The South Korean missionary and doctor will be remembered in elementary and high school textbooks. He served as priest, doctor, teacher and architect in the small village of Tonj in a country devastated by war. For Education minister, he is an example for new generations.
Seoul (AsiaNews) – The life and missionary testimony of John Lee Tae-seok, a Catholic priest from South Korea, will be incorporated in the textbooks used in South Sudanese schools, which are set for publication in February 2018.
The missionary, a member of the Salesian Society of Saint John Bosco, provided medical aid to the war-torn country for a decade, until his death from cancer in 2010.
According to South Sudan’s Education Minister Deng Hoc Yai, the missionary’s life will be presented in one page in the social studies book for elementary schools, and in two pages in the civic education book for high schools.
This is the first time that South Sudanese textbooks include the story of a foreigner for his volunteer service in the country.
When he was in elementary school, Fr Lee saw a movie at his parish church about the life of Fr Damien, a Belgian missionary and apostle of the lepers in Molokai. At that moment, he felt a strong calling and decided to follow in Fr Damien’s footsteps.
After he graduated in medicine at the University of Inge, in South Korea, Fr Lee studied theology at the University of Gwangjoo and the Pontifical Salesian University in Rome.
He was ordained a priest in Seoul in 2001 and in the same year he decided to leave for Africa, inspired by the stories of a confrere.
He began his missionary work as an educator and doctor in the village of Tonj, Warap province, South Sudan.
As the only doctor in the area, Fr Lee built a small clinic that treated about 300 patients a day. He provided vaccination for some 80 villages around Tonj and established a school where he taught mathematics and music.
Despite the ethnic and religious conflicts that devastated Sudan causing some two million deaths, Fr Lee brought relief to the suffering of anyone who needed his help.
His clinic treated Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, and even fighters; for this reason, his village was spared from the fighting.
“We expect our new textbooks to let young generations know about Father Lee and what he did. I hope our students can learn his devotion and sacrifice for the poor and the weak,” South Sudan’s Education Minister said in an interview late last month.
Known and appreciated in his native country, Fr Lee’s life was featured in a Catholic biblical journal, and in a book titled Will You Be My Friend?
In April 2010, South Korea’s KBS TV network broadcast ‘Schweitzer of Sudan’, a movie dedicated to the late Fr Lee Tae-seok ". Another documentary film, ‘Don’t cry Tonj’ moved some 400,000 people.