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Cardinal Ignatius Kung, who spent 35 years in prison for defying attempts by China's communist government to control Catholics through a state-run church, died Sunday, March 12. He was 98.
Kung died from stomach cancer at the Stamford home of his nephew, Joseph Kung. He had been living there since coming to the United States in 1988 for medical treatment, the nephew said.
"Many people, because of his example, took the risk of defending the church, of defending the pope and, as a result, literally hundreds, or thousands, went to jail," said Joseph Kung, president of the Cardinal Kung Foundation, which documents the ongoing persecution of the "underground" Catholic Church in China at the hands of the Patriotic Catholic Church controlled by the Communist government.
Ignatius Kung, born in Shanghai in 1901, was named bishop of Shanghai and apostolic administrator of the dioceses of Nanjing and Suzhou only days after the communists founded the People's Republic of China in 1949.
Instead of following the government's orders, he shunned the government-backed Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and oversaw the Legion of Mary. He continued to lead public devotions, sometimes under the wary eyes of police, Joseph Kung said.
In 1955, he was arrested and brought before a mob in a stadium, where he was accused of defying the church. When he was pushed to a microphone to confess, he instead shouted, "Long live Christ the King, long live the pope," his nephew said.
Kung was brought to trial and sentenced to life in prison for leading a "counterrevolutionary clique under the cloak of religion."
A combination of campaigns by human rights groups, Kung's ill health and China's desire to court the West gained his release 30 years later, in 1985. The government gave him permission to travel to the United States in 1988 for treatment of hearing and heart problems.
Pope John Paul II had secretly named Kung a Cardinal in 1979 while Kung was still in prison. In 1991, at 90, Kung was formally installed in a Vatican ceremony. Despite his frail health, he refused the advice of Church officials to remain standing and knelt before the Pope to receive his red Cardinal's biretta.
Before his death, after several years in the United States, Kung Pinmei, 98, strove to inform the world of China's persecution of non-official Catholics, the Cardinal Kung Foundation said in a faxed statement.
"He remained the inspiration of the nine to 10 million underground Roman Catholics in China and the hated enemy of the Chinese communist government," the US-based foundation said.
At the Fatima: World Peace 2000 conference held in Hamilton in October of 1999, Joseph Kung from the Cardinal Kung Foundation delivered a dramatic speech which documented the ongoing persecution of the Catholic Church in China. He also spoke of the life and heroism of his uncle, Cardinal Kung.
The funeral for Cardinal Kung will be held Saturday, March 18 at 11 a.m. at Saint John the Evangelist Church in Stamford, CT.
Please remember the soul of Cardinal Kung in your prayers.