Archbishop from 1968 to 1998, “a friend of the poor and marginalized”, he was a key figure in the growth of the Korean Church and in the defense of human rights. He is accompanied to the altar by the first Bishop Bruguiere and Father Bang, who, by giving life to the first local religious congregations, strongly promoted inculturation.
Seoul () – The Archdiocese of Seoul officially opened the cause for beatification of Card. Stephen Kim Sou-hwan (1922-2009), its archbishop for thirty years and a pivotal figure in the recent history of the South Korean Church. Together with him, a diocesan commission formally constituted on March 23 will also investigate the causes of Monsignor Barthelemy Bruguiere (1792-1835), missionary of the French MEP, who was the first apostolic vicar of Korea (although in fact he died in China without power enter the country because of persecution) and the religious Fr. Andrew Moo Bang Ah Yoo Ryong (1900-1986).
The opening of the causes of beatification of Card. Kim and from Fr. Bang represents an important sign for the Korean Church: the examination of the heroic virtues will not refer this time to figures from the time of persecution, who in martyrdom gave their lives for the Gospel, but to a bishop and a priest who many still remember and whose pastoral action led to the extraordinary growth of the Catholic community in the last decades of the 20th century.
“Card. Kim”, says the statement from the Archdiocese of Seoul on the formal opening of the beatification cause, “was loved and respected by many for his personal example of virtue, his contribution to the growth and esteem of the Korean Church , and his commitment to the affirmation of human rights and democracy.In particular, as a ‘friend of the poor and marginalized’, he treated the humblest as if they were another Christ, based on a fundamental compassion for man , which is the foundation of Christian thought, thus representing a perfect example of Christian love”.
The cause of beatification of Card. Kim is also an important message for today’s Korean society. Indeed, his courageous work in defense of freedom in the years following General Chun Doo-hwan’s coup is well remembered by many in the country. During the June 1987 riots, in particular, many students demonstrating against the regime in Seoul sought refuge in Myeongdong Cathedral. The soldiers wanted to enter the church to arrest them, but Card. Kim stopped them in front of the door: “If you want to take the students, you must first take me down. After me, you will have to take down the priests, and after the priests, the nuns will come. Only then can you take the students.” At this gesture, the soldiers backed off without entering the church.
Regarding the contribution to spreading Catholicism in Korea, the profile of Father Bang, another of the three figures from the Archdiocese of Seoul for whom the cause of beatification was opened, is also very significant. He grew up in the early 20th century in a Korean Catholic family, and at the same time was educated as a Confucian scholar by his grandfather, who was a famous scholar of the time. This unique career, once he became a priest at the age of 30, helped him accept the special calling to found a Korean religious community that led an ascetic life in the Oriental style.
At that time, Korea’s culture, identity, economy and very independence were threatened by Japanese imperialism. But the same Church, then governed by foreign missionaries, struggled to value Korean identity in the name of a supposed superiority of Western spirituality. On the contrary, Fr. Bang realized that the most effective way to spread the faith in Korea was through the Korean way of speaking and thinking. This idea materialized in 1946 with the founding of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Blessed Korean Martyrs in the Catholic Church of Gae Seong, in present-day North Korea. The female branch was later joined by the priestly Congregation of the Blessed Korean Martyrs, in which he himself was the first to profess vows.
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