SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – Reverend Cho Yong-gi, whose founding of South Korea’s largest church was once a symbol of the growth of post-war Christianity in the country before that achievement was marred by corruption and scandals, died Tuesday. He was 85 years old.
Cho, pastor emeritus of Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, died in a Seoul hospital, where he had been treated since collapsing from a brain hemorrhage in July 2020, the church said. in a press release.
“He brought the gospel of hope to the Korean people who fell into despair after the Korean War,” the church statement read. “He was instrumental in the growth of the Korean church, especially the development of Yoido Full Gospel Church as the largest church in the world.”
Cho founded his church in Seoul with five worshipers in 1958, when South Korea was still struggling to rebuild itself from the ashes of the 1950-53 Korean War. Under his leadership, the church grew explosively and became a symbol of the rapid growth of Christianity in what was then a deeply Confucian country.
In 1993, the church had more than 700,000 members, making it the largest church congregation in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records, according to the church statement. Church officials said the church membership has since declined to around 600,000 and they cannot confirm whether their church is still the largest in the world.
It is still the largest Protestant church in South Korea. Church officials said their church has 400 pastors in South Korea and 500 missionaries abroad.
Despite her success, Cho and her family have been involved in numerous scandals in recent years.
In 2017, he was convicted of breach of trust and causing financial loss to the church, but avoided jail because he received a suspended prison sentence. In 2013, a politician filed a paternity complaint against one of her sons. His family has also been criticized for dominating key positions in the church and other church-related organizations.
Cho is survived by three sons. His funeral is scheduled for Saturday and the church will receive mourners from Wednesday, according to the church statement.