[ad#Google Adsense]

Hundreds of South Koreans flocked to Seoul’s landmark cathedral Tuesday, offering their prayers to Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, the country’s first cardinal who stood with the people in the pro-democracy movement of the 1980s, Yonhap News reported Tuesday.

Kim, who was promoted to the rank of cardinal by Pope Paul VI in 1969, died at Seoul’s St. Mary’s Hospital Monday evening at the age of 86. He was said to have died peacefully, surrounded by family and members of the parish.

Kim’s body was laid in a glass coffin at the Myeongdong Cathedral in central Seoul late Monday. The church has been drawing crowds of faithful wanting to pay their last respects and catch a glimpse of the man who had been their spiritual leader for decades.

The cathedral will be open to all citizens, including non-Catholics, for four days until Friday when a funeral mass will be held, officials at the Archdiocese of Seoul said.

President Lee Myung-bak, a Protestant, called Kim’s death a “great loss to the nation,” praising the cardinal’s symbolic role in the country’s democratic and labor movements, Yonhap said.

South Koreans remember Kim not only as their first Roman Catholic cardinal but also as an ardent supporter of democracy who unreservedly stood up against the authoritarian governments that reigned here from the 1960s through the 80s.

During his sermons, Kim often outspokenly criticized the governments of Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan for suppressing student activists and labor unions.

In 1987, he hid dozens of anti-government student activists at the Myeongdong Cathedral and told authorities who came to arrest them, “You’ll be able to get to the students only after you get past me, the priests and the nuns.”

Kim was born to a poor family in the southeastern city of Daegu in 1922 as the youngest son of eight children. His family’s Catholic faith was considered unusual at the time in the traditionally Confucian society, with Catholicism being first introduced to the peninsula as late as 1784. Kim’s grandfather died in prison after being persecuted for his religion.

Kim was the Archbishop of Seoul from 1968 until 1998 and also showed devotion to North Korean churches and their congregations. He established an inter-Korean religious organization in 1995, in hopes that religious persecution would one day cease in the North and the two nations would reunify.

Kim’s death leaves Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk as the only remaining South Korean cardinal. Cheong succeeded Kim in 2006.

Kim’s eyes were donated to two patients awaiting cornea transplants, per his final wishes.

From : Korea Times, Feb 2009