26 August 2009

Late President Kim a model for Catholics and Koreans: Korean cardinal

SEOUL (UCAN) -- Thomas More Kim Dae-jung will be remembered as a model Christian, Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk of Seoul said during the former South Korean president's funeral Mass at Myeongdong Cathedral.

Cardinal Cheong presiding at the funeral Mass

"I thank God for giving such a person to Korea," the cardinal said in his homily during the Aug. 22 Mass, held a day before the state funeral. "At the same time, I feel sad at the thought that we may not see a leader like him again."

Speaking to a congregation of about 2,300 people, the cardinal praised the first Korean Nobel laureate, who won the Peace Prize in 2000 for his efforts to reach out to communist North Korea.

"He was a political leader who defined an epoch in Korean history and was an elder for all Koreans," Cardinal Cheong remarked, describing Kim as a champion of human rights, democratization and peace on the Korean peninsula.

"He practiced his faith in his daily life," the Church leader continued. "He regularly attended Sunday Mass even during his busy presidency ... (and prayed) for peace and the reunification of Korea."

Cardinal Cheong urged Koreans to follow Kim's example and heal divisions in society.

Kim, South Korea's first Catholic president, died from heart failure on Aug. 18 at the age of 85. His successor, Roh Moo-hyun, was a baptized Catholic but was not known to practice the faith while in office.

"President Kim was not only a leader for Koreans but also for Catholics in his public expressions of his faith," agreed Anthonia So Kyong-ae, who attended the funeral Mass. "I was happy when he was became Korea's first Catholic president. I hope he rests in peace in the grace of God."

Family members of the late President Kim at the funeral Mass

Kim's state funeral was held at the plaza in front the National Assembly. About 20,000 people came to bid him a final farewell. He was buried later that day in Seoul National Cemetery.

Kim was baptized in 1956 and often spoke about his faith publicly. During his presidential term from 1998 to 2003, he kept close ties with the apostolic nunciature to Korea and the Holy See.

In March 2000, during the Jubilee of the Year 2000 celebrations, he became the first Korean head of state to visit the Vatican. There he invited Pope John Paul II to visit South Korea to promote peace on the peninsula. In 1989, while an opposition party leader, he also had an audience with Pope John Paul, one of the world leaders whose appeals led to Kim's release from detention in 1982 after a military court sentenced him to death two years earlier.

Pope Benedict XVI sent a condolence message following Kim's death to President Lee Myung-bak through Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

"Pope Benedict XVI commends the late President's soul to the mercy and love of Almighty God, and upon all the Korean people who mourn his passing, he cordially invokes the divine blessing of peace and strength," Cardinal Bertone wrote.

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