No ordinary man was Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty. Persecuted, tortured and imprisoned for standing up for religious rights in Hungary under the Nazis and Communists, he, in his own words, "would persist in the struggle, with God's help, even if it cost me my life." Last week's column retold the story of his trial and brutal treatment 63 years ago this February when he was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Communist People's Court in Budapest, or Marxist Democracy, after World War II. An inspiration of courage and faith the world over, he was certainly also the inspiration for naming the high school that existed for many years in Dunkirk, which closed in 1979.
Learning about the circumstances of the trial in and of itself is enough to convince anyone of his great character, but only scratches the surface of who this man was and his great influence. While a follow-up about the school would be of local interest and may likely come in the future, there's still too much to be revisited about Mindszenty himself in order to appreciate the lessons of his history. At least this is the conclusion made from reading through his Memoirs.
"The Memoirs of Mindszenty," as well as the book "Mindszenty the Man," can be read like novels as they relate so many fascinating and endearing details of his life. At the same time, they are history books, where it is necessary to check your understanding and recollections of world political events over the past 100 years. A most compelling, even haunting feeling when reading however, is realizing that important ideals don't change and that history can repeat itself if we don't see the parallels between the past and today. Mindszenty stood for eternal truths that are unchanged regardless of the era. He also was educated with a gift of discernment to know the fallacies in the philosophies of men, particularly the false propaganda of reform and Communist collectivism. He had been vocal in his criticism of both the Nazis and Communists, not afraid to expose their dangerous ideas and social programs, and of course was imprisoned by both.
Cardinal Mindszenty gave a press interview in Budapest on Nov. 1, 1956 after being freed by the Hungarian Freedom Fighters. A short time later he was imprisoned again. The high school named in his honor in Dunkirk was closed in 1979.
One of many examples of Mindszenty's adherence to ideals was during World War II when Hungary was occupied by the Nazis. Although death was a threatened punishment for hiding Jews, Mindszenty ordered every church to conceal them. He openly called anti-Semitism "the basest tool of Nazi propaganda a tool which seeks to undermine the very foundations of Christian civilization." He knew that when we don't protect all, all are in danger of losing freedom and civil rights. Mindszenty had respect for the honest faith of other religions and those who were faithful to it, whether Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish. It's interesting to note that even Mindszenty's name expressed his defiance to the Nazis. During this era, the Nazis wanted Hungarians of German descent to change their names to reflect German heritage. Joseph Pehm, a German name already, was changed to Joseph Mindszenty, taken from his native village of Mindszent.
Church persecution after World War II continued and was merely replaced by the atheist Communists in their plan to build a "people's republic" in the Marxist style. Secret police and other means of coercion were used to get people to be informers or cause unrest and dissension among social and religious groups, which in turn lessened resistance to the Communist control. Mindszenty knew their history from as far back as 1918 and how they had persecuted the Church in Russia. Mindszenty knew that there was no compromise for freedom. He had once written that, "Communist agents fight relentlessly with hatred against God, religion, and the Church. They carry their fight in the schools, radio, newspapers, literature, the theater, art, advertisements, cartoons, and even through sacrileges in the churches." Mindszenty knew that Marxist-Leninist dogma is to liquidate all religion, but in a cunning way that at first looks innocent enough, even "friendly." With other tactics, in the name of "social order," freedoms are gradually taken away such as in Hungary with the secularizing of all schools, rewriting text books, and banning youth organizations that were not Marxist. Obviously, this put Mindszenty on an unavoidable collision course with the Communist government in Hungary with their goal of silencing him. He and others like him were called "anti-democratic," and not willing to live in "peaceful coexistence."
The limited space in this column can never come close to communicating all the facets and details of Mindszenty's life, and it is certainly difficult to put either book aside and decide on what focus to take. To fully appreciate this man, all that is written needs to be read. However, even a surface examination of his life makes is clear that Cardinal Mindszenty was a portrait of courage and faith. He was a hero who sacrificed most of his life for the good of others and never shirked from fighting for the freedom of his people. The many events of his era comprise a theme, or course that continues to play out again and again in history. Who will recognize it as it happens in our times? In Mindszenty's words, "What becomes of nations when truth is silenced?"
This week, think about the following words. In one of Mindszenty's addresses, while communicating about the diabolical times, he said, "Let the nation storm Heaven with prayers now! Pray with renewed strength and confidence in a campaign of prayers by millions of the faithful." He also said, "It is the sacred fortresses where we raise a new generation."
In an effort to honor and remember the sacrifices made by Mindszenty, a yearly scholarship in his name would be appropriate and appreciated by young men who would like to attend Saint Francis High School. Located in the Buffalo area, a scholarship of $2,000 would only require 20 people to donate $100 on any given year. Anyone interested in such a worthy cause, particularly graduates of Cardinal Mindszenty High School, may contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Make it a good week, Mary and Rosamond