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CHINA: The Pope and Card. Gong Pinmei Exchange Greetings

Fides News, July 12, 1999

Except for one-time personal use, no part of the following FIDES Service material may be reproduced by any mechanical, photographic, or electronic process, nor may it be stored in a retrieval system, transmitted or otherwise copied for public or private use without written permission of FIDES Service.

(Editor's note: The name 'Gong' which appears in the following piece is a phonetic variant of the more familiar 'Kung', which in Chinese characters is the same.)

COPYRIGHT © By FIDES Service, Via di Propaganda 1-c, 00187 Roma. Reprinted By Permission

STAMFORD(Fides) - On July 31st, the feast of Saint Ignatius, Cardinal Gong Pinmei will not celebrate his name's day. At Holy Spirit Church, Stamford, USA, (where he has been exiled since 1987) he will celebrate a thanksgiving Mass in honour of Our Lady of Sheshan (a Marian Shrine on the outskirts of Shanghai). He has much for which he wishes to thank God: 20 years a cardinal, 50 years a bishop, 70 years a priest, 98 years of life. But Cardinal Pinmei wishes above all to thank Our Lady for her "loving protection…..during fifty years of persecution". For the occasion Pope John Paul II, who nominated him a cardinal secretly "in pectore" in 1979, sent a message of greetings to Cardinal Gong, through the Archbishop of Bridgeport, Mgr Edward Egan. The Pope's message is dated June 16th, the Cardinal replied on July 6th. We give below the texts of both messages and a biographical note on this dearly loved Chinese Cardinal.

"From the Vatican, June 19th, 1999:
As you gather with family and friends to celebrate a solemn mass of thanksgiving for the fiftieth anniversary of your Episcopal ordination and the twentieth anniversary of your elevation to the College of Cardinals, I send cordial greetings and the assurance of my closeness in prayer. With gratitude to Almighty God for the graces bestowed upon the whole Church through your faithful witness to the Gospel, I commend you to the loving intercession of Our Lady of Sheshan and gladly impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of joy and peace in Jesus her divine son.
John Paul PP II."

Here is the Cardinal's reply:
"Stamford, July 6, 1999
His Holiness
Pope John Paul II
Vatican City

Most Holy Father:

Laudetur Jesus Christus! I read with joy and gratitude your greetings together with your blessings and promise of prayers on my anniversaries. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the persecution of the Roman Catholic Church in China. The clergy and faithful in China are grateful that Our Lord Jesus Christ has chosen the least of His children as witnesses for the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Through the loving protection of Our Lady of Sheshan, the number of Roman Catholics in China has tripled during this half century of persecution. At my consecration fifty years ago, I pledged by complete fidelity and obedience to His Holiness Pope Pius XII, in the presence of his Nuncio Archbishop Riberi. Today, I humbly renew this same pledge of total fidelity and obedience to Your Holiness, the Vicar of Christ in earth. I give thanks to God for my vocation as I observe my 70th anniversary of priesthood. In all my years as a priest I have never ceased receiving happiness from Him even in my most difficult days. Your Holiness, I am forever grateful for your fatherly affection. Twenty years ago you raised me to the Sacred College of Cardinals from my Chinese dungeon. You held and nurtured me in your heart with prayers for twelve long years. It is unlikely that the underground bishops or I can travel to the eternal city to see you. However, your face, your teaching and your words of encouragement will always remain vividly in the hearts of your 9 million children in China. I kneel before you and beg for blessings for the Roman Catholic Bishops' Conference in China and for all your spiritual children there. We dare not pray for a miracle, but for the grace and courage to live the fullness of our faith, imitating the glorious examples of the many martyrs who shared our experience and have gone ahead of us. We pray that there will be "one flock and One Shepherd" and that we may soon be free to welcome you, our Supreme Pontiff, on China's soil.

Your devoted servant in Christ,

Ignatius Cardinal Gong
Bishop of Shanghai
Apostolic Administrator of Nanking and Soochow"

Biographical note:

Ignatius Gong Pin-mei was born in Shanghai on August 2nd 1901 into a family of fifth generation Catholics. He entered the seminary at the age of 19 and was ordained a priest on May 28th 1930. As a diocesan priest he taught for many years in Catholic schools. In 1949, when the Communists took power in Shanghai, Fr Gong was appointed Bishop of Soochow in June 9th. On July 15th he was transferred to Shanghai and appointed Apostolic Administrator of Soochow and Nanching.

He devoted himself to pastoral work also contributing considerably to the spread of the Legion of Mary, outlawed as "a spy association" by the government. Sensing that freedom was being more and more restricted he sought to prepare many young men for the priesthood. He was arrested with about a hundred other priests and Catholic leaders on September 8th 1955 and five years later given a life sentence. Released in July 1985, held under house arrest until 1997, he was then sent to the United States officially "for medical care". In 1991 Pope John Paul II revealed that he had created Bishop Gong a cardinal in pectore during the 1979 Concistory. In 1997, when Chinese president Jiang Zemin made an official visit to the United States, Cardinal Gong sent Mr Zemin a personal request for the release of Chinese Bishop Su Zhimin and other bishops and priests in prison. Last year, the Chinese Consulate in New York refused to renew his passport and withdrew his old one.

Cardinal Gong's stature is revealed by one incident in 1985. In 1985 when he was released after 30 years of prison and was still under house-arrest, Cardinal Gong met Philippine Cardinal Jaime Sin who travelled to China for the encounter. However the authorities only allowed the two cardinals to meet during an official lunch together with members of the Patriotic Catholics Association and of the Communist Party. At table there were at least twenty people between the two men. At the end of the meal the Cardinal of Manila suggested that each of the guests should sing something, according to sound Karaoke tradition. When it was his turn, Cardinal Gong sung out the Latin acclamation: "Your are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church". Highly embarrassed, some of those present tried to interrupt, but he continued looking meaningfully at Cardinal Sin. So the Philippine Cardinal was able to leave with a message for the world, that thirty years of prison had not in the slightest way weakened the faith of Bishop of Shanghai or his loyalty to the Pope.