Monsignor Cheong, whom Pope Benedict XVI chose as his representative at the ceremony, remembered the late cardinal as “everyone’s apostle of love and peace” who, despite suffering from illness and old age, never lost “his humanity or smile.”
Eulogies were read during the Mass, including one by Apostolic Nuncio Mgr Osvaldo Padilla and another by Prime Minister Han who spoke on behalf of President Lee Myung-bak.
The cardinal’s last journey took him to the cemetery for Catholic priests in Yongin, a city in Gyeonggi province, south of Seoul. His tombstone reads: “I leave without regret.”
Almost 400,000 people from around South Korea came to pay their last respect, sometimes waiting for hours in a line that extended up to three kilometres.
In covering the event South Korea’s media praised the cardinal as an example to follow and an inspiration because of his decision to donate his eyes to someone in need. As a result pledges for organ donation have jumped considerably. Many local public figures have expressed a similar desire.
Suffering from pneumonia with his condition worsening, the cardinal turned down medical treatment that could only prolong his life, such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation or the application of an artificial respirator, and chose instead to wait for death according to God’s will and nature’s course.
In Korea a debate over futile medical treatment is currently under way after the High Court in Seoul ruled last October in favour of the family of a patient who wants the artificial respirator keeping her alive removed. But the Severance Hospital where the woman is under care has refused to comply with the court’s decision and has launched an appeal.
Cardinal Kim’s decision is the one always upheld by the Church: total respect for life but no to futile medical treatment.
During his life the cardinal also fought for the abolition of the death penalty, stressing the dignity of human life created by God.
“The Cardinal lived a life of respecting life according to God’s dispensation,” said Kim Deok-jin, secretary-general of the Catholic Human Rights Committee. “I hope that the noble intentions left behind in our society by this spiritual elder will be carried on into future generations,” Kim added.
Christians represent nearly 30 per cent of South Korea's 48 million, 5 million are Catholic. Buddhists account roughly for 23 per cent.