Thursday, November 5, 2015

The passion of Cardinal Mindszenty, Cardinal Patriarch of Hungary

József Mindszenty 1974.jpg

Cardinal Josef Mindszenty (29 March 1892 - 6 May 1975) was the Prince Primate of Hungary from 2 October 1945 to 18 December 1973. For decades, he personified opposition to godless tyrannical governments that would have the Catholic Church to be strangled and obliterated.  During World War II, he was imprisoned by the pro-Nazi "Arrow Cross" party, speaking up against the persecution of the Jews. In 1946, Stalin installed a puppet Communist regime in Hungary, and Mindszenty was vocal in his opposition to the tyrannical communist regime. Eventually, Cardinal Mindszenty became a martyr - even if he never physically shed blood - of the communist persecution and tyranny during its despotic takeover of Hungary from the late 40's to the fall of the communist government in 1989.

In her memoirs ("His Humble Servant - Sister M. Pascalina Lehnert's Memoirs of Her Years of Service to Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII", p 150), Sister Pascalina Lehnert recalls Pope Pius XII prophesying at the elevation of Archbishop Mindszenty to the cardinalate on 21 February 1946 that "Among these thirty-two you will be the first to suffer the martyrdom symbolized by this red color.":
"At this point, I recall vividly another martyr among the first cardinals created by Pius XII. When I asked the Holy Father in amazement on the occasion of this bishop's being made a cardinal [21 Feb. 1946], "But how could Your Holiness know what you were saying to the Cardinals? Isn't it terrible for him to hear such a prognosis from the Holy Father?" Pius XII replied that he had been startled himself when he heard himself say, "Among these thirty-two you will be the first to suffer the martyrdom symbolized by this red color." When pictures later appeared in the newspapers of the terrible show trial [in February 1949] dragging the tortured Cardinal and Archbishop of Esztergom before the eyes of the whole world, Pius XII said with tears in his eyes, "My words have come true and all I can do is pray, I cannot help him in any other way."
On 12 February 1949, Pope Pius XII announced the excommunication of all persons involved in the trial and conviction of Mindszenty.

Continuing with Sr Pascalina's memoirs:
However, the Holy Father did not remain silent! The stirring questions he addressed to the enormous crowd gathered in St Peter's Square on February 20, 1949, in protest against this inhumanity remain unforgettable to me, and certainly to thousands of others who heard them as well:
"Do you want a Church that remains silent when She should speak; that diminishes the law of God where she is called to proclaim it loudly, wanting to accommodate it to the will of man? Do you want a Church that departs from the unshakable foundations upon which Christ founded Her, taking the easy way of adapting Herself to the instability of the opinion of the day; a Church that is a prey to current trends; a Church that does not condemn the suppression of conscience and does not stand up for the just liberty of the people; a Church that locks Herself up within the four walls of Her temple in unseemly sycophancy, forgetting the divine mission received from Christ: 'Go out the crossroads and preach the people'? Beloved sons and daughters! Spiritual heirs of numberless confessors and martyrs! Is this the Church you venerate and love? Would you recognize in such a Church the features of your Mother? Would you be able to imagine a Successor of St. Peter submitting to such demands?"

Time Magazine Cover for 14 February, 1949.  

Students stand on top a tank during the early days of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.
Citizens watch a demolished statue of communist tyrant Joseph Stalin during the 1956 Hungarian revolution.

On 30th October 1956, during the Hungarian uprising against the Communist tyranny, Cardinal Mindszenty was briefly freed from prison by the liberating forces; however on 4th November 1956, the Soviet Union crushed the uprising and invaded Hungary. Cardinal Mindszenty took refuge in the American embassy and lived there for the next 15 years, unable to participate in the next two papal conclaves. Saddened by these events, on 5th November 1956, Pope Pius XII issued an encyclical decrying the suffering of the Hungarian people by unjust oppression:




Venerable Brethren,

Greetings and Apostolic Benediction.

In the Encyclical Letter which We recently wrote you, Consecrated Shepherds of the Catholic world, We expressed Our hope that a new day of peace based on justice and liberty might be dawning upon the noble people of Hungary. For conditions in that country seemed to be improving.

But tidings have reached Us lately which fill Our heart with pain and sorrow. There is being shed again in the cities, towns, and villages of Hungary the blood of citizens who long with all their hearts for their rightful freedom. National institutions which had just been restored have been overthrown again and violently destroyed. A blood-drenched people have been reduced once more to slavery by the armed might of foreigners.

We cannot help but deplore and condemn (for so Our consciousness of Our office bids Us) these unhappy events which fill all Catholics and all free peoples with deepest sorrow and indignation. May those whose commands have caused these tragic events come to realize that the rightful freedom of a people cannot be extinguished by the shedding of human blood.

We who watch over all peoples with a father's concern assert that any violence and any bloodshed which anyone unjustly causes is never to be tolerated. On the contrary, We exhort all people and all classes of society to that peace which finds its basis and nurture in justice, liberty, and love.

The words which "the Lord said to Cain. . . 'The voice of thy brother's blood crieth to me from the earth'," (Gen. 4, 10) are relevant today. For so the blood of the Hungarian people cries out to God. And even though God often punishes private individuals for their sins only after death, nonetheless, as history teaches, He occasionally punishes in this mortal life rulers of people and their nations when they have dealt unjustly with others. For He is a just judge.

May our merciful Redeemer, We suppliantly pray, move the hearts of those upon whose decisions these matters depend, that an end may be put to injustice and a finish to violence, that all nations, being at peace with one another, may be united in peaceful and tranquil harmony.

Meanwhile, We implore a most merciful God on behalf especially of all those who have been tragically slain in the course of these unhappy events. May they find eternal life and unending peace in heaven. We desire that all Christians join Us in praying to God for them.

And as We address these words to you, We lovingly impart Our Apostolic Benediction to each and every one of you, Venerable Brethren, and to your flocks, and in a very special way to Our beloved Hungarian people. May it be a pledge of heavenly graces and a witness to Our paternal love.

Given at Rome from St. Peter's, on the fifth day of November, in the year 1956, the 18th of Our Pontificate."


The following brief biography from a article provides further details about the heroic cardinal's life:

" 'The  life and 'Crimes' of Cardinal Josef Mindszenty' 

A half century has passed since the Dec. 26, 1948, arrest of Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty in Esztergom, Hungary. It's been almost 50 years since he was convicted of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Jozsef Pehm was born in Mindszent, Austria-Hungary (now Hungary) on March 29, 1892, to peasant farmers. The cardinal later changed his German-sounding surname to Mindszenty, after his place of birth.

Ordained in 1915 and consecrated bishop of Vesprem in 1944, he was appointed archbishop of Esztergom, the primate of Hungary, the following year. In 1946 Pope Pius XII made him a cardinal.

At the time of his being taken into custody two years later, arrest was nothing new to Cardinal Mindszenty. In 1919, he had been jailed for condemning a state takeover of Catholic schools and urging people not to give in to the new regime which would, under the guise of benevolence, obliterate the Church. In 1944, he had spent four months in prison for resisting authority, inciting the people to violence and opposing Nazism.

Convinced that the cardinal was "the center of the counter-revolutionary forces in Hungary," the communist authorities wanted him. The immediate issue was an order that Hungary's 4,813 Catholic schools be nationalized. The cardinal had driven from village to village urging people to ignore the communist lies and refuse to give up their schools and their land. The police had responded by seizing his sound truck and portable generator. At his order, church bells tolled.

Although the publication of his last pastoral letter was banned, one copy made it to The Voice of America radio broadcast, and the communists shouted "subversive activity." The November 1948 letter ended:

"I stand for God, for the Church and for Hungary. . . . Compared with the sufferings of my people, my own fate is of no importance. I do not accuse my accusers. ...I pray for those who, in the words of Our Lord, 'know not what they do.' I forgive them from the bottom of my heart."

Explaining that neither he nor the Church had provoked the enmity of the Hungarian government, he wrote in an open letter in December, "Communism is an atheistic ideology: hence by its very nature it is opposed to the spirit of the Church."

On the day of his arrest, police cars surrounded his residence. An account of the event notes that his mother and some of his faithful aides were with him when the boisterous police came for him. As the officers approached, he scribbled a note telling his fellow priests to be skeptical if they heard that he had "resigned" or "confessed," because it would be merely a sign of "human frailty."

He donned his poorest bishop's robe and his simplest bishop's ring. In his pocket was a picture of Jesus crowned with thorns. The giver had inscribed it, "devictus vincit" — "defeated, He is victorious." That picture would give him comfort in his dark hours. With time for only a quick good-bye to his aged mother, he was whisked away at night.

A long list of charges had been carefully concocted — lies made to seem logical. His accusers twisted his words, took them out of context and used forgery to produce documents of confession that they said he had signed.

Every night he was beaten. At daybreak, dressed in clown clothes, he was taken for questioning. For a time he was strong — some say obstinate — and he would not "cooperate." He ate little because he knew the food contained mind-altering drugs, and if in exhaustion he began to doze, he was prodded awake.

In February 1949, body and mind broken, Cardinal Mindszenty underwent what he later called a "show trial." The truth was never sought. He was accused of more than 40 "crimes," the most notable of which were foreign-currency abuses (yes. he had sought American intervention for his people and for the Church's monetary holdings), sabotage of Hungarian land reform (yes, he had tried to help his people keep their land and their churches), and conspiracy with the Hapsburgs (yes, he had spoken against the Communist People's Party).

"I am guilty on principle and in detail of most of the accusations made," the cardinal said shakily. He disowned the disavowal he had written earlier. When asked why he wrote it, he answered feebly, "I didn't see certain things as I see them now."

This was not the voice of the strong man who had been arrested. It was obvious he had undergone unspeakable torture.

The prosecutor's summation stated that Cardinal Mindszenty had confessed to inciting "the American imperialists to declare war on our country." He was falsely found guilty of treason.

Although that crime called for hanging, instead he was sentenced to life imprisonment. The government didn't want him seen as a martyr or hero of freedom.

The verdict and sentence were heard around the free world. It wasn't just the Hungarians — who saw him as "their priest" — who were horrified, but people in Western Europe and the United States as well.

Pope Pius XII called Cardinal Mindszenty's arrest a "serious outrage which inflicts a deep wound . on every upholder of the dignity and liberty of man." He defended the cardinal's right to oppose the government when it contradicted "divine and human rights." The Vatican called for Catholics everywhere to fight against a "pathological" system that flagrantly abuses human rights.

New York's Cardinal Francis Spellman roared, "If this be treason, to deny allegiance to atheistic communist government — then thank God Cardinal Mindszenty confessed to treason." President Harry Truman called the incident "infamous." and former prime minister Winston Churchill condemned it. Nine Hungarian diplomats in the United States resigned, ashamed.

After the sentencing, Cardinal Mindszenty was shuffled from prison to prison until the Hungarian uprising in 1956, when he was freed briefly. After the communists regained control, he lived in voluntary house arrest in the U.S. embassy in Budapest until 1971, dismissing requests from the Vatican that he leave his homeland.

The aging cardinal eventually became a tragic and pathetic figure, a thorn in the side of the Hungarian government. In an effort to be rid of him, it offered him safe passage to Austria. He declined.

But as Pope Paul VI worked to ease relations between the countries behind the Iron Curtain and the West, the cardinal became a problem for the Vatican. With his formidable presence, he was a hindrance to the establishment of four new dioceses in Hungary.

Finally, at the Pope's bidding, he reluctantly moved to the Vatican, where he stayed for two months before taking up residence in Vienna in 1971. In his final years, the cardinal traveled extensively to publicize the plight of Hungarian Catholics.

Cardinal Mindszenty died in Vienna in 1975 and was buried there. But after the fall of the Soviet Union, his body was brought back to his homeland and reburied in Esztergom."

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