippers he urged them to offer "fervent prayers" that pastoral work may be allowed in the North as soon as possible telling them to be ready "to cross the border whenever favourable conditions arise for evangelisation".
South Korea's four million-strong Catholic community had been expecting his appointment which has recently become a major topic in local media.
The country's politicians were also hoping to see another Korean prelate appointed to such an important post. In a letter addressed to Benedict XVI on his becoming pope, President Roh Moo-hyun not only sent his congratulations but also noted that the "more than four million Korean Catholics are waiting expectantly for a new cardinal".
When Chung Dong-chea, South Korea's Culture and Tourism Minister, was in the Vatican for a visit in April of last year, he expressed the same opinion in an audience with the Pope.