The Catholic Content of President Kim's Nobel Prize

National Catholic Reporter, October 27, 2000 | Go to article overview

The Catholic Content of President Kim's Nobel Prize


Forgive a certain parochial tone here, but in virtually all the news accounts of South Korean President Kim Dae Jung's Nobel Peace Prize, there was scant attention paid to the significant role his Catholic faith has played in his formation.

President Kim is the first Korean to receive a Nobel Prize and was cited for his tireless efforts for peace and reconciliation on the Korean peninsula, the last frontier of the Cold War (see story).

Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, retired archbishop of Seoul, who first nominated Kim as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992, said, "The award is an honor not only for President Kim but also for the entire Korean people. President Kim's efforts for democracy and human rights were finally recognized internationally."

Shortly after the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced Kim as this year's laureate, he said that he would share the peace honor with victims of South Korea's past authoritarian regimes, and his supporters at home and abroad. "I will continue to make efforts for democracy and peace on the Korean peninsula and throughout Asia and the world," he said.

Kim faced many trials, including attempts on his life and years of imprisonment and exile under past military regimes. In those tumultuous years when South Korea was under the authoritarian grip of President Park Chung Hee, Kim successively became a dissident, an exile, a death-row prisoner and, again, an exile. Through it all, he was a determined human rights campaigner and a champion of democracy.

The darkest moments came in 1973 when the exiled Kim was kidnapped from a Tokyo hotel by agents of the South Korean government and was about to be dumped, bound and blindfolded, into the sea when agents from the United States intervened to save him.

Kim ties his current passion for peace and reconciliation to a spiritual experience he said he had at that time. As his political enemies prepared to drown him, God intervened, he said. "I used to pray twice a day," he said, "but at that crucial moment I didn't and was only thinking about how I could save myself. …

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