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Leading Female Novelist Chats with Seoul Archbishop

Posted January. 09, 2009 07:27,   


Korea’s leading female novelist Shin Gyeong-sook visited yesterday Cardinal Cheong Jin-suk at Myongdong Cathedral in Seoul to listen to his New Year’s message.

Shin began their conversation by saying, “I heard that when you were ordained, you prayed to God to help increase the number of Catholics, which at the time accounted for only one percent of the population, to 10 percent before you die. I prayed to God in the morning that today’s meeting going well.”

To this, the priest said, “I heard you have many fans. Many people praise you.”

Shin: Do you have any good wishes for those suffering from economic difficulty?

Cardinal: Amid constant conflicts around the world, I’m praying for peace more earnestly. Peace starts in each household and expands to the whole world.

Shin: It’s not easy to achieve domestic peace. Oftentimes, family members are indifferent to each other because they think they will always take each other’s side.

Cardinal: Human beings are born to be happy. Yet happiness is hard to come by. I heard that infidelity is the leading cause of divorce and the second reason is economic difficulty. I told believers at New Year’s Day Mass not to use abusive language at home. Children are easily affected by parents fighting at home. Though being hard up for money, parents should not use foul language. The more they are cash-strapped, the more frequently they should express consolatory words to each other. This will bring peace.”

Shin: I heard that you read one book a day in your young days and have written one book a year. How do you manage your time?

Cardinal: During the Korean War, I faced death but survived. After that, I thought my life was not mine. I decided to live my remaining years sincerely. I had a chance to meet a terminally ill patient. When told he had only six months to live, his outlook for life dramatically changed. He said all things in the world look beautiful and led a perfect life in his remaining days, while preparing for death. He passed away after returning love to people.

Shin: It’s like death taught him the value of time.

Cardinal: God treats us equally. He gives each of us 24 hours equally.

Shin: Do you have any words for people in their 20s down and out in amid the tight job market?

Cardinal: I feel very sorry for them. If they want to live only for their interests, this will make things much harder. When trying to share with others, the opportunity will come and when harboring good hopes, they will surely meet people who sympathize and cooperate with them.

Shin: The Roman Catholic Church in Korea has achieved remarkable development over the last two decades. What do you think was the key to this dramatic growth?

Cardinal: It’s not because we have done well but because of the generous mentality of Koreans. Though Christianity is a foreign religion, Korean people have fully embraced it. In Japan, Catholicism was introduced there 400 years ago and Japan has tens of thousands of blessed martyrs. But Catholics and Protestants account for only one percent of Japan’s population. We owe Koreans.

Shin: How is the retired Stephen Cardinal Kim Sou-hwan getting along? I heard he is sick in bed.

Cardinal: His condition is getting better. But he had a cold on Christmas. I hope he will soon be well again. He was chief of the Seoul Archdiocese for 30 years. Though he couldn’t choose the day he assumed the post, he did choose when he resigned. One day, he asked me when the proper time for his resignation was. I answered he could choose as he pleased. Over the past 30 years, Cardinal Kim has been a symbolic figure who takes care of the weak. The Catholic Church in Korea has benefited from his efforts and owes much to him.

When the priest gave Shin his new book “King David” as a present and Shin presented him with her book “Take Care of Mother,” their conversation shifted to mothers.

Shin: I was impressed by your writings and interviews about your mother. While quoting the maxim “God cannot be everywhere, therefore he made mothers,” you talked about your mother. Your mother’s stories offered consolation to many.

Cardinal: I don’t think my stories are special, but without my mother, I wouldn’t exist. Due to my mother’s influence and benefits, I became who I am now. I heard from my relatives that when I was born, contagious diseases were raging in Seoul and babies were dying in large numbers. So no mother was willing to give her breast milk to other babies. But my mother did feed hungry babies. I have tried to live up to what I learned from the Korean War and my mother’s will to help the weak. I live my life as if I had a new lease on life.

Shin: When I wrote “Take Care of Mom,” I called my mother countless times. Initially the title of the book was “Take Care of Mother.” But I got writer’s block. After changing the title to “Take Care of Mom” I could write better. I’m deeply indebted to my mom. When you called your mother “Mom,” I was surprised.

Cardinal: From age five, I called her “Mother.” While caring for my ailing mother when I was a bishop, I abruptly called her “Mom” to give her my arm. Hearing that, my mother’s face turned bright. From then on, I called her Mom until she passed away in 1996.

Shin: What’s your life’s purpose as a cardinal?

Cardinal: I feel indebted to everybody for their love. I will try to repay this love until I die. We couldn’t live a day without each other’s help and love.”