The government indicted him as "the most faithful running-dog of the reactionary Vatican" and imprisoned him without trial or conviction of any specific crime on February 5, 1958. Thus began 22 years in prison, including seven years of solitary confinement. Malnutrition and mental torture were some of the sufferings he would record in his journal, How Inscrutable His Ways!, published in 1987. "I obeyed only the regulations which did not conflict with the principles of my faith. . . . There are many opportunities for practicing virtue in prison." Bishop Kung would endure similar affliction for 33 years and, like him, Tang contracted cancer and was sent to Hong Kong upon his release in 1981 in what the government called "an act of leniency." In that same year, Pope John Paul II elevated Tang to archbishop.
I came to know him in the last years of his life when he spent his exile visiting Chinese Catholics in Japan, Southeast Asia, Australia, Europe, the United States, and Canada. A joy to him was celebrating anniversaries with his mentor, who had been made a cardinal. Our last time together was in Connecticut at Cardinal Kung’s celebration of 65 years in the priesthood. One month later, at 1:40 p.m. on June 27, he died from pneumonia. Archbishop Tang had not expected to die first: "Cardinal Kung and I are the only two bishops from Communist China living in the free world. The Cardinal is seven years older than I. He cannot travel easily. I must do the traveling for both of us, to bring the situation of the persecuted Church to the free world."
When I first met him, I had little knowledge of his life. We both spoke at a symposium in St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. At lunch I was surprised by how he kept dropping his food. Later I learned that his hands had been crippled during his prison years. I still reproach myself for my superciliousness. When he offered Mass in the chapel, deacons assisted him as he shuffled up the long aisle. After his only pair of shoes had worn out in prison, he had spent the rest of those 22 winters barefoot. The Communists had promised to release him at any time, if only he would renounce allegiance to Rome. From the altar he cried out three times to the assembled faculty and seminarians in halting English: "No pope, no Catholic Church!"
When he was dying and apparently unconscious, Cardinal Kung held a crucifix to his lips and he kissed it three times. Archbishop Tang’s body was taken to California for temporary burial in the old Mission of Santa Clara, where the local bishop gave permission for a Pontifical Requiem Mass in the old Latin use, provided it be celebrated facing the people. Cardinal Kung’s prayers seem to have worked: Shortly before the rites, permission was given for the Mass to be offered facing East. Five years later, His Eminence was buried next to his friend, and both bodies face East in the expectation that the two old men who, in youth, had bicycled together will in a great dawn be buried in their cathedrals of Canton and Shanghai.
Rev. George W. Rutler is the pastor of the Church of our Saviourin New York City. His latest book, Coincidentally: Unserious Reflections on Trivial Connections, is available through Crossroads Publishing.