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SHANGHAI (LifeSiteNews) — March 12 marked the 23rd anniversary of the death of Cardinal Ignatius Kung, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Shanghai from 1949 to 2000, who could rightly be called the Mindszenty of the East for his indomitable courage in the face of Communist persecution.  

Cardinal Kung saw the Catholic Church go underground in China and himself suffered at the hands of the Communist Chinese government with 30 years in prison for refusing to establish the Chinese Patriotic Association, the schismatic state-run church controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that demanded both adherence to atheistic Marxist doctrine and the renunciation of the authority of the Roman Pontiff. 

Cardinal Kung is little known today in much of the western world, though there is perhaps no name more revered among Chinese Roman Catholics of the underground Church, and while he lived, there was no man more feared by Communist authorities in Beijing. In 1957, Venerable Fulton Sheen wrote of the revered prelate, The West has its Mindszenty, but the East has its Kung. God is glorified in His saints.” 

Honoring the 23rd anniversary of the death of Cardinal Kung, a solemn requiem in the Traditional Latin Mass was offered at the Basilica of Saint John the Evangelist in Stamford, Connecticut, on Saturday, March 11.  

Sadly, just days before the anniversary of the death of this great witness to the faith in China, the present Jesuit bishop of Hong Kong, Stephen Chow, SJ — recently appointed by Pope Francis — announced that he had accepted an invitation from the Archbishop of Beijing, Joseph Li Shan, to visit his diocese, seminaries, and churches.

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Please SIGN this petition calling on Hong Kong leader John Lee to cease all intimidation of Cardinal Joseph Zen following his arrest for supporting pro-democracy demonstrators. 

Cardinal Joseph Zen, the Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, was arrested by the pro-China security police in Hong Kong in a major escalation of intimidation against pro-freedom activists in the region.

Zen was one of four people arrested on May 11th on suspicion of "colluding with foreign forces", with the 90-year-old's detention marking the first high-profile move by Hong Kong's new Chief Executive, John Lee.

The Hong Kong security police targeted Zen as a trustee of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which provided “legal, medical, psychological and emergency financial assistance” to those involved in the 2019 protests against the government’s Extradition Law Amendment Bill, which allows prisoners to be transferred to China for trial.

Cardinal Zen has since been released, but his passport was confiscated to prevent him leaving Hong Kong.

The arrest was made possible under the terms of Hong Kong’s draconian national security law, passed in 2020, which Zen warned would be used to silence the Church. 

The outspoken cardinal previously confessed that he was prepared to go to prison under the terms of the new law, saying, “If right and proper words were considered against their law, I will endure all the suing, trials, and arrests.”

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Cardinal Zen arrested in Hong Kong - LifeSiteNews

Cardinal Zen calls out Pope Francis for not answering dubia about ‘murder’ of Chinese Church - LifeSiteNews

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READ: Hong Kong bishop announces visit to Beijing for meeting with head of Communist gov’t-run church 

What the Bishop of Hong Kong did not mention in his announcement was the fact that the Archbishop of Beijing, although recognized by Rome, nonetheless, is also the president of the schismatic, state-run “official” church controlled by the Communists — the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which Cardinal Kung refused to establish or to have any part with. 

A priest of the underground Catholic Church in China told LifeSiteNews that the move by the Bishop of Hong Kong appeared to signal that the Catholic Church in Hong Kong would soon be joined to the schismatic Patriotic Association, thereby bringing the Church in Hong Kong under the full control of the CCP in yet another step along the road of decades-long persecution and martyrdom for Chinese Catholics. 

Were such a move to be made, the Catholic Church in Hong Kong — which until now has proudly maintained independence from CCP control — would see a new wave of martyrs, with Catholics forced to either accept Marxist indoctrination or go underground. 

A reminder of the indomitable courage and the uncompromising witness of Cardinal Kung could not be more timely 

The witness of Kung’s example is not needed only by the Catholics of mainland China and Hong Kong. The West has its fair share of culpability for the dire situation in which Chinese Catholics find themselves. Not only has Rome allowed the atheistic Communist government of Beijing to nominate bishops in an unheard-of new version of lay investiture, but U.S. bishops have for decades been accepting for theological studies priests and seminarians from the Patriotic Association, even donating to the state-run schismatic church, thereby playing into the hands of the CCP in Beijing, which had set the approbation of the Patriotic Association as a propaganda goal, the better to solidify its control over Catholics and the stamping out of the underground Church.  

Who then was the revered and feared Cardinal Kung, so loved by his flock and hated by his enemies? 

Cardinal Kung’s heroic witness

Born in 1903 and ordained a priest in 1930, Ignatius Kung Pin Mei witnessed the Communist takeover of China as a young man. He had no illusions about Communist intentions toward Christianity and the Catholic Church in particular. Ordained Bishop of Shanghai on Oct. 7, 1949, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, Kung’s episcopal ministry was marked by his devotion to Mary, to whom he turned at the height of the persecution, begging her to strengthen the Church to sustain the intense sufferings that were falling upon it. 

As bishop, Kung declared 1952 a Marian Year in Shanghai. In observance of the holy year, a statue of Our Lady of Fatima was taken on pilgrimage to all the parishes of the diocese, with the Rosary recited uninterruptedly 24-7 in intercession for the Church under persecution. To conclude the Marian Year, Kung himself led the Rosary with the faithful at the Church of Christ the King, where the parish priests had just been arrested by the authorities in a major incident. Hundreds of police watched outside. At the end of the Rosary, the cardinal prayed aloud, “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.”  

In order to keep the faith strong in China, Kung personally oversaw the work of the Legion of Mary. He trained hundreds of lay catechists to hand on the faith, knowing that it was only a matter of time before he and his priests would be arrested and imprisoned. Because of his efforts, the number of Chinese Catholics rose from 3 million to 10 million during his lifetime, despite the Church going underground, the hunting down of bishops and priests by the Communists, and the danger of imprisonment and death. Hundreds of members of the Legion of Mary were imprisoned and sentenced to labor camps, sometimes up to 20 years. Kung stood by his flock and clergy in the midst of these sufferings, refusing to flee despite numerous occasions to leave the country and several offers of safe passage. 

On September 8, 1955, Bishop Kung was arrested by the police together with more than 200 priests and Church leaders in Shanghai. Several months later, he was taken from prison to a “struggle session in the old Dog Racing stadium of Shanghai in what the Communist authorities intended to be a political, public “confession” of his “crimes, a typical Communist tactic with Church authorities, analogous to the political trials of Russia. Thousands of Chinese citizens were ordered to attend. Hands tied behind his back, the bishop was pushed forward to make his public confession in the stadium. To the shock of the security police, Kung shouted out, Long live Christ the King. Long live the Pope.” In response, the crowd, roused by his courage, began shouting, Long live Christ the King. Long live Bishop Kung. Kung was dragged away to the police car and thrown back in prison, where he disappeared from the world until his trial in 1960, when he was sentenced to life imprisonment. 

According to reports, “The night before he was brought to trial, the Chief Prosecutor asked once again for his cooperation to lead the independent church movement and to establish the Chinese 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.’” 

Kung was condemned by the Communists and vanished behind bars for 30 years, many of which were spent in solitary confinement. Requests to visit Kung in prison by international religious and government leaders were continually rejected. He was also not he afforded the rights of other prisoners: neither visits from relatives, nor letters, nor any communication with the outside world. 

After long efforts to secure his freedom, led by his nephew, Joseph Kung, Amnesty International, Red Cross, and the U.S. government, Bishop Kung was finally released from prison in 1985 and put under house arrest for 10 years. He was placed under the custody of the bishops of the Patriotic Association, who had betrayed him and attempted to take control of his diocese. Two and a half years later he was released from house arrest, but without the charge of being a counterrevolutionary ever exonerated. The bishop’s nephew obtained permission in 1988 to escort the aged prelate to the U.S. to attend to his poor health. 

‘Even to the shedding of blood’

Two episodes around the time of Kung’s release reveal his steadfast devotion to the See of Peter in Rome, and similarly, Pope John Paul II’s great esteem for this witness to the faith.  

Not long before his prison sentence was mitigated, Kung was allowed to join a banquet in honor of Cardinal Jaime Sin, Archbishop of Manila, who was visiting Shanghai. The event was organized by the Communist government, and the two prelates were seated at opposite ends of the table separated by more than 20 members of the CCP. They were not allowed any private conversation. During the dinner, at Cardinal Sin’s suggestion, each person present sang a song to mark the occasion. When Kung’s turn came, despite the presence of government officials and the bishops of the Patriotic Association, he turned to the cardinal and sang in Latin the liturgical antiphon in honor of St. Peter, “Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo Ecclesiam meam (You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church). 

Following the dinner, Kung was rebuked by the Patriotic Association Bishop of Shanghai, Aloysius Jin:What are you trying to do? Showing your position?” To which Kung replied, It is not necessary to show my position. My position has never changed. 

In 1991, Pope John Paul II announced that Kung had been elevated to the College of Cardinals. It was then revealed that the Pope had created him a cardinal in secret, in pectore, (in his own heart) without any public announcement, in 1979. This was only revealed after Kung’s safety was secured upon his leaving China. 

Kung came to the Vatican to receive the red hat from the Pope at the Consistory of June 1991, on the day before the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. At the ceremony, the aged bishop lifted himself out of his wheelchair, set aside his cane, walked up the steps, and knelt at the feet of the Pope. John Paul II was visibly moved and, lifting him up, placed the cardinal’s hat on his head and stood until the aged Kung returned to his place, upon which the crowd of 9,000 burst into a standing ovation lasting seven minutes in tribute to this confessor of the faith. 

Two days after Kung received the red hat, he preached on the grace of martyrdom to the Chinese Catholics who had come with him Rome for the occasion. He told them, 

Jesus Christ built His Church on St. Peter, the Rock. The gates of hell cannot prevail against it. This rock is nothing else but our strong faith in Jesus Christ, our great love for Jesus Christ, a love which will lead us not to hesitate to shed our blood and accept execution. Yesterday, we celebrated the great feast of the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul. Today, we celebrate the first martyrs of the first three centuries of the Church. However, we must not make the mistake of thinking that the persecution of the Church is an event of past history. No! Never! The Church, from the time of its foundation by Jesus Christ, throughout these 2,000 years up to the present time, has always grown and developed amidst persecution. Persecutions began and ended but they never ceased to be a mark of the Church’s life. So we must not be surprised when persecution comes, because it is a normal event for the Church to suffer persecution. 

During the past 40 years, the Church in China has suffered severe persecution. We have been able to stand in the front line of the Church. This is our glory. We should be glad and rejoice. As the Shanghai Catholic youths once said, “We are greatly honored to have been born and lived at this important time, able to bear witness to Christ.” Christ sees that we are worthy of this honor and wants us to participate more closely in His work of redemption. As St. Paul said and as our Holy Father repeated today during the Angelus message, “We should fill up in ourselves what is lacking in the Passion of Christ.” What a great glory it is for us that we can cooperate with Christ in carrying out His work of redeeming the world.

During the ceremony when the Holy Father gave the red hat, he used the ancient words, “Receive the red hat … you must be faithful, steadfast, indomitable, even to the shedding of blood.” The Holy Father repeatedly emphasized, “even to the shedding of blood.” From the day when I was officially proclaimed Cardinal, I will make every effort to be faithful to the teachings of the Church, disregarding any sacrifices. Before, I was in prison for 30 years for my faith and it can be said that I only suffered half martyrdom. I have not yet come to the point of shedding my blood. Now that I wear the red hat and have heard what the Holy Father expects from all the Cardinals, although I am old, I must be more vigorous, make more effort, that I may be faithful to Christ, to His Church, to His Vicar on earth unto death, even to the shedding of blood and execution.

During his last years, Cardinal Kung spent himself continually praying for the suffering underground Church in China. He sought to bring the world’s attention to the persecution under which the Catholics of China daily lived, appealing to Chairman Jiang Zemin in 1997, on his visit to the U.S., to allow the Church its freedom and to release the Catholics held in Chinese prisons and labor camps. Prior to the Consistory in 1991, Kung addressed China by radio through Voice of America, calling the Patriotic bishops to return to Rome with him. 

In retaliation for Kung’s refusal to establish or join the Patriotic Association and for his defense of the underground Church, Ye Xiaowen, the Director of the Religious Bureau of China, stated in an interview with the Chinese Press in New York on February 12, 1998,Kung Pin Mei committed a serious crime by dividing the country and causing harm to its people. Just one month later, the Chinese government confiscated the cardinal’s passport, officially exiling him. 

Cardinal Kung died on March 12, 2000, at the age of 98. The Cardinal Kung Foundation was established by his nephew, Joseph Kung, to preserve his memory and to continue the cardinal’s advocacy on behalf on the underground Church, a work that is still very needed today.  

The Catholic Church in China has not seen the last of its martyrs. The steadfast example of Cardinal Kung and his uncompromising refusal to join the Communist-run state Church should be a warning to those bishops who today seek the path of ease rather than the blood-stained path of martyrdom and the Cross.  

As Kung preached after receiving the cardinal’s blood-red hat:

As persecution must be expected, it comes as a special sign of the Church, and we should not try to make compromises or concessions of any kind in order to bring the persecution to an end quickly. We ourselves cannot take the initiative to create or arouse persecution. But if it comes to us one day, not only should we accept it readily from the hand of God, but we should even rejoice and be glad. As the Acts of the Apostles records, after they were beaten, the apostles left the Council, full of joy that God had considered them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus. (Acts 1:41)


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