Thousands of weeping South Koreans gathered Friday for the funeral of the country's first Roman Catholic cardinal who tirelessly championed democracy and human rights.
"Cardinal Kim has been the light and hope for the country, for Catholics and non-Catholics alike," Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk was quoted as saying by Yonhap News Friday, addressing those gathered for the funeral Mass. "We pray for you to rest in peace in the world of God."
Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan died Monday at a Seoul hospital at the age of 86 after months of struggle with pneumonia. His body, laid in a glass case in Seoul's landmark Myeongdong Cathedral, drew over 400,000 visitors in four days as mourners paid their final respects to the spiritual leader.
The funeral ceremony drew a crowd of 800, ranging from members of the Catholic clergy to ordinary citizens. There were five memorial addresses, including one by Prime Minister Han Seung-soo and another by Archbishop Osvaldo Padilla, appointed apostolic nuncio to Korea by the Holy See.
Hundreds more stood outside the building from early morning, despite the late winter snow that had fallen the previous night.
"I wanted to say my prayers for him close by," said Shin Young-seon, holding her five-year-old son by the hand. "Somehow, I still can't believe that he is really gone. We loved him, just as much as he loved us."
Kim's body was placed in a plain wooden coffin. Floral wreathes, including one from President Lee Myung-bak, were turned back as per the late cardinal's last wishes to keep the funeral "quiet and simple." Kim will be buried in a grave for Catholic priests in Yongin, south of Seoul.
He donated his eyes to two patients, who received successful cornea transplants and his entire wealth to the parish.
Prominent political and social leaders, including President Lee and former Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Chun Doo-hwan, had visited the cathedral to pay their last respects.
Kim's death leaves Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk, the archbishop of Seoul, as the only remaining cardinal of South Korea, home to 5 million Catholics. Christians account for nearly 30 percent of South Korea's 48 million population, followed by Buddhists, which account for roughly 23 percent.
Cardinal Kim, ordained by Pope Paul VI in 1969, is remembered by South Koreans not only as a man of deep faith, 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 gave sanctuary to dozens of anti-government student activists at 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."
Cardinal 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 in the traditionally Confucian society of the time. Catholicism was first introduced to the peninsula in 1784, and Kim's grandfather died in prison after being persecuted for his religion.
Kim was the Archbishop of Seoul from 1968-1998 and also showed a deep reverence for North Korean churches and their congregations. He was in charge of the diocese of Pyongyang in North Korea from 1975-1998, although he was never able to travel to the communist state which remains technically at war with South Korea.