Dom Blasio Park, OSB
Abbot and Community of Waegwan (South Korea)
Emeritus Abbot Simon Petrus (Hyeong-U) Ri, OSB
30th September, 1946 – 27th November, 2016
Simon Ri was born on 30 September 1946 as the oldest son of Petrus Ri and Agatha Kim in Chaeryong, Hwanghae Province, which is now located in North Korea. After the division of Korea and the expropriation by the communists of the land they owned, the parents fled with their baby to the South in 1947. There his father joined the military which transferred him to various locations. Finally the family moved to an area in which the Missionary Benedictines were working. Simon’s mother served for many years as a catechist in various parishes. During that time she gave birth to three more sons and three more daughters. One of them, Anna Maria, is now an Olivetan Benedictine Sister.
Simon studied at our Sun-Sim Middle- and Highschool in Waegwan and lived at the boarding-house of the monastery. In 1965 he entered the monastery as a candidate. After doing his military service for 3 years and finishing his novitiate he made his first vows on 15 February, 1971. Then he began to study theology in Kwangju and Seoul. After his solemn vows on 15 February, 1974, he continued his studies at the Pontifical University of Sant’ Anselmo in Rome. He earned his doctorate in patrology at the Augustianum in Rome. In 1977 he was ordained a priest. After returning to Korea in 1984 he served as a parish priest in the cities of Gumi and Daegu during the years 1985 to 1988. After that he served from 1988 to 1994 as the novice master of Waegwan Abbey. Then he became the director of the retreat house in Waegwan which at that time had a very good reputation in the South-West of Korea.
Soon after his return from Rome Father Simon started to teach regularly at our Theological Institute for members of religious orders in Daegu. His subjects were patrology and Christology. In addition, he also taught patrology at the Major Seminary in Daegu. He also often gave retreats to religious communities. In those days Father Simon started a series of translations of the early fathers which were published by Benedict Press. These translations included also the original text. Later other experts of patrology joined the project, in 1977 the prior administrator of the abbey appointed Father Simon as his deputy and subprior of the abbey. Being in this position he was also asked to start the Institute of the Oblates for Waegwan Abbey. So in 1988 the first oblates could be received. Within a few years there were already several hundreds of them.
The members of the community elected Father Simon as their abbot on 23 August, 2001. He was consecrated as abbot on 11 September by the Archbishop of Seoul, Cardinal Stephen Kim. The motto of the new abbot was ‘Serviamus invicem - Let us serve each other’. Throughout his years as monk and as abbot he remained committed to his monastic ideal. As Apostolic Administrator of Tokwon Abbey in North Korea Abbot Simon was also a member of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Korea. In this capacity he was for many years the chairman of the Committee for the biblical apostolate.
It was during the night from Maundy-Thursday to Good Friday, 2007, that the main wing of the monastery burnt down. That was a great ordeal for the whole community and especially for Abbot Simon. But he was able with the help of many benefactors from Korea and abroad to rebuild the monastery better and larger than it had been before. The centenary of the Benedictines in Korea could be celebrated on time in the fall of 2007 within the newly built facilities. However, it came at a cost. The health of Abbot Simon had suffered in the process. This then led to his resignation as abbot in spring 2013.
After that he went as chaplain to the convent of the Trappist Sisters in Sujong (Masan). The conditions there were good but his health continued to decline. On the morning of his death he walked, although he had difficulties breathing, to the church of the nuns to attend mass. It was the mass of the First Sunday of Advent. After entering the church he collapsed and died of a heart attack. It was an unexpected death for Abbot Simon himself and for all of us. His death was for us monks of Waegwan, for his mother, his siblings, the many oblates and Christians whom he had served with his rich knowledge and great fervour, a tremendous loss.
The funeral service for Abbot Simon was on 29 November at the abbey church. Many bishops, priests, religious and lay people came to participate and to say good-bye to our beloved abbot. After the requiem Abbot Simon was buried in the cemetery of our abbey near the Nakdong river.
May God reward him abundantly for everything he has done for our community and the whole Church of Korea.