First Bishop Of Pusan Dies At 96


2008-06-11 13:11:02
Catholics have eulogized the late Bishop John Choi Jae-son, first bishop of Pusan diocese, as a "simple" man dedicated to praying the rosary.
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Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk of Seoul blesses the casket of Bishop John Choi Jae-son
Bishop Choi, who suffered chronic ill health, died in a Church-run hospital in Busan (Pusan), 320 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on June 3. He was 96. About 2,500 clergy, Religious and laypeople packed Namcheon Cathedral in Busan on June 5 for the funeral Mass. Bishop Paul Hwang Cheol-soo of Pusan presided, with 19 other bishops including Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk of Seoul and about 230 priests concelebrating. In the homily, Bishop Hwang said Bishop Choi, who retired in 1973, was well known among priests and lay Catholics alike for his deep faith in God, his devotion to the Blessed Mother and his disciplined life. "The Church," he recalled the late prelate once telling him, "looks similar to a social organization, but the difference between the two is prayer." Pointing to the coffin, over which lay a plain black cloth except for the cross emblem on it, Bishop Hwang noted that Bishop Choi was a very simple person who had requested his coffin not be decorated. Xavier Park Kyeong-oh, 75, a Legion of Mary member at Udong Church, also remembers the late bishop as a Church leader who led a simple life. He pointed out the bishop lived in a small room until his death. ko_busan.gifPark told UCA News on June 5 that the late bishop was "a man devoted to the rosary" and encouraged Catholics to pray it. "That´s how I became a member of the Legion of Mary, which focuses a lot on praying the rosary," he added. When UCA News interviewed Bishop Choi in November 2007, he was living in a seven-square-meter room at the headquarters of the Korean Foreign Mission Sisters, a group he founded in 1986. Sister Amos Park Mi-ae, superior general of the congregation, told UCA News the bishop´s death "deeply grieved" her, since he had lived with her congregation members like part of their family since 1991. The bishop was born into a Catholic family in Gyeongsangnam province on Jan. 7, 1912. He began minor seminary in Daegu diocese in 1926 and was ordained a priest in 1938. When Pusan apostolic vicariate was carved from Daegu archdiocese on Jan. 26, 1957, he was appointed its first bishop. In 1962, the apostolic vicariate became a diocese. However, trouble with his diocesan clergy led him to resign in 1973 at the age of 61, more than a decade before canon law would have required him to request retirement at 75. Two years after he resigned, he founded the Korean Missionary Society in 1975.
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Bishop Paul Hwang Cheol-soo (elevating chalice) says the funeral Mass for Bishop John Choi Jae-son 
Father Augustine Kim Myong-dong, superior general of the society, told UCA News that in the 1970s, the Korean Church was short of priests and money. However, the bishop went ahead with founding the mission society, which did not sit comfortably with the local Church then, he added. "I realized later it was timely and right," the priest continued. "In that sense, he had a prophetic insight and was a real pioneer in the foreign mission field in our Church." Stephen Lee Gyoo-jeong, who attended the funeral Mass, remarked: "These days, only a few people can go to heaven, but surely Bishop Choi will be there, because he was a man of prayer and dedicated his whole life to serving us." The 71-year old former president of the Catholic Lay Apostolate Council of Jeonju diocese, who knew the late bishop, told UCA News the prelate was a good and decisive Church leader who laid the foundations of the diocese. However, he could be a bit stubborn at times, Lee admitted. END
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