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HISTORY/ József Mindszenty, the “white martyr” who refused all compromises

Speech by Bishop ANDRAS VERES on the anniversary of the birth of Cardinal József Mindszenty, a “white martyr” for the faith in Communist Hungary, whose life continues to inspire all people.

Cardinal Mindszenty in a show trial of the communist regime Cardinal Mindszenty in a show trial of the communist regime

Defunctus adhuc loquitur, he speaks even in death. It was with these words that Franz König, the Cardinal of Vienna, gave his last farewell in May 1975 to the late Cardinal József Mindszenty, who was born 120 years ago. Already at the mortuary, many were calling him one of the greatest Hungarians of the twentieth century, a "white martyr". We can call him a martyr because he suffered incredibly much, both physically and spiritually. His captors worked to make him suffer in ways that exceeded in cruelty with the passage of time. However, they paid close attention, with infinite malice, that Mindszenty did not become in any way a "red martyr". Even the jailers knew very well that the blood shed by the martyrs is the seed of Christians.

The fact that Cardinal Mindszenty did not become a bloody martyr meant the continuation of his suffering. His pain did not end, even after months of brutal interrogation and imprisonment, which humiliated the dignity of man. He suffered with his people, humiliated, oppressed, tortured and locked in prison and he lived in exile at the U.S. Embassy during the emigration to the West. Over that people, in the words of a poet, "they’ve walled up every window with tin" (Tibor tollas).

Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty speaks even in death because his words and his actions were eloquent already when he was alive. His words and the suffering he endured in his life gave strength to many people so that they could bear their tribulations during the years of the Communist dictatorship, the enemy of the Church and religion. It was an era in which people were actually advised to speak the name of the Cardinal only in a whisper. When in 1975, at the Benedictine High School of Gyor, we learned the news of the death of Mindszenty, even among ourselves, we had the courage to spread the word only in whispers because everyone knows: "Where there’s tyranny, / there’s tyranny...not only in the secretly / half-opened door / in fearfully / whispered news / in the finger, dropping / in front of the lips / cautioning “Hush!”... because where there’s tyranny, / there’s tyranny" (Gyula Illyés). 

During the years of tyranny, the words of Cardinal Mindszenty infused faith, strength, hope, courage and tenacity to priests, monks and lay faithful in jail without discrimination. What is particularly surprising is the fact that this did not happen only in our country, but in all places where the occupying Soviet dictatorship oppressed and tormented believers. Only later did we discover that people all over the world prayed for the Cardinal and for our people because he had over time become an emblematic personality in the struggle for faith and freedom of confession.