Bishop Ignatius Kung Min Pei of Shanghai spoke to the priests assembled at a retreat. "You must not have any more illusions about our situation....You have to face prison and death head-on. This is your destiny. It was prepared for you because Almighty God loves you. What is there to be afraid of?"
It was early in the 1950s. Communism's dark clouds hung over the Chinese church. Were Kung's words mere bravado? He would soon be put to the test.
Because of its atheistic philosophy, the Chinese Communist government has always hated Christianity. If the church must exist, China's leaders want it under Communist control. Because of this, there has been cruel persecution of the church. Every effort is made to force independent leaders into the state-operated church, or to break those who will not yield.
Bishop Kung was one of those who would not yield. In the face of Communist pressure, he continued to carry out his Catholic ministry. In 1953, he openly led Shanghai's young Catholic men in a special evening of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, despite government attempts to keep the men away by blockading the streets.
On the night of September 8, 1955, the Communists arrested Bishop Kung and about 320 other Roman Catholics. Many of these people would suffer long years in prison, known no longer by their names, but by numbers. For five years, Kung was held in prison without a trial. Finally he was convicted of treason and sentenced to life. To go free, all he had to do was to renounce the pope and accept the Communist puppet church. He refused to do either.
And so, for thirty years, he had to live the Christian life relying directly on the Spirit of Jesus, because he was denied letters, books or the Bible. Much of his thirty years was spent in such strict isolation that the guards were not permitted to speak to him. He was not even allowed eye contact with another human being!
He was denied visitors, including representatives of human rights groups. But at least the world knew he was still alive. Another bishop was held in such secrecy that he was thought to be dead. A Jesuit captive, Francis Xavier Ts'ai, was forbidden to even move his lips in prayer. He used to silently repeat "My good Jesus, glorify yourself, and the rest counts for little."
While in prison, Bishop Kung was named a cardinal of the church. The Communists finally released him after three decades of captivity and placed him under house arrest. In 1987 he was allowed to attend a banquet with a Filipino cardinal, but was seated at the opposite end of the table and forbidden to speak with him. At the end of the banquet, Cardinal Kung lifted his voice to sing a Latin hymn. Its words conveyed a message to the Filipino cardinal, who relayed the message to the world: Cardinal Kung had not faltered in his love for Christ or allegience to the church.
In 1988, Cardinal Kung was permitted to leave China and take up residence in the United States.