In May 2014, Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, Archbishop of Seoul became the first Roman Catholic leader to cross the border and travelled to the dictatorial North Korea. The Church leader paid a visit to the Kaesong Industrial Park, located just north of the land border, to meet South Korean Catholics working there. Regrettably, the planned Holy Mass celebration has never been materialized. However, the Cardinal made history, hoping that this visit could promote the dialogue between the two countries.
“During my tour around the Kaesong Industrial Park complex – where North and South have to live together – I saw signs of hope that the two Koreas would be able to overcome the pain and sorrow of the past. I do believe that peace will come to the Peninsula if benevolent people are ready to make sincere efforts.” – said Andrew Yeom Soo-jung.
It took 3 months to prepare the Cardinal’s visit to North Korea, but for security reasons the travel itself was made public only the day before his departure. The tension between the two countries was extremely high in the spring of 2014. As from the previous year Kim Jong Un ordered a series of executions. Even the North Korean dictator’s uncle, Jang Song-thaek, having been widely considered as the second most powerful figure of the country, had been court-martialled. Jang Song-thaek was declared a traitor, sentenced to death, and execution was carried out immediately.
It’s already been a pretty long time that Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung has actively engaged himself in promoting a true peace between the two Koreas, while has always been struggling against the outright religious persecution and atheism of North Korea. Martyrdom is part of the Cardinal’s family history, since two of his direct ancestors were executed for their Catholic faith in 1850.
The South Korean Catholic Church has a good 200 years of history. The first 100 years was about persecution, since the country’s then leadership labelled Catholicism as a dangerous and anti-government religion. The South Korean Church preserves the memory of ten thousand of martyrs. Both Pope St. John Paul II., and Pope Francis beatified numerous victims of the Christian persecution.
Nowadays, the South Korean Church is living its golden age, as over almost half of a century the number of the Catholic believers has increased from half a million up to a 5,3 million. This growth might be reasoned by the Church’s ongoing critical behaviour and opposition against the military dictatorships. News has been leaked that North Korea forbids practicing any religion, regardless its nature, and only three churches –established by foreigners- are in operation. In the course of Pope Francis’ visit to South Korea, Catholics from North Korea were also invited to attend the Pontifical Mass, however – as to some Church’s sources reports – it was turned down.
Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-yung, Archbishop of Seoul has recognised the important role the mass media performs, and the influence that of in the lives of the 21st century people. He encourages the media presence in the Church as well, so it’s not a surprise that his name is strongly linked to the Peace Broadcasting Corporation founding.
Andrew Yeom Soo-yung plays a key role in reconciliation, moreover does his best to reduce the social gaps, which he has been working a lot for so far. The pandemic situation urged him to make a call, asking the believers to show solidarity for the needy and support those living in poverty. He also invited for universal access to the life-saving vaccines, emphasizing that lower income or wealth situation cannot mean ground for exclusion from recovery.
At Lent he has created a specific fund to support those facing difficulties on account of the Covid-19 pandemic.
At Epiphany the Cardinal set up a soup-kitchen in his Archdiocese, where he himself also participated in the food distribution.
A group of Catholics from the Myeongdong Cathedral opened a canteen called „Myeongdong Babjib”, where, as from January 6 onwards, three times a week, on every Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays a weekly 1.400 portions of packed hot lunches are distributed amongst the needy.
The initiative has been born in the Seoul Archdiocese, with the leadership of Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, Archbishop of Seoul. The food distribution is sponsored by the energy and chemicals division of the SK Group, one of the largest conglomerates in South Korea.
The aid action volunteers are members of the One Body One Spirit (OBOS) movement that is linked to the Diocese Caritas. Since actions speak louder than words, sometimes even the Cardinal himself participates in food packing and distributing.
Franz Jeong-hwan Kim, the OBOS Executive Director remembered that at the time of Pope Francis’ visit to the Myeongdong Cathedral in 2014, the Pontiff blessed and asked them to be the yeast of the Gospel in changing the Church from inside, while staying invisible. “I do hope the Myeongdong Babjib soup kitchen is going to be such a small yeast that transforms both the Church and the world into a warm and loving place.” - added the Director of the movement.
Cardinal Yeom is convinced that this soup kitchen is a response to the Pontiff’s message of the past year: “Stretch forth your hand to the poor!”
In addition the IEC guest speaker, Cardinal Yeom added:
“This message is a call for each and every one of us to commit ourselves to the care of the poor as a family.”
Source: Vatican News , UCA news, IEC