STAMFORD, Conn. — Cardinal Ignatius Kung Pin-mei died in exile from his beloved China.
The former bishop of Shanghai, whose refusal to renounce his faith or his fidelity to Rome led to 30 years of imprisonment and isolation under China's communists, died at his home in Stamford, Conn., on March 12. He was 98. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer in late February.
Cardinal Kung had lived with his nephew, Joseph Kung, for the past three years. Kung said his uncle would be remembered as a hero to underground Catholics in China.
“He should be remembered as a hero, as a confessor of the faith, as a person who devoted extraordinary devotion to his Church, to God, to the Holy Father, and as a symbol of Catholicism in China,” said Kung, 67, president and founder of the Stamford-based Cardinal Kung Foundation.
Harry Wu, a former political prisoner who attended Cardinal Kung's church in Shanghai as a young man, voiced similar sentiments. He told the Register that the cardinal was an inspiration to him during his own time in the Lougai, the Chinese gulag.
Wu, speaking from his home in Los Angeles one day after the cardinal's death, advised Western leaders to reject the advances of China's Communist-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, and to learn from the witness of Cardinal Kung.
“Today some American, Western religious and political leaders are going to recognize the Chinese Patriotic church,” Wu noted. “They should remember Bishop Kung — he would rather stay in jail for 30 years and not cooperate with the Patriotic Association. He was one of the models who never gave up.”
Joseph Kung said his foundation aims to inform the world of the “intensifying” persecution of the 9 million to 10 million underground Chinese Catholics. He added that since the early 1950s the underground Church in China viewed his uncle as its symbolic leader.
Life of a Hero
A press release from the Kung Foundation formed the basis for the following report on the cardinal's life.
Ignatius Kung was ordained a priest May 28, 1930, and consecrated a bishop — the first native Chinese bishop of Shanghai — Oct. 7, 1949, after the Communists had already taken over China.
On Sept. 8, 1955, he was arrested with more than 200 other priests and Church leaders by Communist officials. Months later, Bishop Kung was taken to a dog-racing stadium in Shanghai. Thousands were ordered to attend in order to hear the bishop publicly confess his “crimes.” With his hands tied behind his back and wearing a pajama suit, the diminutive bishop was pushed forward to the microphone to confess.
To the surprise of the security police, he instead shouted: “Long live Christ the King! Long live the Pope!”
The crowd responded immediately with “Long live Christ the King; long live Bishop Kung.”
Bishop Kung was quickly dragged away to a police car and disappeared from the world until 1960, when he was brought to trial and sentenced to life imprisonment.
While still imprisoned, he was created a cardinal by Pope John Paul II, secretly, in 1979. The Holy Father publicly proclaimed him a cardinal on June 28, 1991. At his death, he was the world's oldest cardinal.
In the five years before his arrest, Bishop Kung became one of the most feared enemies of the Chinese Communists, commanding the attention and devotion of the country's then 3 million Roman Catholics.
The Year of Mary
Amid persecutions, Bishop Kung declared 1952 a Marian year in Shanghai. During that year, there was to be uninterrupted recitation of the rosary 24 hours a day in front of a statue of Our Lady of Fatima, which toured all parishes. The statue finally arrived at Christ the King church where priests had been arrested one month earlier. Bishop Kung visited the church and personally led the rosary while hundreds of armed police looked on. At the end of the rosary, leading the congregation, Bishop Kung prayed: “Holy Mother, we do not ask you for a miracle. We do not beg you to stop the persecutions. But we beg you to support us who are very weak.”
Knowing that he and his priests would soon be arrested, Bishop Kung trained hundreds of catechists to pass on the faith. The efforts of these catechists, their martyrdom and that of many faithful and clergy contributed to the underground Catholic Church in China today.
The night before he was brought to trial, the chief prosecutor asked once again for his cooperation to leave the independent church movement and to establish the Patriotic Association. His answer was: “I am a Roman Catholic bishop. If I denounce the Holy Father, not only would I not be a bishop, I would not even be a Catholic. You can cut off my head, but you can never take away my duties.”
Shortly before being released from jail in 1985, to serve an additional 10 years of house arrest, Cardinal Kung was permitted to join a banquet organized by the Shanghai government to welcome Manila Cardinal Jaime Sin, on a friendship visit.
He and Cardinal Sin were seated on opposite ends of the table and separated by more than 20 Communists. During the dinner, Cardinal Sin suggested that each person sing a song to celebrate. When Cardinal Kung's turn came, he is reported to have looked directly at Cardinal Sin and sung, “Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo Ecclesiam meam” (You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church).
Cardinal Sin soon after carried Cardinal Kung's message to Pope John Paul II.
Cardinal Kung was released from prison in 1987 and allowed to come to the United States for medical treatment. His nephew received permission to bring him to Connecticut, where he lived until 1997 as the guest of Bridgeport's late Bishop Walter Curtis in a retirement home for priests.
When the Pope presented Cardinal Kung with his red hat in June 1991, the 90-year-old raised himself up from his wheelchair, put aside his cane and walked up the steps to kneel at the feet of the Holy Father. Visibly touched, the Pope lifted him up, gave him his cardinal's hat and stood patiently as Cardinal Kung returned to his wheelchair to the sounds of a seven-minute standing ovation from 9,000 guests in the Vatican audience hall.