Archbishop Yeom: A humble pastoral worker

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jun 25, 2012 - 19:32
  • Updated : Jun 25, 2012 - 19:32

68-year-old famous for love of people and drive to lead church in Korea

When the Vatican appointed Bishop Andrew Yeom Soo-jung the new archbishop of Seoul in May, Yeom confessed that he was “trembling out of fear” but would accept the top post in obedience of God’s word and continue to deliver his message of love for all people.

Despite his modesty, many colleagues and Catholic faithful characterize Yeom as a man who has already proven himself in many ways. If Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan is remembered as a prophetic voice in the dark days of the authoritarian regimes of the 1970s and 1980s, and Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk as a canon law scholar, Yeom is known as a humble and gentle person, according to people close to him.

He took “Amen Veni Domine Jesu,” from Revelation 22:20, as his episcopal motto, meaning “Amen Come Lord Jesus,” reflecting his strong connection with God and his humble character.
Archbishop Andrew Yeom Soo-jung (Seoul Archdiocese)

Yet, Yeom, 68, has shown tremendous drive throughout his life to spread Gpd’s word and help those in need. The archbishop, despite his high ranking in the Catholic church, enjoys talking to young priests through “KaKao Talk” and playing tennis with them, according to the Seoul Archdiocese.

The archbishop currently holds more than 10 positions in various organizations, including a seat on the board of directors of Pyungwha Broadcasting Corporation and president of Babo Nanum Foundation, a nationwide fund-raising organization launched to promote the sharing spirit of the late Cardinal Kim.

Yeom is also leading a project to promote Seosomun, an area in central Seoul, as a sacred place for martyrs. Many Catholics were executed in the area during the Joseon era. Yeom is also a supporter of foreign migrant workers. He frequently visits Raphael Clinic, which offers free medical services for migrant workers, to provide encouragement and pray for them, the Seoul Archdiocese said.

Yeom was born in 1943 in Anseong, Gyeonggi Province, to a devout Catholic family, descendents of Peter Yeom Seok-tae and his wife Kim Maria who were arrested and executed in 1850 for their Catholic faith. The Yeom family has kept their religious belief for generations through persecution, leading Archbishop Yeom, the fifth generation Catholic, to enter the priesthood. His two younger brothers Soo-wan and Soo-eui have also followed him, currently leading two dioceses in Seoul.

In a recent interview, his family said that Yeom had an ordinary childhood but was one of the smartest in his school. At the age of 15, Yeom decided to become a priest and entered the seminary. Yeom graduated from the Catholic University of Korea in 1970 and was ordained as a Catholic priest in the same year. He worked in the diocese in many different positions and in many parishes, as well as in seminaries. In 2002, Yeom was named auxiliary bishop of the Seoul Archdiocese and vicar general of the diocese. Following Cardinal Cheong, Yeom became the 14th ordinary of Seoul.

It is no coincidence that the inaugural ceremony for the new archbishop was held on June 25, the 62nd anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War. The Seoul Archdiocese had planned it this way to pray for the unification of the two Koreas.

“We decided to hold the ceremony on June 25 in hopes of bringing peace and reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula because the archbishop of Seoul also serves as apostolic administrator of Pyeongyang,” said Father Huh Young-yup, head of the culture and communication department of the Seoul Archdiocese.

After the ceremony, Yeom leaves for Rome to meet with Pope Benedict XVI.

On Friday, the pope will confer the pallium on Archbishop Yeom, the newly appointed archbishop of Seoul.

According to Catholic tradition, the pope confers the pallium on all new metropolitan archbishops on June 29, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

Archbishop Yeom will receive the pallium ― the woolen liturgical vestment symbolic of the authority of a metropolitan archbishop.

Yeom replaces outgoing Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk, who retired from the top post of the Seoul Archdiocese earlier in the month. Cheong offered his resignation to Pope Benedict XVI in 2006 ― the year he turned 75. Every Catholic bishop, upon reaching the age of 75, is required to submit his resignation to the Vatican. Cheong’s resignation was not accepted by the pope at the time, which is not unusual.

Cheong served as the Archbishop of Seoul starting May 1998, succeeding the late Cardinal Stephan Kim Sou-hwan (1922-2009).

With the Vatican’s appointment, South Korea now has six archbishops.

Yeom will lead the Seoul Archdiocese that has 27 percent of the Catholics of the country. Catholics account for 10.3 percent of the total population, or 5.3 million people, according to the latest statistics.

By Cho Chung-un (