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Mongolian Catholics pay tributes to Korean missionary

Father Stephen Kim Seong-Hyeon, 55, served in the East Asian nation since 2000
Father Stephan Kim Seong-Hyeon

Father Stephan Kim Seong-Hyeon. (Photo: Apostolic Prefecture of Ulaanbaatar via Asia News)

Published: May 29, 2023 11:45 AM GMT
Updated: May 29, 2023 11:49 AM GMT

Catholics in Mongolia have paid tributes to a Korean missionary priest who provided pastoral and spiritual care to the tiny church for more than two decades.

Father Stephen Kim Seong-Hyeon, assistant vicar general of the Apostolic Prefecture of Ulaanbaatar in the national capital died on May 26 from a heart attack, reported Fides news agency. He was 55.

In the evening of the day, Catholics flocked to pay homage to the priest as they joined a requiem Mass at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul presided by Italian Bishop Giorgio Marengo, who was recently made a cardinal by Pope Francis.

During his homily, Marengo thanked God for the life of Father Kim who devoted most of his priestly life to the service of the Church in Mongolia.

Born in Daejeon of South Korea in 1968, Kim was ordained a priest in 1998. He came to Mongolia as a missionary of the Daejeon Diocese in 2000.

Father Kim ran a small seminary in a parish that offers a boarding facility for Mongolian boys. It is credited for raising the first native religious vocations for the priesthood.

Father Augustin Han, a Korean priest, noted he was impressed by Father Kim’s missionary work in Mongolia when he first met him in 2007.

“I was very impressed to see Father Kim live with such missionary passion, such humility, and such poverty. I saw in him the example of an authentic missionary priest who devoted himself completely to bringing the Gospel of the Lord to a people who had suffered from state-imposed atheism for decades," Father Han said, referring to the communist rule in Mongolia from 1921-1990 when religions were banned.

Father Han said the missionary embraced Mongolian people and culture with love.

"In a society where domestic violence is common, it was initially difficult for Mongolian boys to approach Father Kim because he was a grown man,” he said.

“However, he treated Mongolian boys with great fatherly love, and they were impressed by his kindness. After experiencing his love and patience, the boys followed him and saw him as a true father.”

Father Kim is known as an avid follower of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, the patron saint of missionaries. He used to read a book on the saint regularly.

The priest was also a member of the Association of Priests of the Prado Institute for the Province of Korea, made up of priests who are committed to making themselves available to the bishops to serve in the poorest parishes.

In 2019 he was invited to participate in an Easter retreat for priests of the Prado in Fatima, Portugal, where he shared his missionary experience in Mongolia.

He said that as a parish priest, he noticed young boys drift away from the church after they grow up and get married.

After visiting some houses, he realized that people work so hard that they don’t have the energy to come to the church. So, he started visiting them at home to keep them in touch with the church.

He is credited for setting up a new parish, St. Mary of the Assumption, in Ulaanbaatar.

To be closer to Mongolian people by embracing the traditional nomadic lifestyle, he received permission from the bishop to live with a group of people in the Erdenesant, a prairie land about 200 kilometers from the capital.

For several years, he lived in a ger, a traditional Mongolian tent, and taught Korean to young students in a school.

He later returned to Ulaanbaatar as called by the bishop to serve as assistant vicar general.

Father Kim often used to say, "When this mission is over, I will return to the prairies," Fides reported.

Mongolian Church has about 1,400 Catholics in a Buddhist-majority population of about 3.3 million.

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