SEOUL Mourners packed a Seoul cathedral yesterday for a tearful funeral Mass honoring the country s first Roman Catholic cardinal, a spiritual icon revered for challenging past military dictatorships and tirelessly promoting democracy and human rights.
Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, who died Monday at age 86, was eulogized at Myeongdong Cathedral, the very church where he voiced his opposition to military-backed authoritarian rule years ago. He was buried later yesterday in a solemn ceremony at a Catholic graveyard south of Seoul.
He was a saint-like light among us, Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk said at the Mass. We remember Cardinal Kim as a priest who gave up his life for the love of God and for the love of people.
Kim s death leaves Cardinal Cheong, the archbishop of Seoul, as the only remaining cardinal in South Korea, home to 4.8 million Catholics. The religion was introduced to Korea in 1784.
About a thousand mourners, including Prime Minister Han Seung-soo and the ambassadors of Britain, Australia, Spain, Germany, and France, attended the Mass, which was kept simple at the cardinal s request.
Thousands more, many weeping, stood outside in the cold and on the rooftops of nearby buildings to watch the ceremony on large-screen TVs. Nearly 400,000 people stood in line in freezing temperatures throughout the week to bid farewell to Kim, whose body lay in a glass coffin until Thursday.
I feel like the earth has sunken and my heart, too, said mourner Shin Chi-gu, 78, who attended the Mass. There is a tremendous sense of loss that fills my heart at this moment.
Kim was a great pillar of South Korea, President Lee Myung-bak said in a message read by Han. Though the cardinal leaves us, he will be with us in our hearts forever.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was visiting Seoul for talks Friday with South Korean leaders as part of an Asian tour, also praised Kim.
He was a great spiritual leader, not only for Korea and the people of Korea, but for the whole world, she said. Pope Benedict XVI, Nobel Peace Prize winner and ex-President Kim Dae-jung, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also sent tributes.
Ordained by Pope Paul VI in 1969, the cardinal was remembered for the role he played in helping usher in democracy in South Korea.
The country was mostly ruled by military strongmen from 1961 until the late 1980s, and Kim was outspoken in calling for democracy.
He once used an Easter sermon in 1987 to lash out at the government of President Chun Doo-hwan, a former general, condemning him as despotic.
Chun, 77, visited the cathedral on Wednesday to pay his respects to Kim.
Kim was born in 1922 in the southeastern city of Daegu. He attended the Jesuit-run Sophia University in Tokyo, but his studies were interrupted during World War II. He attended a seminary in Seoul and was ordained a priest in 1951 during the Korean War.