His gigantic Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul symbolized the explosive growth of religion in this country once war-torn.
SEOUL - Reverend Cho Yong-gi , the charismatic founder of one of the world's largest mega-churches whose preaching of "positive positive thinking" helped fuel the explosive growth of the Christianity in war-ravaged South Koreare, died Tuesday in a Seoul hospital. He was 85 years old.
Mr. Cho, pastor emeritus at Yoido Full Gospel Church , was hospitalized for more than a year after suffering a brain hemorrhage, the church said in a statement .
The church, which once housed a congregation of over 800,000 worshipers, has shrunk since Mr. Cho retired there. ten years ago, and he and other leaders were subsequently mired in scandal allegations.
But it 's still the biggest church of South Korea, with more than 570,000 people attending services, at the main building on Yoido Island on the Han River, which runs through Seoul, as well as at five shrines scattered around the capital.. Separately, hundreds of small Yoido Full Gospel affiliated churches operate in South Korea and around the world.
In the context of Mr. Cho's life, South Korea has undergone a rapid transformation from a war-torn agrarian country into one of the richest economies in the world. Along with industrialization came the growth of Christianity, which became the largest religion in South Korea, supplanting Buddhism, Confucianism and shamanism.
Yoido Full Gospel and a handful of other churches have welcomed millions of people who have migrated from rural South Korea to major cities, especially Seoul, in search of jobs and a sense of belonging.
"The Reverend. Cho was a symbol of the mega-church boom in South Korea, ”said Hwang Gui-hag, author of several books on Christianity andn South Korea and Seoul-based Law Times editor specializing in religious news. "He also helped globalize the South Korean church.
South Korean mega-churches had a penchant for expansion abroad. South Korea, which has about 28% Christianity, has long been among the the world's largest sources of missionaries.
But like some of South Korea's other mega-church founders, Mr. Cho 's legacy has been marred by corruption scandals and internal feuds within his family and organization . In 2017, he was found guilty by the South Korean court of breach of trust and embezzlement, but was given a suspended sentence and avoided prison. Image A service at Yoido Full Gospel Church in 2021. The church has already claimed a congregation of over 800,000 that has since declined. Credit ... Chung Sung-Jun / Images figcaption >
Mr. Cho was born in 1936 in Ulju, southeastern South Korea, when the Korean Peninsula was still a colony of Japan. He was a student at a vocational high school in Busan, a southern port city populated by refugees from the Korean War, when he fell ill with tuberculosis. He said his miraculous healing was accompanied by a religious revival. He was also influenced by Kenneth Tice, a Pentecostal Assemblies of God missionary from the United States.
Mr. Cho and Choi Ja-shil, a Pentecostal pastor who would later become his mother-in-law, founded a church in a Seoul slum under a tent that had been thrown up by the US military in 1958. There was as five members on the first day church, three of whom were relatives of Ms. Choi. Another was an old woman who entered the tent to avoid the rain.
But soon Mr. Cho and Ms. Choi attracted the worshipers as the Rumor had it that they could cure the sick at a time when millions of people lived without access to medical services. Mr. Cho also preached "hope" and "positive thinking", convincing those struggling with post-war scarcity that religious faith would bring three rewards: wealth, health and spiritual comfort. .
In 1973, to welcome his growing congregationte, Mr. Cho opened the church building in Yoido, which was then an undeveloped island. (The island is now home to the country's National Assembly and major financial institutions.) By 1993, the church had 700,000 faithful and was recognized by Guinness World Records as the largest congregation. The church continued to grow as Mr. Cho
M r. Hwang said that while studying in Canada in the 1990s, he was surprised to learn that more Canadians had heard of Mr. Cho than the President of South Korea.
Sir. Cho has also started charity programs for the needy, including raising funds for children with heart disease. His $ 17 million plan to build a hospital for heart disease patients in PyonGyang, the North Korean capital, is on hold as relations between the two Koreas remain strained over the North's nuclear weapons program.
Mr. Cho is survived by three sons. His wife, Kim Sung-hae, who once ran Hansei University, a school affiliated with the church, passed away in February.
At the time where he retired at age 75, Mr Cho saw his religious empire plunge into a series of scandals, as former followers of his church accused him and his family of embezzling funds of the church and demanded reforms. His family has also been accused of dominating key positions in the church and in church affiliates, including Kukmin Ilbo, a daily.
" There is an end to our life ", Mr. Cho said in a frail voice during his last sermon in July 2020, shortly before his hospitalization. world, everyone must stand before God for judgment. So the most important thing you can do in this world is to believe in Jesus Christ and earn your salvation. "