Late Cardinal Changed My Life, Korea
By Norbert Dong-yeob Cha
The last time I met Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan was May 21, 2008, for an interview for monthly magazine ``Pastoral Information.''
Although he was weak and was refusing visits, he made an exception and granted me one. He was a bit off guard due to his poor vision and language, so I jokingly asked ``Do you know who I am?'' The cardinal reacted with his special dazzling smile and said ``Ah, if anybody doesn't know who you are, he is a spy.''
Of all the wisdom he shared with me, what I remember most is that ``We must create a church where we consider everything of mankind as our own, from joy and hope to sorrow and agony. Clergymen and believers must know this,'' he said.
Before I left, I asked for a benediction. His fragile and weak voice turned into a strong and mighty one, as if the Holy Spirit was passing through his voice.
When I was a Seoul National University student in the late 1970s, when the nation was going through a painful transition toward democracy, he was at the forefront of resistance. Not only did we find sanctuary in his firm, prophetic outcries, but the whole nation found consolation in his smile and the future through his gaze. Determined to join this noble lifestyle, I applied to attend Catholic school.
Cardinal Kim attended ceremonies with grace and posture during my days as a Catholic school student. For a young seminarian, everything about the professors seemed like movements of Heaven, but I still remember every move Cardinal Kim made and every word he said. Although I was often far away, I could not glance away from him, as if I were a stalker who had a crush.
It was when I finished my senior year in the seminary and was chosen as an exchange student that I had the honor to talk with him privately. It did not take long before I was deeply touched. I remember the same feelings when I read Mother Theresa's poem and thought ``This is it!''
``Only One Person at a Time''
I never look at the masses as my responsibility.
I look at the individual.
I can love only one person at a time.
I can feed only one person at a time.
Just one, one, one.
That was it. The Cardinal only hugged one person at a time.
Ten years later, I heard about him again after studying in Vienna, Austria.
I was watching television, and, to my surprise, came across Cardinal Kim and Dohol Kim Yong-ok speaking. I was worried immediately. Dohol was famous for his harsh remarks against Christianity and I wondered why he decided to appear on the program. I thought he'd have a difficult time but I later realized that virtue wins over knowledge. The Cardinal won by embracing.
I think it was in 2004 or 2005, after the television program aired, that the Cardinal gave me a call himself. He said that he'd received a letter from a high school student from the United States and there was a question he needed help answering. After reading the letter, I realized that it was, in fact, a very insincere question that had nothing to do with the Catholic faith. It was a question that could have been easily solved by an online search or reading the dictionary at a bookstore. At that moment, I realized the compassion of the Cardinal, who wanted to answer even a meaningless question. Mesmerized by his saintly heart, I helped him as much as I could. The lesson has served me ever since.
Whenever the Cardinal needed to write a statement for an international event, he would ask for help in gathering material. Even today, I am deeply honored that he sought my help.
One day after his retirement, one million won was donated to the Future Pastoral Institute, which I run, under the name Kim Sou-hwan. It was May 18, 2006. Everybody at the institute was in shock. I asked my deputies to figure out who the donor was. We later found out. He made the donation after reading about my work in the newspapers while he was hospitalized. I was in tears. As a religious leader, it was exceptional for the Cardinal to send in a donation.
Last year, I found out he was severely ill. I was heartbroken, but couldn't pay him a visit as I was afraid I'd be disturbing him. But on Jan. 9, I got a call from his secretary. The Cardinal wanted to read my latest book, ``Cloud Breaking Prayer" and the Gospels won meditation tapes I'd been sending to members of the institute.
I couldn't believe that the Cardinal, who was in pain and couldn't breathe easily or open his eyes, wanted to read my book as his last, or that he wanted to listen to me reciting the Gospels. It was more than an honor; I was pressured and even overwhelmed.
Kim Sou-hwan, he was a real person.
Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, he was a believer who always suffered.
The priest Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, he was a senior whom the younger ones of all ages wanted to become.
Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, he was a man of the Republic of Korea who shined across the nation in the 20th century.
Currently, I am in a great void.
To be frank, there is no sorrow. When I heard that he passed away, I was happy.
``He finally made it to God's arms.''
I preached the following at a lecture the same night.
``Ladies and gentlemen, I believe we do not have to carry out our prayers for the dead anymore. He is in Heaven. Let us pray in hope he will pray for us in the heavens. People like him must go to Heaven. If not, there is not hope for any of us. God must promise this.''
I am confident. Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan is praying for the betterment of Korea. Korea, or mankind, has not lost a great man, but gained a faithful guardian angel.