Friday, March 18, 2011

Conversation With Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk

On March 18,  Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk will be celebrating his 50th year of priesthood. It is rare for an ordinary in office to be celebrating his golden jubilee. In a two-page spread in The Catholic Times, the managing director reports on a conversation he had with the Cardinal.

The cardinal recalled his years with thanks for the great love he has received despite what he called "his many failings." He was baptized in the cathedral parish of Myong Dong, served as an altar boy and said his first Mass in the Cathedral, and now lives in the Cathedral parish.
As an only son, in the past he would not have been accepted for the priesthood because of the cultural expectations for an only son in  Korean society. He recalled mentioning to his mother his desire to be a priest, knowing the difficulties this would cause her and even expecting some opposition on her part; if so, he was prepared to give it up. However, she wasn't surprised, suspecting that was his intention from the time he was an altar boy. But to go to the seminary, he needed the permission of the bishop, Archbishop Ro Ki-nam, who had been assistant priest at the  Cathedral  for 12 years, during which time the lay head of the parish was the Cardinal's grandfather. Archbishop Ro often visited the family and knew it well. The mother, once she knew the desire of her son, went to see the bishop to get permission and persisted even though he was opposed. She finally got her way. The Cardinal remembers his mother as a person with the faith of Abraham.
I became acquainted  with the  Cardinal's mother  from the time in my  first parish in Incheon, where she was a parishioner for a few years. She was, a very happy, devoted and outgoing person.

The Church in Korea when he was ordained, the Cardinal recalls, had few members. While in Rome for studies he was often asked where he came from; he would  ask them to guess. Usually the response  would be Japan or China, in that order; Korea would come in about 10th. Korea at that time was largely unknown to the Europeans and even more so when it came to the Korean Church. 

The Cardinal remembers the time after being appointed bishop of the Cheongju Diocese, when there were only six Korean priests and 20 Maryknoll priests in 22 parishes. When he left to become the ordinary of Seoul, the 100th Korean priest was ordained for the diocese.
Asked about problems encountered during his 50 years as a priest, he said that not all has been peaceful but does not remember any really serious issues. There was always someone there to help him, he said, and his habit of writing a book each year of his priestly life also helped him overcome any difficulties; he devotes at least one hour a day to writing. 

His hope for the Church is to have us more concerned with evangelizing ourselves and the Church. We are always being called, he said, to change and to be renewed, which was also the subject of his pastoral message this year. With this way of thinking, the Cardinal feels the new evangelization will take hold and spread.

 May the Cardinal continue to be blessed with  good health and happiness, and continue to write a  new book each year for the rest of his life.                                                                         


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