02/17/2009, 00.00
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Hundreds of thousands pay their last respects to Cardinal Kim, ‘father of the nation’

Seoul cathedral will stay open till midnight to allow people to pay their respects every day till next Friday’s funeral. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon sends his condolences. President Lee and ex-President Kim praise him. On Cardinal Kim’s order his organs are donated. He is acknowledged by all to have played a major role in the country’s transformation over the last few decades. His last words are remembered.
Seoul (AsiaNews) – Hundreds of thousands of people, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, lined up this morning at 7 am outside Myeongdong Catholic Cathedral to pay their respect to the late Stephen Cardinal Kim Sou-hwan. Described as a ‘father of the nation’ he is laying in state in a glass casket in the nave of the cathedral. Mothers with their children, political leaders, people of different faiths, the elderly, students are all lining up, braving below freezing temperatures.

As people slowly make their way above, memorial Masses are being held every hour in the building’s crypt containing the remains of Korean martyrs.

For the next four days Masses will be held throughout the day till midnight, until the solemn funerals will be held on Friday at 10 am. The cardinal’s body will then be moved to his final resting place in the Catholic Priests' Cemetery in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province.

Cardinal Kim, who died last night around 6.10 pm, left instructions for his eyes to be removed so that they an be donated, a final wish fulfilled in a 30-minute operation. 

During Seoul’s International Eucharistic Congress in 1989 he encouraged Catholics to consider organ donations as a way to fulfill Christ’s love, a feat quite extraordinary in Confucian culture. On the occasion he signed a will in which he left his eyes for transplant, something that he then renewed in front of his doctor in his last stay in St Mary’s Catholic Hospital.

President Lee Myung-bak and former President Kim Dae-jung came to the cathedral to pay their respect as well.  In a telegram to current Seoul Archbishop, Card Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk, Korean-born United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon offered his condolences. “Kim,” he said, “was the spiritual leader of Korean Catholics.” but he “also made invaluable contributions to the development of South Korean politics and society as the conscience of the age.

South Korean President Lee, a Protestant, called Kim's death a “great loss to the nation,” praising the cardinal's symbolic role in the country's pro-democracy and labour movements.

Ex President Kim, a Catholic, said that the cardinal “was never afraid to put his beliefs into action during the country's period of dictatorial rule in the 1970s and 1980s. I was lucky to have received so much guidance and love from him.'”

Kim, a former opposition leader and pro-democracy fighter who was imprisoned several times under authoritarian military dictatorships, remembered the late cardinal as a man who “devoted his life to furthering democracy in Korea and help the people in poverty and suffering.”

In the cardinal’s maxim pro vobis et pro multis (For you and all), “you” referred to Catholic believers and “all” stood for the people of Korea, including northerners.

As many can testify, he always had a special love for the poor, for those who suffered and those at the bottom of society.

Under South Korea’s dictatorships he was both feared and valued by military rulers, for he was courageously yet prudently involved in the fight for social justice and in defence of workers.

At that time Cardinal Kim often harshly criticised the governments of Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan in his homilies for suppressing student activists and labour unions.

In 1987 he hid dozens of anti-government student activists at the Myeongdong Cathedral.

“You'll be able to get to the students only after you get past me, the priests and the nuns,” he said when the authorities came to arrest them.

In the 20 years since the instauration of democracy he privileged the poor, the suffering and the disabled.

Even though he was apostolic administrator for the diocese of Pyongyang he never set foot in the North because of the infamously atheistic regime, and yet he was actively involved on behalf of his brothers and sisters, north of the 38th parallel, in spreading a spirit of reconciliation and stressing the urgency of religious freedom.

He established an inter-Korean religious organisation in 1995, hoping that religious persecution would one day cease in the North and the two states would reunify.

“Through his witness and pastoral action, Cardinal Kim opened the Catholic Church to the people without distinctions and worked to build a new world. Thanks to him the doctrine and spirit of the Second Vatican Council flowed from the printed word into the hearts of Catholics,” said Stephen Han, who teaches at Hankuk University (Seoul) and is chairman of a Catholic lay association.

Not only did Korean Catholics accept him as a spiritual leader but so did all Koreans because of the changes he brought to Korean society; not only as a religious leader, but as a leader for all Koreans.

A few hours after his passing, KBS, one of South Korea’s main TV networks ran a 50-minute biopic on Archbishop Kim.

Similarly, all newspapers ran front-page stories about the beloved prelate; many publishing commemorative articles in inside pages.

“Love, love always, and forgive. Thank you!” were his last words.

(Teresa Kim Hwa-young, Pino Cazzaniga and Jang Byung –il contributed to this article.)

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