By Kim Rahn
The body of the late former President Kim Dae-jung was placed in a coffin and his memorial altar was moved from the Yonsei Severance Hospital to the National Assembly compound in Yeoido.
Around 11:45 a.m. Thursday, Kim's body was washed and enshrouded at the hospital in Seoul where he passed away. Former first lady Lee Hee-ho prepared the shroud years before, Kim's aides said.
Last rites were performed around 1:30 p.m. with 25 bereaved family members and about 20 of Kim's former close aides participating.
The 2-meter-long coffin has a phoenix engraved on it, which is the symbol of the South Korean President, as well as bouquets of roses of Sharon, the national flower. It is made of Chinese juniper, which is strong and prevents damage.
Bidding farewell to her husband, Lee put a letter in the coffin, her autobiography, a Bible, handkerchief and a small blanket she had knitted for him.
She said in the letter, "My dear beloved, I have committed so many faults against you. But you have always forgiven me and cared for me, and I appreciate it. I hope you will now take rest in the bosom of God. I loved you and respected you, as someone who has endured a painful life. Now God will let you rest in peace. I believe that God will recognize your hard times and grant you dignity. I'm proud of you. Your wife, Lee Hee-ho."
The 20-minute Catholic last rites ritual was officiated over by Father Yun Il-seon from Seokyodong Catholic Church, which Kim attended.
Kim's aides took photos and video clips of the last rites and distributed them to media, so that citizens could watch the last moments of the former President before he was laid in the coffin.
After the ritual, the coffin was moved to the National Assembly. One of Kim's grandsons held a portrait of Kim in front of the pallbearers. As it arrived, mourners began to pay tribute at the memorial altar there.
Former and incumbent lawmakers from the main opposition Democratic Party, National Assembly Speaker Kim Hyeong-o, and several lawmakers from the governing Grand National Party received the coffin. The altar was decorated with 20,000 chrysanthemums.
On Saturday, a day before the funeral, a mass will be held at Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul at 7 p.m., with Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk officiating.
The funeral ceremony will be held at the National Assembly at 2 p.m. Sunday. Participants will include the bereaved family, former heads of state and the incumbent president, politicians, diplomats and many more dignitaries.
Funeral addresses, a video clip highlighting Kim's life, and a flower offering will take place. Former first lady Lee wanted the service to be held in front of the National Assembly in recognition of her husband's devotion to parliamentary democracy. It is the first time that a state funeral will have been held for a former head of state there.
The ceremony is to be broadcast live, similar to the late former President Roh Moo-hyun's funeral in May.
After the ceremonies and rituals, Kim's remains will be buried at Seoul National Cemetery.
His tomb will be set up near the graves of men of national merit, a cemetery official said after discussing the burial with Kim's bereaved family and the Ministry of Public Administration and Security.
"The family asked us to make the grave as simple, plain and environmentally-friendly as possible. The total size of the site will be about 264 square meters including the grave mound, tombstone and the altar for memorial services," the official said.
The burial sites for former Presidents Syngman Rhee and Park Chung-hee are 1,650 square meters and 3,960 square meters, respectively, including parking lots and driveways. No parking lot will be established at Kim's site.
When the former first lady passes away, her remains will be placed by her late husband's side at the family's request.