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Korean cardinal says his role is ‘to encourage priests’

“It is important for us that there are many good, heroic priests in the world, who carry out their activity like good shepherds,” Cardinal You said

A new cardinal and the Vatican’s prefect of the Dicastery for the Clergy said his role is to encourage priests and help them live lives based on the Word of God.

“My role is to encourage priests — to give them hope, strength,” Cardinal Lazarus You Heung-sik told CNA in a brief interview before the Aug. 27 consistory.

The 70-year-old cardinal is the first Korean to lead an office of the Roman Curia. He was appointed by Pope Francis last year and took up his post on Aug. 2, 2021.

“It is important for us that there are many good, heroic priests in the world, who carry out their activity like good shepherds,” Cardinal You said. 

The Dicastery for Clergy was formerly called the Congregation for Clergy. It was renamed earlier this year as part of Pope Francis’ reform of the Roman Curia, as laid out in the constitution Praedicate evangelium.

The clergy office is responsible for overseeing the world’s approximately 50,000 diocesan priests and 50,000 permanent deacons. Seminaries for training new priests are also under the dicastery’s jurisdiction.

Seminary formation and ongoing formation for priests are under the purview of the Dicastery for Clergy, as well as dispensation from ministry.

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Cardinal You said priests need ongoing formation, and when it is done well, it can help contribute to happy, good priests.

“It is important to have continuous formation … based on the Word,” he said.

A priest who bases his life on the Word of God is like the house built on the rock, while a priest who does not is like the house built on sand, the cardinal said, referencing Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7, that the house set on the rock of God’s Word “did not collapse” in the storm, while the house built on sand “was completely ruined.”

The cardinal also emphasized the importance of reciprocal love, as expressed by Christ’s New Commandment to “love one another as I have loved you.” 

“This is what God wants,” he said, noting that when we learn to love more, Jesus is in our midst. “This is the synodal Church,” he added. 

“So how important it is to live the Word myself too, I must live it, then form the community so the Church will go forward,” Cardinal You said. “I will strive for this for priests, for seminarians.”

According to the prefect, “theology does not convert people,” and preaching can convert a little. “But where there really is a good example, it can change people,” he said, especially the example of priests.

Cardinal You was born in the city of Nonsan on Nov. 17, 1951. He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Daejeon in 1979.

Before Pope Francis appointed him head of the Dicastery for Clergy, Cardinal You led the Diocese of Daejeon in South Korea for over 16 years, taking up the post in 2005, after he was appointed coadjutor bishop in 2003.

In August 2014, Cardinal You hosted Pope Francis in his diocese for the Sixth Asian Youth Day, when the pope celebrated Mass in Daejeon World Cup Stadium.

He made multiple trips to North Korea on behalf of the South Korean bishops’ conference and participated in the youth synod in Rome in 2018.

Pope Francis elevated Cardinal You to the College of Cardinals in a ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica on Aug. 27, 2022.

Cardinal You is the second Asian now leading one of the Vatican’s 16 dicasteries, alongside Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and former archbishop of Manila in the Philippines.

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