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Migrant advocate appointed South Korean archbishop

Archbishop-elect Simon Ok is the president of the Committee for Immigrants and Foreign Residents of the Korean bishops

Archbishop-elect Simon Ok Hyun-jin of Gwangju Archdiocese

Archbishop-elect Simon Ok Hyun-jin of Gwangju Archdiocese. (Photo: UCA News)

Published: November 21, 2022 08:20 AM GMT

Updated: November 21, 2022 09:45 AM GMT

Pope Francis has appointed a bishop who advocates for the rights of internal and foreign migrants in South Korea as the new head of one of the largest Catholic dioceses in the country.

Monsignor Simon Ok Hyun-jin, auxiliary bishop of Gwangju Archdiocese since 2011, was elevated to the post of archbishop on Nov 19, said a notice from Vatican Press Office.

Archbishop-elect Ok, 54, succeeds Archbishop Hyginus Kim Hee-joong, 75, who led the archdiocese since March, 2010 and tendered his resignation on reaching the mandatory retirement age.

The newly appointed archbishop is the president of the Committee for Immigrants and Foreign Residents of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea (CBCK). He is also a member of the Episcopal Commission for Social Affairs of the CBCK.

Simon Ok Hyun-jin was born on March 5, 1968, in Muan, in the Archdiocese of Gwangju.

He was ordained a priest on Jan 26, 1994, and appointed auxiliary bishop of Gwangju on May 12, 2011. His episcopal ordination was on July 6, 2011, making him the youngest bishop in the country at the age of 43.

He has served as vicar-general of Gwangju since July 7, 2011.

In 2016, Bishop Ok joined Korean Catholics to demand the resignation of graft-tainted president, Park Geun-hye.

The Korean Church, from the diocesan level to the grassroots, had been vocal about Park’s ouster after media reports revealed the country’s first female president was manipulated by her friend, Choi Soon-sil, to gain access to secret documents and purportedly embezzle funds through nonprofit foundations.

At least 10 dioceses called for Park's resignation and held Masses praying for the country.

On Nov 7, 2016, Bishop Simon Ok Hyun-jin of Gwangju presided over the Mass with archdiocesan priests and called upon Park to resign. Following the Mass, Ok led some 1,000 Catholics to the May 18 Democracy Plaza in downtown Gwangju.

Park was removed from the post, arrested, and impeached in the parliament. In 2018, she was sentenced to 24 years in jail for corruption and abuse of power.

Archbishop-elect Ok will oversee the Archdiocese of Gwangju which has more than 365,000 Catholics in 140 parishes taken care of by 268 diocesan and 53 religious priests.

The Missionary Society of St. Columban played a key role in founding the jurisdiction in 1937 when it was carved out from the Archdiocese of Daegu and erected as an apostolic prefecture. It became an apostolic vicariate in 1957, and then an archdiocese in 1962.

Gwangju played a vital role in the history of Christianity in Korea. During the period of persecution against Christians by Korea’s long-reigning Joseon dynasty in the 19th century, hundreds of Catholics in Gwangju were martyred for refusing to recant their faith.

About 56 percent of an estimated 58 million South Koreans have no religion, 20 percent are Protestant, 8 percent are Catholic and 15.5 percent are Buddhist, according to government records.

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