JEONJU, South Korea, Relatives, priests and Catholics bid farewell to Ji Jeong-hwan, a Belgian-born priest nicknamed "Cheese Pioneer," in a funeral mass in the southwestern city of Jeonju on Tuesday.

About 1,000 mourners, including those from the Jeonju Diocese, packed the city's Central Cathedral to pay tribute to Ji, whose birth name is Didier tSerstevens. They bowed deeply in front of a portrait of the late priest on an altar, with a mourner seen shedding tears.

The funeral mass began at 10 a.m. and lasted about one and half hours. Ji was interred at a Catholic grave in the city later in the day.

The Catholic priest, who died around 9:55 a.m. on Saturday at the age of 88, blazed the trail for the development of the South Korean cheese industry since arriving in the country in 1959.

He settled first in the town of Buan in the southwestern province of North Jeolla before moving to the nearby town of Imsil as the chief of the Imsil Cathedral in 1964, where he began raising goats, eventually opting to try to make cheese out of the goats' milk, which helped boost the area's economy.

Ji is credited with establishing South Korea's first cheese plant in Imsil, 300 kilometers southwest of Seoul, while supporting disabled and impoverished people at welfare facilities in the region.

The South Korean government has bestowed the second-grade national medal, called "Moran," on the priest.

Source: Yonhap news Agency