Thomas More Kim Dae-Jung, the first Catholic president of South Korea, died on Tuesday afternoon at the age of 85. Religious leaders remembered the Nobel laureate for his promotion of human rights and his peacemaking work.
The former president was hospitalized in Seoul on July 13 with pneumonia. He died of heart failure.
Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk, the Archbishop of Seoul, issued a condolence message after Kim’s death was announced. According to UCA News, the prelate praised the first Korean Nobel Prize recipient’s dedication to promoting human rights, democratizing South Korea, and working for peace on the Korean peninsula.
The cardinal said Kim forgave his political foes despite the persecutions and threats to his life he suffered.
He also praised Kim’s faith, citing the president’s own statement: “With the knowledge that Jesus was crucified for humanity, I could overcome all hardships and trials.”
Venerable Jikwan, chief executive of the Jogye Order, the largest Buddhist order in the country, remembered the president as a “pioneer of democratization.” In his condolence message he urged the nation to be unified by Kim’s death.
Kim was baptized in 1956 as a young politician. He often spoke about his faith publicly.
He was exiled twice in his life during South Korea’s military dictatorships. He survived two assassination attempts in the 1970s and escaped a death sentence by a military court in 1980.
Following requests for a pardon from the international community and Pope John Paul II, he was freed in 1982.
Kim served as South Korea’s 15th president, between February 1998 and February 2003. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his efforts to reconcile with North Korea.
He is survived by his second wife Lee Hee-ho, a Methodist, and his three sons.