In China 20th death anniversary of Cardinal Kung passes unnoticed

Pope John Paul II greeting Cardinal Kung at the Vatican in 1988. Photo: UCAN/Cardinal Kung Foundation

CHINA (UCAN): The 20th death anniversary of Ignatius Cardinal Kung Pin-mei of Shanghai, went unnoticed in mainland China on March 12.

“The Chinese government does not like Cardinal Kung and therefore there is no public Mass for him,” said Father Zhu Lide, who was imprisoned by the Communist Party for 27 years and now lives in Taiwan.

In 1955, four years after China cut off diplomatic relations with the Vatican, the communist regime arrested the cardinal as part of its crackdown on the Church.

Over the next 30 years, he was kept in jail as the communist government began to control part of the Catholic Church, resulting in a division between the government-sanctioned official Church and the unofficial Church faithful to the Vatican.

In his long years in jail, the cardinal emerged as a symbol of the unofficial Church’s loyalty to the Vatican and resistance against communism, say Church leaders like Father Zhu. Pope St. John Paul II named him a cardinal in pectore (in the heart and therefore not announced) in June 1979 while he was still imprisoned. 

Cardinal Kung was released in 1986 but was kept under house arrest for two more years. He was unaware of his elevation to cardinal until he was released and met with the pope at the Vatican in 1988.

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The cardinal died in Stamford, Connecticut, in the United States, after a battle with stomach cancer at the age of 98. 

“Cardinal Kung is loved by the entire Church. In his time, there was only one Church, no unofficial or official Church,” Father Zhu said.

“All Catholics in China love him. His is a revered name for all Catholics but a prohibited one now in China,” he said. 

The US-based Cardinal Kung Foundation, whose president is Cardinal Kung’s nephew, Joseph MC Kung, has been working to open the cause of his beatification, but said the process has not yet started because it needs approval from Vatican authorities.

“We were given to understand that opening a cause needs an ecclesiastical authority. Cardinal Kung’s cause for sainthood has not been opened yet,” Agnes YH Kung of the foundation said.

The official community of the Diocese of Shanghai would find it difficult to start the process of beatification with the Vatican, some Catholics noted.

“Pushing for Cardinal Kung’s beatification is a waste of time and the Vatican would not accept it,” said Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun, the former bishop of Hong Kong.

He and some Church leaders believe that the Vatican considers an agreement that it signed with China on the appointment of bishops is more critical than the beatification process at this time.

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“Cardinal Kung is a faithful representative of the Catholic Church. How can the Vatican ignore his cause of beatification following Chinese authorities?” Cardinal Zen asked.

The Vatican could allow exceptions to initiate the process of beatification but is delaying the process because it does not want to offend China, Cardinal Zen said on March 16.

The Vatican is reviewing the 2018 provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops. 

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