Friday, March 12, 2021

The year was 2000. Today we remember the Archbishop Ignatius Kung Pin-Mei. The reading is "Imperatives" by Kathleen Norris.

It is the 12th of March 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at I'm Dan van Voorhis.

The year was 2000.

It was the last year of the 20th century, and so today, we will look back at this century from the perspective of Chinese Christianity. As far back as when St. Thomas was said to have been in India, there has been a Christian presence in China. You may remember from previous shows that it was the 16th and 17th centuries when indigenous Christians in the East were in contact with Jesuit missions. One account of this, the Catholic Church was the most prominent Christian community in China until the 19th century, when new and faster modes of travel brought on the evangelism explosion. Of course, a casual understanding of China in the 20th century reveals the church's difficulties. First, there was internal tension which tended to drive out foreigners. The Boxer Rebellion, the Northern Expedition of Chiang Kai Shek, World War II, and the rise of Mao and the Cultural Revolution all had anti-foreign elements. And being that Christianity was seen as foreign, the church was often suspected of nefarious and imperial designs.

But none of this was inevitable. In 1912, Sun Yat-Sen was named the President of post-Revolutionary China, and there was a reason for Christians to take note. An American missionary baptized the future head of the Kuomintang (or Nationalists in opposition to the Communists) in 1884. Chinese Christians emerged from their role as subordinates in the church to owners of an indigenous church.

But then Mao and the Communists… yada… yada. (This is not dismissive yada-ing, but rather that story is too long for now.) There are two important points about Mao and Christianity for today's show.

In 1949 there were an estimated one million Protestants in China and three Million Catholics. At the time of Mao's death in 1976, there were three million Protestants, yet only three million Catholics. We can dispute the exact numbers, but the fact is that the Catholic Church stayed steady but did not grow. Likely, the Catholic Church's intrinsic deference to a particular person and office exposed it to charges of cultural imperialism. The second thing to remember is that the CCP and Chairman Mao came to power on the 1st of October in 1949. That specific date is crucial because only seven days later, the Catholic Church would name Ignatius Kung Pin-Mei as Bishop of Soochow. Amidst the Communist crackdown, Kung needed to take on the bishopric of Nanking and Shanghai. Kung initiated a Catholic lay movement associated with the Ireland-based "Legion of Mary." In 1951, the Chinese Communist Party banned the Legion of Mary. In defiance, Kung proclaimed the following year a year of special Marian devotion. He and about 200 of his parishioners were arrested and sent to a "struggle session" (essentially a kind of deprogramming.) At the end of the session, Kung was expected to renounce his association with the church. Instead, he stepped to the mic and, in Chinese, proclaimed, "Long Live Christ the King and Long live the Pope."

Bishop Kung would spend the next 30 years in prison in almost complete isolation. Despite his imprisonment and isolation, he was occasionally allowed to minister to other prisoners and send messages to the faithful. In 1979 on account of his work, he was named Archbishop, but in "pectore," essentially, in the heart but not openly recognized for fear of retribution. With the death of Mao and the slight easing of restrictions under Deng Xiaoping, Kung was released to go to America for medical care. From there, he went to Rome, where he was officially named an Archbishop by Pope John Paul II. In 1991, Kung sent a message to Chinese Catholics via the Voice of America radio channel and continued ministering from Connecticut. A symbol of faithful indigenous Chinese Christianity in the turbulent second half of the 20th century in China, Archbishop Ignatius Kung Pin-Mei died of stomach cancer on the 12th of March in 2000. Born in 1901, the Chinese Catholic Archbishop was 98 years old.

The reading comes from Kathleen Norris. This is her "Imperatives."

Look at the birds

Consider the lilies

Drink ye all of it
Enter by the narrow gate
Do not be anxious
Judge not; do not give dogs what is holy
Go: be it done for you
Do not be afraid
Maiden, arise
Young man, I say, arise
Stretch out your hand
Stand up, be still
Rise, let us be going…
Remember me

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 12th of March 2021 brought to you by 1517 at The show is produced by a man who, if he were to dig straight down from Random Lake, Wisconsin, would end up just west of Australia in the Indian Ocean, Christopher Gillespie. (Try it for yourself at The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. And remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.

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