Cardinal Kung: The Cardinal Mindszenty of China

From the Cardinal Kung Foundation

Ignatius Pin-Mei Kung was ordained a priest on 28 May 1930, consecrated bishop on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, 7 October 1949, just after the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had taken over China, and made the Roman Catholic Bishop of Shanghai, and the Apostolic Administrator of Souchou and Nanking in 1950.

Bishop in a persecution

In defiance of the CCP, Bishop Kung personally supervised members of the Legion of Mary to train catechists to pass on the faith when all the priests were gone. He declared 1952 to be a Marian Year in Shanghai, during which there was to be uninterrupted round-the-clock recitation of the rosary in front of a statue of Our Lady of Fatima which toured all the parishes of Shanghai. The holy statue finally arrived at Christ the King Church where a major arrest of the priests had just taken place only a month before. Bishop Kung led the Rosary there while hundreds of armed police looked on. At the end of the Rosary, 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." The police left the church.

Between 1951 and 1955 all foreign priests and religious sisters were deported from China, sometimes after time in prison. Chinese bishops, priests, sisters and legionaries were typically arrested, subject to public humiliation, brainwashing sessions, torture, and sent to labour camps for long periods (often more than 20 years) or simply executed. Not all Catholics remained faithful. Meanwhile conversions continued—especially in the prisons.

Bishop imprisoned

Bishop Kung was arrested along with more than 200 priests and other Catholics on 8 September 1955. He was subjected to a mob "struggle session" (an orchestrated denunciation by a baying crowd which sometimes becomes violent) in the old Dog Racing Stadium in Shanghai. Thousands were ordered to attend and to hear the Bishop's public confession of his “crimes". With his hands tied behind his back, wearing a Chinese pajama suit, the 5-foot tall bishop was pushed forward to the microphone to confess. To the shock of the security police, they heard a righteous loud cry of "Long live Christ the King, long live the Pope" from the Bishop. The crowd responded immediately, "Long live Christ the King, long live Bishop Kung". Bishop Kung was quickly dragged away to the police car and disappeared from view until he was brought to trial in 1960, when he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

The night before he was brought to trial, the Chief Prosecutor asked once again for his cooperation to lead the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA). 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.

Bishop Kung spent a total of thirty years in prison with long periods in isolation. Numerous requests to visit the bishop made by international religious and human rights organisations, and senior foreign government officials were rejected. He was not even permitted to receive his relatives, or letters, or money to buy essentials.

In 1979, Bishop Kung was made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in pectore (in secret). Not even Bishop Kung was aware of this honour.

Cardinal liberated

Eventually, in 1985, in the face of international pressure and the opening of China to western capitalism, Bishop Kung (as he was still publicly known) was released from jail to serve another term of 10 years of house arrest under the custody of the schismatic Patriotic Association bishops who betrayed him and betrayed the Pope and who usurped his diocese. After two and a half years of house arrest, he was officially released, but never pardoned.

Shortly before Cardinal Kung was released from jail, he was permitted to join a banquet organised by the Shanghai government to welcome His eminence Cardinal Jaime Sin, Archbishop of Manila, Philippines on a friendly visit. This was the first time that Cardinal Kung had met a visiting bishop from the universal Church since his imprisonment. Cardinal Sin and Cardinal Kung were seated on opposite ends of the table separated by more that 20 communists, and were prevented from speaking privately. During the dinner, Cardinal Sin suggested that each person should sing a song to celebrate. When the time came for Cardinal Kung to sing, in the presence of the Chinese government officials and the Patriotic Association bishops, he looked directly at Cardinal Sin and sang: Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo Ecclesiam meam ("Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church").

Cardinal Sin immediately carried Cardinal Kung's message to the Holy Father and announced to the world that this man of God had never faltered in his love of the Church or his people despite unimaginable suffering, isolation and pain.

Twilight years

Cardinal Kung left China in 1988 and finished his years in the United States. In 1991, he was officially presented with his cardinal’s hat on 29 June 1991 at the Vatican. He never ceased his prayers for his people and his activity to make known the plight of Catholics in China. Exasperated, and in a final gesture of malice, the Chinese government symbolically confiscated Cardinal Kung’s Chinese passport in 1998, thus making him an official exile—rejected by his nation, just like Our Lord.

He died on 12 March 2000, aged 98 years, in Stamford, Connecticut.

In his Mission magazine in 1957, Bishop Fulton Sheen wrote: "The West has its Mindszenty, but the East has its Kung. God is glorified in His saints."

View all the articles from Ite Missa Est