A funeral Mass for South Korea‘s second Roman Catholic Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk is held at Myeongdong Cathedral in central Seoul on May 1, 2021. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)
South Koreans bade farewell Saturday to the country’s second Roman Catholic Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk in a funeral Mass at Seoul’s landmark cathedral.
Cheong, who was given the title of cardinal in 2006 by Pope Benedict XVI, died Tuesday night at a Seoul hospital at the age of 89.
He served as the Catholic archbishop of Seoul for 14 years from 1998, before becoming archbishop emeritus of Seoul.
Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, the Catholic archbishop of Seoul, recalled that Cheong appeared serious and strong but that, underneath that appearance, he was a soft and gentle person with a broad mind and full of love.
“Cardinal Cheong showed to us through his life that when you throw everything away, you can get everything.” Yeom said, overwhelmed with emotion, during rites at Myeongdong Cathedral in central Seoul, where Cheong was baptized as an infant in 1931. “He showed what a happy life is and how to follow God‘s will.”
About 230 people -- roughly one-fifth of the main chapel’s seating capacity -- sat socially distanced during the 125-minute service at the cathedral due to health restrictions.
The greater Seoul area, home to more than half of the country’s 52 million people, is under Level 2 social distancing, the third highest in the five-tier scheme meant to curb the spread of COVID-19.
About 300 mourners stood outside the main chapel amid rain for the funeral Mass that was streamed online and broadcast over speakers.
Cheong’s death has sparked tributes from Pope Francis and President Moon Jae-in as well as an outpouring of grief from ordinary South Koreans.
Pope Francis said in a message read by Apostolic Nuncio to South Korea Alfred Xuereb that he was deeply saddened to learn of Cheong’s death and offered his heartfelt condolences to the clergy, religious and lay faithful of the Archdiocese of Seoul.
Moon paid respect to Cheong during his visit to the cathedral with first lady Kim Jung-sook on Thursday. Moon described Cheong as a “big hill” of South Korea‘s Catholic community and a “guru of the nation.”
More than 46,600 mourners visited the cathedral during a three-day mourning period through Friday to pay their last respects to Cheong, according to the Catholic Archdiocese of Seoul.
South Korea is home to 5.9 million Catholics, accounting for 11.2 percent of the country’s total population.
Cheong will be buried in a Catholic cemetery in Yongin, on the southern outskirts of Seoul, where many celebrated priests, including Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, are entombed.
Born in 1931 to a devout Catholic family in Seoul, Cheong entered the Catholic University of Korea in 1954 and obtained his bachelor‘s degree in theology.
After he was ordained in 1961, he served in a pastorate for seven years in Seoul. He also taught students at a Catholic high school in Seoul.
In 1968, he went Italy to study. At the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome, he majored in canon law and acquired a master’s degree.
Two years after he returned to South Korea, Cheong was appointed as the youngest Catholic bishop in Korea at age 39.
“I will always remember the cardinal‘s message to love, share things and show kindness to others,” said Kim Keum-nam, 61, who attended the Mass. (Yonhap)