Now known as a symbol of Christian and national resistance to Communism, Cardinal József Mindszenty was once considered a criminal, convicted of treason and serving life imprisonment.
Ordained a priest on the Feast of the Sacred Heart in 1915, József Mindszenty began his vocation during the dangerous spread of socialism and communism throughout Eastern Europe. Despite the increased danger in doing so, he never hesitated to speak out against communism. Within the first few years of his priesthood, he was arrested several times by Hungarian authorities for his criticisms of communism. During the Second World War, Mindszenty was also a vocal critic of Nazism and Hungary’s ultranationalist group, Arrow Cross, while publicly supporting the Jewish community.
Shortly after being appointed a cardinal in 1945, the Hungarian government banned religious orders and ordered that Hungary’s 4,813 Catholic schools be nationalized. Although the government was already putting aggressive pressure on Mindszenty, he bravely continued to speak out against these authoritarian laws. Repeatedly he was threatened and silenced, but he would not cower nor turn a blind eye to the truth. Under the threat of arrest, he continued to speak out, saying, “Communism is an atheistic ideology: hence by its very nature it is opposed to the spirit of the Church.”
Cardinal Mindszenty was arrested on December 26th, 1948. He was charged with treason and conspiracy. Despite his innocence, after days of torture where he was starved, beaten, and humiliated, he was coerced into a false confession. After a show trial, Cardinal Mindszenty was sentenced to life in prison.
He spent the next several years in jail, suffering from physical and psychological torture, and was subjected to 8 years in solitary confinement. However, during the Hungarian uprising of 1956, he was freed.
This short-lived freedom was interrupted as the Communists rapidly regained control, causing him to seek refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Budapest. As the Communist government reinstated itself and continued to rule authoritatively, Cardinal Mindszenty was forced to live in that singular building for the next 15 years, safe from the threats of his government, but unable to live a free life.
He was 79 years old when he was able to safely leave the embassy, dying a few years later in 1975.
His brave, uncompromising leadership against the atheistic totalitarian government set the example and laid the foundation for the strong, outspoken witness of the Church in Hungary today.
Let us be inspired by Cardinal Mindszenty’s bravery and fortitude. May we all hold firm in our faith, looking to Christ to renew our strength and courage.
The powerful book, Memoirs: The Legendary Hero Priest Jozsef Mindszenty, is the true account of Cardinal Mindszenty’s faithful and courageous fight against evil ideologies. This work is an extraordinary contribution to contemporary history, an eyewitness account of a Church and country under brutal Communist domination in the Cold War era. Get your copy today at The Catholic Company!