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Photo exhibition marks first Korean cardinal's birth centenary

Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan was an iconic figure in the global Church for his humanitarianism during military rule

Photo exhibition marks first Korean cardinal's birth centenary

Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan is seen during Christmas Eve Mass in South Korean capital Seoul in 1986. (Photo: Michael Seo Yeon-jun)

Published: May 20, 2022 08:02 AM GMT

Updated: May 20, 2022 09:09 AM GMT

Seoul archdiocese is hosting a photo exhibition as a part of celebrations to mark the 100th birth anniversary of the first Korean cardinal — Stephen Kim Sou-hwan.

The exhibition at Myeongdong Cathedral in the South Korean capital Seoul offers a glimpse of the life and works of Cardinal Kim, the former archbishop of Seoul (1968-1998). It runs until May 23, reports Catholic Times of Korea.

It showcases 50 black and white photographs taken by photographer Michael Seo Yeon-jun, out of his collection of 700 photos of the late cardinal captured between 1984-1988.

Seo said the exhibition offers "the very first opportunity" for the world to see the life and works of Cardinal Kim and the history and vibrant past of the local Church that strengthened the roots of the Catholic faith in Korea.

Some photos reflect the socio-economic and political situation of the period.  

One of the highlights is a photograph of the late former presidents Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung attending a Holy Mass led by Cardinal Kim.

Seo said he had followed and photographed Cardinal Kim during his pastoral and ecumenical visits “out of sheer devotion.”

All photos are in black and white, and this was an obvious choice given the technical difficulty in developing color prints during the time along with the expenses involved in getting color photo film, he noted.

One of the salient features of the exhibition is the use of traditional Korean paper also known as Hanji, which is made from the pulp of mulberry, popularly known in Korean as Dak.

Its durability and water resistance make it an ideal material for documents and photographs that need to be stored for the long term.

“It can be easily preserved for more than 1,000 years,” Seo said.

The photographer thanked Seoul’s auxiliary Bishop Job Yobi-koo for support in materializing his long-held dream as he held Cardinal Kim in high regard.

“I've known him [Bishop Job] since he was a parish priest. It was only through his help that I was able to organize this exhibition,” he said.

Seo said his dream to publicize the life of Cardinal Kim and the history of the Korean Church is not limited to Seoul or Korea.

“One day, I hope that I will be able to arrange an exhibition at the Vatican. By the grace of God, I am confident that I will get an opportunity to show the world the life and times of Cardinal Kim.”

Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan is regarded as an iconic figure in the Korean and global Church. He is hailed for his seminal efforts in evangelization and strengthening the Korean Church amid various trials and tribulations.

His brave stance for democracy and human rights during his nation’s bloody transition from military rule to democracy made him a highly respected clergyman before a broad section of Korean society.

Church sources say, during the time of Cardinal Kim, Catholic numbers in South Korea increased six-fold thanks to his exemplary leadership.

He also became the lone voice of dissent during a time of crisis for the Korean Church amid oppression by the military regime.

Chung Se-Kyun, a former prime minister of South Korea and the president of the Democratic Party in Korea called Cardinal Kim “a big guiding star in our nation’s modern history” for his phenomenal humanitarian stance during the country’s crisis.

In 1987, when the military regime cracked down on the Catholic clergy, Religious and students for their support for democracy, Cardinal Kim stood in defiance.

 “You can step on me, then the priests and nuns behind me, before you can take away the students,” he famously said, in a gesture of protecting his flock.

Born on May 8, 1922, in Daegu, Stephen Kim was ordained a priest in 1951. He earned a degree in philosophy from the Jesuit-run Catholic University of Jochi Daigaku in Tokyo, and then studied sociology at Munster University in Germany from 1956 to 1963.

He was named bishop of Masan diocese in 1966 and became Archbishop of Seoul in 1968. Pope Paul VI made him a cardinal in 1969. At the age of 47, he was the youngest cardinal in the Catholic Church.

In the South Korean capital, he worked toward implementing the spirit of Vatican II , and intensified evangelization activity inviting lay participation, according to the Vatican.

One of his priorities was the dialogue with non-Christians and the coordination of shared humanitarian and charitable efforts.

He was the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea from 1973 to 1977 and president of the Federation of the Asian Bishops' Conference (FABC) from 1974 to 1977.

He was a member of the Council of the General Secretariate of the Synod of Bishops and president delegate of the Special Assembly for Asia of the Synod of Bishops (1998).

He passed away on Feb. 16, 2009.


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