Highlights of the Funeral
Cardinal Paul Shan Kuo-hsi of Taiwan said goodbye on Saturday, March 18 to his friend and peer Ignatius Cardinal Kung Pin-Mei during an 11 am funeral Mass, which attracted some 1,700 mourners to St. John the Evangelist Church in Stamford, Connecticut. I think that Cardinal Kung could feel, in his last moment of earthly life, that "I have fought the good fight, I have finished this race, I have kept the faith", Shan, bishop of Kaohsiung, said during his homily. In both English and Mandarin, Cardinal Shan praised Cardinal Kung's devotion to God as a good shepherd of his flock and a faithful soldier of Christ.
The night before, on Friday, March 17, as the body of Cardinal Kung, dressed in white lace and golden garments and a miter, lay in state at St. John the Evangelist Church, the local Catholic community prayed at a memorial Mass celebrated by Bishop Edward Egan of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Friends, family, and parishioners paid tribute to the cardinal at the intimate service. Wreaths and bouquets of flowers decorated the church.
More than 100 people of different ethnic backgrounds attended the memorial Mass, including some who were imprisoned with Cardinal Kung in China. Philomena Hsieh, 67, converted to Catholicism in 1949 and was a parishioner of then Bishop Kung in Shanghai until they were arrested Sept. 8, 1955. She was imprisoned in a labor camp for the next seven years and then under house arrest until 1978, because she was a member of the Legion of Mary and also because she refused to denounce her bishop - bishop Kung. Though Hsieh lives in Maryland, she has visited Cardinal Kung many times over the past dozen years while he was in Stamford. "It means everything to be here tonight," Hsieh said after the service. "I lost everything - my house, my family - I was beaten, but I still keep my faith, that's the most important thing. Cardinal Kung was my example."
Kristin Kazyak, 47, drove from Front Royal, Virginia to be at the Friday evening service. A long-time admirer of Cardinal Kung, she said she heard of the cardinal's death and funeral only the day before the wake and immediately got in the car to make it to Stamford in time. "He's one of the greatest men of our time," Kazyak said. "He stood for freedom of religion for millions of Chinese. I'm so grateful to God to be able to be here to honor him. There are millions of Chinese who can't be here, so I came for them."
Bishop Egan said that Cardinal Kung will forever be in the prayers and hearts of the diocese. "It has been a privilege to host the cardinal here in our diocese since 1988 when he was released from 30 years of imprisonment and solitary confinement under the communist regime in China in testimony to his faith." He gave special thanks to Msgr. John Horgan, retired archivist of the diocese, for caring for Cardinal Kung as both confessor and an interpreter.
Msgr. Stephen DiGiovanni of St. John the Evangelist Church said he was amazed at the cardinal's "incredible gentleness." "I think people were really taken with his fidelity to his Church, especially in a time when people are so critical of the Roman Catholic Church," he said.
Former President Bush and first lady Barbara Bush sent a letter, which was read at the funeral by the president's brother, Prescott Bush of Greenwich, Connecticut, expressing their condolences to the Kung family. "Despite the adversities that life put in his way," Prescott Bush read, "Cardinal Kung stands forever as an example of courage and faith."
The pews at the funeral on Saturday were filled with people who had traveled long distances. Charles Teng, Taiwan's ambassador to the United States, paid last respects alongside Connecticut Public Safety Director Henry Lee, who represented Gov. John G. Rowland. "He was a shining example of courage and perseverance," said Teng. "He was a true spiritual leader," said Lee. "Everyone admired him."
"He's such a fantastic martyr," said Virginia Craig of Alexandria, Virginia, who came to the funeral with her husband Alan. "He suffered in a concentration camp for 30 years for our faith. He is one of the most wonderful men to have ever walked the earth."
The Rev. Steven Liu moved seven years ago from his native Taiwan to New York, where he is a priest at Our Lady of Christ In Elmhurst, Queens. "It was very important for me to be here and hear them tell about the cardinal's life and faith," Liu said after the service. "He took care of his flock and followed Jesus."
After the funeral the casket, which was flanked with lavish flowers from the government of Taiwan, was brought outside the church where the procession of bishops and clergy crowded along the sidewalk. A few of the bishops sprinkled the casket with holy water before it was loaded into the hearse.
Shortly afterward, on the same day, Mr. Joseph Kung, Cardinal Kung's nephew and the president of the Cardinal Kung Foundation, was accompanied by his wife Agnes and Msgr. Horgan on a flight that transported the cardinal's body to California for burial. On Sunday, March 19, at Star of the Sea Church in San Francisco, Cardinal Shan and Father Raymond V. Dunn, S.J., a member of the Board of Directors of the Cardinal Kung Foundation, led a congregation of mourners in a bi-lingual rosary - alternately led by Cardinal Shan and Fr. Dunn in Chinese and English, respectively. The rosary was followed by a Chinese Low Mass celebrated by Cardinal Shan.
The closing ceremonies came on Monday, March 20 with a Latin Tridentine Mass at the Church of the Five Wounds in San Jose. Some 1000 people attended the memorable Liturgy as their prayers, lifted by the service's glorious Gregorian Chant, were perhaps the first step toward the precious gift for the Church in China, the early canonization of Ignatius Cardinal Kung Pin-Mei.
Immediately after the Tridentine Mass, the cardinal's body was transferred to a chapel at the Santa Clara Mission Cemetery and placed in a vault above ground. Six years previously, the body of another Chinese member of the Church's hierarchy and friend of Cardinal Kung, Archbishop Dominic Tang of Canton, had been placed in a vault in the same chapel, and also above ground. (Archbishop Tang died while visiting Cardinal Kung in Stamford in honor, at the time, of the cardinal's 65th anniversary as a priest and his 45th as a bishop. Mr. Joseph Kung had also been the person who oversaw the archbishop's body to the Santa Clara Mission Cemetery.) That the bodies of these two Chinese bishops, ever faithful to the Successor of Peter and devoted to their flocks in Canton and Shanghai despite all adversity, are interred above ground expresses the hope that one day their mortal remains will be transported to China and interred, each at the foot of the altar of his respective cathedral. The same hope was expressed when Cardinal Mindszenty was interred above ground in Austria; and the hope was rewarded when his remains were transported back to Hungary.
In the light of the late Bishop Fulton Sheen's statement - "the West has its Mindszenty, the East has its Kung" - the hope rewarded by Mindszenty's triumphal return will be completed when China will be known as the shrine of Cardinal Kung.