On September 8, 1955, the international news agencies reported from Shanghai the overnight arrest by Communist officials of the city's Catholic bishop, Ignatius Kung Pin-mei, and of 200 Catholic priests. Several months later Bishop Kung was hauled before a crowd in a dog-racing stadium in Shanghai to confess his crimes and denounce the pope. Standing with his hands tied behind his back, he shocked the security police by proclaiming into the microphone: "Long live Christ the King. Long live the pope."Many in the crowd echoed the chant, and Bishop Kung was abruptly dragged away by police and not seen in public until four years later, when he was put on trial as an enemy of the Communist government and sentenced to life imprisonment. This story, told by Kung's nephew, Joseph Kung, who looked after the Roman Catholic Cardinal in his final years, reveals one defining moment in a long life marked by dedication to human rights, loyalty to the pope and open defiance of Communist rule in China. Cardinal Kung died in the early hours of March 12 in Stamford, in the US state of Connecticut where he had lived with his nephew since 1988. At the age of 98 years, Ignatius Kung was the Catholic Church's oldest cardinal. Kung spent 30 years in prison for defying the Communist government's attempt to control Roman Catholics through a state-run church. Throughout that period and until his death, he retained the titles of bishop of Shanghai and apostolic administrator of Suzhou (which the Vatican had conferred on him in 1949, only six days after the Communists came to power). Joseph Kung told Ecumenical News International (ENI) his uncle's greatest gift to the world was a simple message: "Trust God and practice religion according to your conscience."That's why he is a symbol for the Catholics of China—both the official [the state-sponsored Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association] and unofficial [underground Catholic Church, which is loyal to the Vatican] churches there. This is true regardless of the fact that the Chinese government still considers him a criminal there. Why were they so afraid of a 98-year-old cardinal?"During the cardinal's final years many seminarians and young priests traveled to Stamford to seek his advice, Joseph Kung told ENI. "He always told them: 'Do God's will, and do it well'."Joseph Kung added that he had received phone calls of condolences from around the world acknowledging the inspiration his uncle gave to the cause of religious freedom and human rights worldwide. Though his uncle spent much of his 30 years in prison in isolation and privation, Kung said, "he died literally in the arms of his loved ones in his own home."Ignatius Kung was ordained a priest 70 years ago on May 28, 1930, and consecrated a bishop on 7 October 1949. He was the first native Chinese Bishop of Shanghai, and he served in that role in the early years of Communist rule.While Chinese officials tried to get him to serve in the Catholic Patriotic Association, Kung denounced the order and became a symbol of hope for a struggling Roman Catholic community in his country.In defiance of the Patriotic Association, Kung personally supervised the Legion of Mary, a religious organization of the laity that strengthened the underground Roman Catholic Church."He was a man who inspired millions of his countrymen to follow his example of fidelity to the Roman Catholic faith and who preserved the Roman Catholic Church in a communist country for the past 50 years," said Joseph Kung. "He was a man who became a symbol for world leaders in all countries in their fight for religious freedom. No account of religious persecutions or of any human rights violations in China is complete without a few words about His Eminence Cardinal Kung."For 30 years, Kung's family—along with Amnesty International, the Red Cross and the United States Government—lobbied Beijing for his release. Kung was released from prison in 1985 and sentenced to another 10 years of house arrest in China.But in 1988 his nephew went to China and obtained permission to escort him to the US to receive treatment for stomach cancer.According to a statement released by the Vatican following his death, Cardinal Kung said after obtaining his freedom: "During my years in prison I prayed and I acted as the bishop of this city, sharing my people's sufferings. With God, time is never wasted."Pope John Paul II secretly named him as cardinal in 1979—when Kung was still in prison. But the formal ceremony installing him as cardinal had to wait until June 28, 1991 when Pope John Paul officially made Kung a cardinal, at the age of 89.In March 1998, the cardinal tried to renew his Chinese passport, but the Chinese consulate in New York confiscated it, making him a permanent exile. According to the Tablet, a leading Catholic weekly magazine in London, Shanghai's Catholics were deeply upset to lose their pastor in this way "and the situation in Shanghai remains difficult to this day."Soon after he was told of the cardinal's death, Pope John Paul II released a statement saying: "I join all of you in giving thanks to almighty God for the late cardinal's priestly and episcopal ministry in the Diocese of Shanghai, his heroic fidelity to Christ amid persecution and imprisonment and his outstanding witness of communion with the universal Church and the Successor of Peter. I pray that, having shared so deeply in Christ's sufferings, he may now receive the unfading crown of glory which the Chief Shepherd reserves for those who have followed him faithfully to the end."Joseph Kung is director of the Cardinal Kung Foundation, which was founded on the basis of Ignatius Kung's witness to the Gospel.Copyright © 2000 Ecumenical News International. Used with permission.
Cardinal Kung Foundation site offers a biography and obituary of Kung, news about the Roman Catholic Church in China, articles, and other information.The October 1, 1999 episode of Religion & Ethics Newsweekly profiled religion in China and Cardinal Kung's 85th birthday. The
transcript is online.
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