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Born in 1962 at Pusan Shi-Kyeong Nam, Fr John Lee Taesok took a medical degree in 1987 and was ordained a priest in 2001. The same year he was sent as a missionary to Sudan where he served the sick children and the poor in Tonj. He built a hospital for lepers and a school, and started a band to keep the children away from the war. He died from a tumour in January 2010, at 48 years of age having spent ten years as a missionary, priest and doctor in Sudan, providing an exceptional testimony to the Gospel.
A documentary “Don’t cry, Tonj” produced by Mountain Pictures, has already been made about him as an important and well-known person among the young in Tonj and Korea which h has been watched by about 10 million people, and also appreciated by non Catholics such as the members of the community of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism.
750 people including various religious and civil authorities attended the symposium, held in the auditorium of the Provincial House in Seoul. In his opening address Fr Stephanus Nam, Provincial of the Salesians in Korea, emphasised how important it was “to discover the roots of the life and spirituality of Fr John as a religious and priest missionary.”
Fr Marcelo Baek, Rector of the Provincial house and for ten years as a student a companion of Fr Taeseok, said that compared with other well-known figures –such as the Doctor Albert Schweitzer – the special characteristic of Fr Taesok was to be found in his religious and spiritual life: “The best title for him follows from his choice to imitate Don Bosco in his life as a Salesian. He is Don Bosco of Tonj."
Dr Teresa Shin, who worked for one year as a volunteer at the Don Bosco School in Tonj during Fr John`s final months there, recalled that "he never turned away in sorrow, never lost his mischievous sense of humour.”
Professor Bosco Moon, a former Minister for Education and currently chairman of the Korean Catholic Education Commission, spoke about the great impact made in the media by the film “Don’t cry, Tonj”, pointing out how positive this was as it “means people cannot just stay quiet. It gives them the sense of urgency to do some thing good for others.”
“A really great friend of young poor people in Tonj, a true master for his disciples, a strong bastion for patients, a healer of souls through the sacraments. Despite the shortness of his life he was able to do everything he could and wanted to do", Fr Stephen Yang the Vice Provincial noted as he spoke of Fr John Lee, “who faithfully put Jesus` teachings into practice as a Salesian of Don Bosco in everyday life.”
The symposium concluded with a viewing of a DVD narrating Fr John`s life in Tonj and comparing this to Don Bosco`s Oratory in Valdocco. The CEO of Mountain Pictures gave a substantial donation to the Salesian missions in Africa to the Provincial Fr Nam.