Archbishop Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, who will be given the red hat of a cardinal Feb. 22, is himself descended from Koreans who shed their blood as martyrs for the faith in the 19th century.
The red of the biretta given to cardinals symbolizes their own willingness to be martyred for the faith – though St. John Fisher, executed by Henry VIII for refusing to follow him into the Anglican schism, is the only cardinal to have been in fact called to martyrdom.
Archbishop Yeom was born in 1943 in Anseong to a devout Catholic family; he is a great-great grandson of Peter Yeom Seok-tae and his wife Kim Maria. The two were martyred for their Catholic faith in 1850. The Korean Joseon state persecuted Catholics during the 19th century during a period of nationalism, regarding the Church as a form of foreign invasion.
The Yeoms have kept their religious belief despite persecution for generations, leading Soo-jung, among the family’s fifth generation of Catholics, to enter the priesthood. His younger brothers, Soo-wan and Soo-eui, have also become priests.
Archbishop Yeom entered seminary at the age of 15, and was ordained a priest of the Seoul archdiocese in 1973.
He later earned a masters of education in counseling psychology from Korea University, and then studied at the East Asian Pastoral Institute.
As a priest, Archbishop Yeom served as a pastor, and as rector of the seminaries in Seoul. When appointed general secretary in the Seoul chancery, he accepted on the condition that he be allowed to continue working in parishes, as well.
He was consecrated an auxiliary bishop of the Seoul archdiocese in 2002, and while auxiliary he served as vicar general of the archdiocese. He was appointed archbishop in 2012.
Archbishop Yeom held his installation Mass June 25, the 62nd anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War, a decision symbolizing his dedication to reconciliation between North and South Korea.
As Archbishop of Seoul, he is head of the largest local Church in the Koreas, and the officeholder is traditionally also apostolic administrator of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.
The Pyongyang diocese has been vacant since the death of its last ordinary, Bishop Francis Hong Yong-ho, who was imprisoned by the North Korean government in 1949, and was later disappeared.
Archbishop Yeom is among the “media pioneers” of the Church in South Korea: in 1990 he encouraged the Peace Broadcasting Corporation, which operate Catholic television and radio.
He also supports the Babo Nanum Foundation, a charitable foundation; a memorial to the thousands of Korean martyrs under the Joseon state; and the Raphael Clinic, which offers free medical services for immigrants.
Archbishop Yeom is also known for his strong defense of respect for life, in a country with a large number of research centers which use human embryos in experimentation.
His episcopal motto is “Amen, Veni, Domine Jesus,” taken from the Book of Revelation, and his coat of arms is composed of a crucifix symbolizing the Korean martyrs, and a dove atop two stars symbolizing the hope for peace between the Koreas.
It was announced Jan. 12 that Archbishop Yeom would be among the 19 men made cardinals in the consistory to be held later this month. He is the third Korean cardinal, following the two preceding archbishops of Seoul.
The day after the announcement was made, a celebratory ceremony was held at Seoul’s Myeondong Cathedral, where he said, “I will make efforts to realize Pope Francis' vision of a Church toiling for the poor and those on the margins of society and to make it a Church serving the community,” according to the Yonhap News Agency.
“I think the Pope appointed me to the post to make me effectively carry out the mission of the Church. I respect efforts made by late Cardinal Kim and Cardinal Cheong, and will add mine to them, though they may be little.”
His appointment as cardinal was welcomed by many Koreans, though only 11 percent of the country is Catholic.
Namgung Seong, head of Won Buddhism in the country, said the appointment is “a happy occasion for the country's entire religious circle.”
The head of Korea’s largest Buddhist group, the Jogye Order, also congratulated Archbishop Yeom, adding that “religion is for pursuing the common good of happiness and peace, and reducing humankind's conflict and pain, as well as befriending those who are marginalized and in difficulties.”
“This path would be what all religious figures, including Buddhism and Roman Catholicism, must pursue.”