Skip to comments.KOREA Revealed: How Pope John Paul II's letter saved ex-president's life
Posted on 05/21/2009 9:55:08 AM PDT by NYer
SEOUL (UCAN) -- A letter from the late Pope John Paul II, which saved the life of former President Thomas More Kim Dae-jung, has been made known to the public recently.
|Former president Kim Dae-jung|
The late Pope sent the letter to then-South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan on Dec. 11, 1980, asking for "clemency" for Kim, a Catholic, who had been sentenced to death a week before.
The National Archives of Korea (NAK) on May 18 revealed the contents of letter at the request of the "Kwangju Ilbo," the local daily newspaper in Gwangju (Kwangju).
Former President Chun, who seized power in a 1979 coup, accused Kim, the leader of the opposition then, of inciting the pro-democracy Gwangju People's Uprising on May 18, 1980. The uprising was violently crushed by the military. The official toll is 191 dead and 852 injured, but other reports claim more than 1,000 may have died in the clashes.
Kim was tried by a military tribunal and sentenced to death on Dec. 4 1980. Thanks to the plea by Pope John Paul II, however, the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment on Jan. 23, 1981, 43 days after the letter was sent to Chun.
Chung Hoo-sik, chief reporter of "Kwangju Ilbo," told UCA News on May 20 that during the month of May each year when commemorating the uprising, his paper seeks details of events surrounding the incident. This year, he unearthed the letter from a list of archive materials.
In fact, says Chung, the late Pope sent two letters to Chun -- one on Dec. 11, 1980 and another on Feb. 14, 1981. The first asked for clemency for Kim while the second acknowledged that the death sentence had been commuted.
After receiving the Pope's first letter, Chun replied to him on Jan. 5 1981, arguing that "Kim has been brought to court on charges of not some political issues, but an anti-national crime including subversion."
Nevertheless, he acknowledged the Pope's appeal was "based on humanitarian consideration and compassion."
The late Pope then sent his second letter to Chun, noting that "you courteously acknowledged the appeal I made on purely humanitarian grounds for an act of clemency in favor of Kim whose death sentence has recently been commuted."
"I pray God to watch over the noble Korean people and to bestow his richest favors on you all," Pope John Paul II concluded.
Kim, whose sentence was later reduced to 20 years, was forced to go to the United States in 1982.
Kim won the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize, but it was not until 2004, after he had completed his 1998-2003 presidential term, that he received a verdict of "not guilty."
During his visit to the Vatican in 2000, then-President Kim told the late pope: "You saved my life. I am grateful," according to a senior Korean priest who requested anonymity.
Pope John Paul, who always showed great concern over the affairs of the Korean peninsula, made two pastoral visits to South Korea in 1984 and 1989. During his first visit, on the occasion of 200th anniversary of the founding of the Korean Catholic Church, the pope canonized 103 martyrs.
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