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Meet South Korea's new cardinal

Close-up on Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, one of the pope's newly chosen cardinals

Meet South Korea's new cardinal

Picture: Korea Herald

Paolo Affetato for Vatican Insider/La Stampa

January 15, 2014

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The colour red seems to run in the family: The Archbishop of Seoul, Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, one of the Church’s 19 new cardinals nominated yesterday, has the red colour of martyrdom in his DNA: his great-great grandfather Peter Yeom Seok-tae and his wife Mary were executed in 1850, in the early days of Korean Christianity during the Joseon Dynasty when persecution was rife.

Historians say the arrival of Christianity in Korea was unique. The Gospel reached the Korean peninsula thanks to a group of lay people who paid the price of keeping their faith with their lives. The ancestors of the newly-nominated cardinal, Joseph Yeom Deok-sun (who were among the first Koreans to convert to Christianity) and Peter Yeom Seok-tae formed part of this small group. A blossoming tree has grown out of the martyrdom in odium fidei of Korea’s early Christians – who today are venerated as the “fathers of the faith”.

Today, Korea’s Catholics account for 10% of Korea’s traditionally Buddhist population. The country is home to Asia’s third largest Catholic community (after the Philippines and Vietnam), it is fertile ground for priestly vocations and sends missionaries around the world. 

Born to a family with deep Christian roots, Yeom loves explaining how he discovered and cultivated his priestly vocation thanks to family prayer: his grandmother Maddalena Park and mother Baek Geum-wol, went to mass every day for 30 years to pray for their children to become priests. Yeom, the third of six children, was ordained a priest along with two of his younger brothers who also ministered in the diocese of Seoul.

Yeom entered the seminary when he was just a teenager, at the age of 15. He graduated from the Catholic University of Korea and was ordained a priest on 8 December 1970. During his studies he decided he wanted to put his theological knowledge to the service of pastoral care. He therefore obtained his Masters in psychology and counselling and his diploma from the East Asian Pastoral Institute in the Philippines, while serving in various parishes.

When he was called to take up the delicate office of General Secretary of the Diocesan Curia of Seoul, he accepted but asked to continue his pastoral care work in the parishes. His predecessor, Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk immediately agreed.

He served as a “vicar forane” in the diocese and continued to coordinate the pastoral life and activities of large groups of parishes. During this time he encouraged the Church’s presence in the mass media, which led to the birth of the “Peace Broadcasting Corporation” in 1990. This corporation included a television channel and a Catholic radio station, both of which became highly valued Christian voices and tireless champions of values such as peace, reconciliation, the defence of life, dignity and inalienable human rights.

n December 2001 Pope John Paul II nominated him Auxiliary Bishop of Seoul and after his Episcopal ordination the following year, the 58-year-old Mgr. Yeom Soo-jung became Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Seoul, a position he kept until May 2012, when Benedict XVI appointed him Metropolitan Archbishop.

His nomination as head of the archdiocese of Seoul was of unique importance to the Korean Catholic Church: the city’s archbishop is also Apostolic Administrator of Pyongyang, in North Korea. The peninsula has been split in half since 1953, when the Bamboo Curtain went up. Thousands of Korean families still remain separated today.

The Archbishop decided to celebrate his Episcopal enthronement on the 62nd anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War, as a symbolic gesture, praying especially for the reconciliation and reunification of the two Koreas. Since then, martyrdom has left an indelible mark on his Episcopal ministry. His ministry has also been marked by constants references to the precious faith of martyrs which is seen an example of authentic testimony all Christians should follow no matter what their life condition or state.

He also expressed a strong eagerness for dialogue, reconciliation and peace between the two Koreas to calm the tensions that are circling the peninsula, introducing the risk of a new conflict. 

Full Story: Andrew Yeom Soo-jung: A pastor of martyrdom and reconciliation

Source: Vatican Insider/La Stampa

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