Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Bishop Kung Was Tricky That Way

During the night of September 8, 1955, which is the feast of the birth of Mary in the traditional calendar, Ignatius Ping-Mei Kung, Shanghai's first native Chinese bishop, was arrested by Communist authorities. Before the night was over, police arrested more than three hundred Catholic priests, religious, and lay people in seminaries, churches and private homes around the city. Twelve hundred Shanghai Catholics were arrested by the end of that same month.

Bishop Kung was a Shanghai native, and his family had been Catholic for at least five generations. Few westerners are aware of this fact, but the Roman Catholic Church has had deep roots in China since the sixteenth century, and a large concentration of Catholics still live in Shanghai. The government claimed religious freedom was a basic right, so the Catholics were arrested ostensibly because they were said to be counterrevolutionaries. They knew the real reason was because they would not renounce their loyalty to the Pope.

The Communist Party (CP) had established the  (CCPA) as a local version of the Catholic Church that would renounce its ties to Rome. Four days after his arrest, Bishop Kung was brought out to a mass accusation meeting that was held in a former greyhound racing stadium where mass trials and executions were routinely staged.

Fortunately, according to documents discovered by historian Fr. Paul P. Mariani, S.J., author of Church Militant: Bishop Kung and Catholic Resistance in Communist Shanghai, the CP policy was not to kill Catholics, because they didn't want to create martyrs. Fr. Mariani found that the CP had established these goals: "to establish an independent church under the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), to educate Catholics to support this independent church, and to imprison any who stood in its way."

Everyone in Shanghai had heard about or seen the mass arrests, sometimes of thousands at a time, with the arrested ones being driven off in red paddy wagons, and everyone would have known about the ongoing executions at the stadium where thousands of Shanghai residents were brought to witness the proceedings. Bishop Kung probably was not aware of the CP policy of not killing Catholics, and so when he was taken to the stadium he may not have known whether he was was facing death or imprisonment if he did not cooperate. Wearing only Chinese pajamas with his hands tied behind his back, the diminutive, 5 feet tall but audacious Bishop Kung was thrust before a microphone to confess his "errors."

Instead he shouted: "Long live Christ the King! Long live the Pope!"

Many in the crowd responded, "Long live Christ the King! Long live Bishop Kung!"

The guards pointed their guns at the crowd and the cheering stopped. The authorities quickly whisked the Bishop away to solitary confinement and prolonged attempts to wear him down. He had a whole floor to himself, he later told reporters, and everyone was forbidden to make eye contact with him, except when they were trying to indoctrinate him.

Bishop Kung was out of sight, but the world had not forgotten his heroic sacrifice. Two years after Kung's arrest in 1955, Bishop Fulton Sheen wrote in his Mission magazine in 1957: "The West has its Mindszenty, but the East has its Kung."

Five years after his arrest, he was convicted of treason and sentenced to life in prison.

Bishop Kung was imprisoned for a total of thirty years, unable to correspond with anyone, even members of his own family. He was forbidden to say Mass, and he was not permitted to read the Bible. Many other loyal Shanghai Catholics endured the same kinds of long prison sentences and either died in anonymity, or were released after decades as broken men and women.

When Bishop Kung Tricked Them Again

I enjoy imagining the frustration of the Communist officials twenty-nine years after the scene in the stadium, when Bishop Kung tricked them once again.

This event occurred in 1984 during an eleven day trip to China by Cardinal Jaimie Sin from the Philippines, whose father had been Chinese. Cardinal Sin asked the authorities to let him see Bishop Kung during his visit to his ancestral homeland. Probably because of international protests about the imprisonment of Bishop Kung, who was on an Amnesty International list of prisoners of conscience, they concurred.

The Communists set up a show meeting on October 27, 1984. They seated Cardinal Sin and Bishop Kung at opposite ends of a long dining table and surrounded them with Communist leaders and bishops of the CCPA. Cardinal Sin and Bishop Kung were not allowed to talk personally to each other, but they slyly used their wits to get around all the machinations that had been put into place to keep them from communicating.

Cardinal Sin was well known as a great joker–he would tell people he lived in the House of Sin, for example–so his part in what happened that night wouldn't be much of a surprise. Cardinal Sin invited each attendee to sing a song during the dinner, which is a common practice in the Philippines. When Bishop Kung’s turn came, he looked directly at Cardinal Sin and began to sing in Latin the words by which Christ made St. Peter the first Pope. "Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo Ecclesiam meam (You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church).”

After Bishop Kung sang just a few bars, a Bishop of the CCPA told his superiors of Kung's ruse. They ordered Bishop Kung to be silent, but he looked at Cardinal Sin again and finished the song: “Et portæ inferi non prævalebunt (and the gates of hell will not prevail against it).” These word are sung multiple times every year during Latin Masses and the Divine Office for several feasts of the traditional liturgical calendar. Below is the Alleluia for July 29, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

In the Heart of the Pope

Cardinal Sin was soon able to pass onto the Vatican that clear message from Bishop Kung that he had never stopped affirming his loyalty to the Pope as the head of the Roman Catholic Church.

Bishop Kung did not know then that he had been secretly elevated to the College of Cardinals. He found out only after his release–first from prison later in 1985, and then from house arrest in 1988; he moved with his nephew to Stanford, CT, to get medical care in 1988. Cardinal Kung said this in an interview in 1999, "One year after my arrival in the United States, I was well enough to go to Rome where I was warmly received by Pope John Paul II. During that meeting, I was told by the Holy Father that I had been elevated in 1979, in pectore, to the College of Cardinals. I kept this a secret until our Holy Father announced it to the world on May 29, 1991."

In pectore (Latin) means in the heart of the Pope. Elevations in pectore are sometimes done when a pope wants to honor a cleric while not putting him or other Catholics in danger in a situation where the Church is being persecuted.

Cardinal Kung was finally given his red biretta on June 30, 1991 by Pope John Paul II. "When the Pope presented Cardinal Kung with his red hat in June 1991, the 90-year-old raised himself up from his wheelchair, put aside his cane and walked up the steps to kneel at the feet of the Holy Father. Visibly touched, the Pope lifted him up, gave him his cardinal's hat and stood patiently as Cardinal Kung returned to his wheelchair to the sounds of a seven-minute standing ovation from 9,000 guests in the Vatican audience hall."–"A Hero Dies in Exile" by Brian McGuire, National Catholic Register, Sunday, Mar 19, 2000.
For more about the struggles of the Church in China, and for how you can donate to help the underground Church, see the Cardinal Kung Foundation website.

Above: Christ's words to St. Peter are in gigantic letters 2 meters high against a gold background at the base of the drum of Michelangelo's dome in St. Peter's Basilica, illuminated by the light of sixteen windows
Above: "Tu Es Petrus" by Palestrina, sung at the last public Mass of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on Ash Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Christ Handing the Keys of the Kingdom to Peter (1481-1482) by Pietro Perugino, Sistine Chapel

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

I Once Was Lapsed, and Now I'm Relapsed

I was raised Catholic, but started being lured away from the faith when I was about 15. The root cause of my eventual loss of faith was essentially intellectual snobbery, pride, and ambition. Let me tell you a bit about how it happened that I left and came back again.

When I was 15 going on 16, I had back surgery and was hospitalized for a year. I continued my voracious reading habit in the hospital bed, while continuing to do teenager-type things such as painting my toenails blue and having contests with a friend in the next bed about who could fill the nightly bed pan the fullest by drinking huge amounts of water. I can still see the tolerant nurse's aid, with her starched white cap and uniform, struggling to carry away the brimming metal bedpans.

Every week my sophomore English teacher sent me four or five works of fiction by writers from Nathaniel Hawthorne to Mary McCarthy to Simone de Beauvoir. Most of the authors treated religious belief as a crutch for those who are too weak to stand the existential pain of living in a meaningless universe. In 1963, I got a scholarship to Brandeis University, where I did more class readings that cast religious belief in a negative light. I aspired to being a great intellectual, and so by the middle of my freshman year in college, I had left my crutch (my faith) behind and hobbled off alone.

The freshman cafeteria served rare roast beef every Friday, and one Friday I finalized my rebellion against the Church by eating that rare roast beef.

When I became a lapsed Catholic, at least I took with me a good basic grounding in the faith, from nine years of parochial school and from reading I had done on the side, such as the writings of St. Therese of Lisieux.

In 1964, I dropped out of Brandeis, started hanging around with artists and others on the fringes of society. I continued seeking enlightenment, following the trail of whatever the intellectuals and artists of the world had to say about the nature of truth and reality.

Fast forward to 1976, by which date I had been married and divorced. By then I had a 4 year old daughter and a 6 year old son, and I was living on welfare in Minneapolis, without any family or friends to help me. With the aid of the government child care funding and student loans, I was finishing my degree.

I started to notice that people who follow Christian teachings achieved more than the hedonistic, selfish artists that I previously admired. When I think of hedonistic, selfish artists, one fellow art student comes to mind. In an attempt to make original art, he slept and lived in the middle of a huge roll of paper. When he got another art student pregnant, he "supported" her by giving her money for an abortion and comforting her as she grieved afterwards.

It began to dawn on me that God's commandments were protective, rather than being the rules of a Big Meany in the Sky who was trying to steal our joy. For example, it occurred to me that when a person makes a life-long commitment to a single spouse instead of going through a series of "relationships," that person is spared the often-grievous pain of separating from one mate after another and (for that and other reasons) is more free to do good things with his or her life. That observation was a small beginning of growth of my trust in God's benevolent love.

Once I accepted the reality of God and Christ, I tried lots of Protestant churches: Presbyterian, Anglican, Methodist, Evangelical, Charismatic, Full Gospel, even Unitarianism. Eventually none of them satisfied because none provided the Eucharist. The Body and Blood of Christ alone would be powerful reason enough to return to the Catholic Church, but I also became aware of how necessary the Catholic Church's traditions are as guidance in interpreting the Scriptures.

Following are just two examples of where I saw the need for tradition, which I witnessed in a small church associated with a small denomination, the Evangelical Free Church.

In one Saturday Bible class taught by a laywoman, the pastor sat in. The woman interpreted certain passages in St. Paul's 1st letter to the Corinthians [1Cor14:33b-36] according to the historical context. Her point was that in those verses, St. Paul was not forbidding all women to speak, only deploring the disorder being caused by some newly-converted pagan women in the Corinthian Church of that day. Either because the pastor had slept through her class with his eyes open, or because he disagreed, the next day the pastor used the same verses in his Sunday sermon to reiterate that 1st Corinthians forbade women to speak out in Church. Individual interpretation of Scripture led these two individuals to draw totally different conclusions from the same set of Bible verses.

This next example was even more troubling. A Stanford and Yale-trained lawyer who was teaching a Bible class disagreed with the pastor about how the Evangelical Free Church should respond to Christ's "Great Commission" to go out and preach the gospel to the whole creation. That lawyer and his friends broke away and started an even smaller church, called Straitgate! Obviously (to me at least), with only the Scriptures as a guide to faith, the splintering of the Church that started centuries ago is still going on.

This is not to say that I found perfect adherence to the Catholic Church's interpretation of the Scriptures in the Catholic Church on my return. The worst example that I ever witnessed was at a retreat center. First the Franciscan priest stood up and read from the Gospel of the day Christ's words forbidding divorce, and then in his homily the priest said that Christ really wasn't against divorce. When I asked him later how he could contradict the Gospel by saying that Christ wasn't against divorce, the priest said that a theologian said so.

To my mind, that priest and many theologians too could benefit by seeking out what the Church has always taught about Scripture passages before they propose an original insight into the mind of God.

In spite of that priest, and in spite of other venal or misguided or evil priests and Church leaders, I couldn't consider leaving this Church again. The Church is the body of Christ. His Spirit lives in the Church and has guided it since the time of the apostles. The Church has the authority given to St. Peter and the apostles and has the traditions to guide interpretation of the meaning of the Scriptures. As Peter said, "Where else would I go, Lord? You alone have the words of eternal life."