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Ignatius Kung; Cardinal Long Imprisoned in China

March 13, 2000|From Associated Press

STAMFORD, Conn. — Cardinal Ignatius Kung, who spent 30 years in prison for defying attempts by China's Communist government to control Catholics through a state-run church, died Sunday. He was 98.

Kung died of stomach cancer at the Stamford, Conn., home of his nephew, Joseph Kung. He had been living there since coming to the United States in 1988 for medical treatment.

"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 monitors the millions of Catholics worshiping outside the rule of the official Chinese Catholic Church.

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 Assn. and oversaw the Legion of Mary, a group of devout Catholics. He continued to lead public devotions, sometimes under the wary eyes of police, Joseph Kung said.

In 1955, he was arrested and taken 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 tried 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 secretly had 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.

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