Cardinal József Mindszenty was freed during the Hungarian Revolution in Budapest. A number of Hungarian patriots from a Honvédség unit walked into his prison cell. The commander announced: "Father, the Primate is free". Mindszenty blessed the officers. On 31 October 1956 the Primate of Hungary appeared in the capital in a vehicle escorted by revolutionary units. He also drove through towns and villages. Wherever he went he was welcomed enthusiastically. The greetings were accompanies by tolling church bells and heaps of flowers.
Imre Nagy's new communist government rehabilitated the primate. Numerous telegrams with good wishes were arriving from all over the world. A message was also sent by Pope Pius XII. On his first day of freedom the cardinal received a number of delegations, including from the Episcopate, various Catholic circles as well as representatives of the new government.
On 3 November, in the Parliament building, Mindszenty proclaimed a manifesto to the Hungarian people on behalf of whom he said that his fellow countrymen desire to live in a peaceful family of European nations. He expressed hope that the Soviet troops will withdraw from Hungary. He said that the Hungarian nation is yearning for new, free parliamentary elections.
A second intervention of Soviet troops began the next day. The parliament was surrounded. Primate Mindszenty left the building at the last minute. Almost miraculously he made it to the nearest diplomatic mission – the United States Embassy. Washington granted the Hungarian Primate the right to an asylum.
Approximately 3 thousand insurgents and civilians died as a result of the Soviet intervention. Approximately 2 thousand were exiled into the depths of Russia. 150 thousand people were arrested and more that 200 thousand had to leave the country. The new communist authorities with János Kádár at the helm sentenced Imre Nagy to death. The communist repressions went on for a number of years. More than 16 thousand people were convicted, with 600 death sentences passed.
Hungary received most support from Poland. Poles helped Hungary more than any other country. Hungarian flags were flying in Poland. Support was demonstrated in many cities. The blood donation effort was the most visible expression of solidarity. Blood collection points were not able to cope with all the donors. All in all 800 thousand litres of blood were donated. More than 11 thousand honourable blood donors volunteered. 44 tons of medicines were sent to Hungary. The help, tolerated by the communist authorities, was a bottom-up, social initiative. Unfortunately, under the system established in Yalta, which plundered Central European countries of their independence, dreams of freedom could not come true.
In 1955, Primate Stefan Wyszyński was transported to Komańcza on the south-eastern fringes of Poland, another place where he would be imprisoned. The Cardinal was aware that he was being taken along the same route taken three hundred years earlier during the Swedish Deluge by King John Casimir and Primate Andrzej Leszczyński in order to take the royal vows at Lviv Cathedral on 1 April 1656. It was then that Stefan Wyszyński decided that the following year, on the 300th anniversary of that event renewed national vows would be drafted. On 26 August 1956, in the presence of thousands of pilgrims, Bishop Michał Klepacz read out the creed of vows. White and red flowers were lying on the Primate's seat. Stefan Wyszyński was released on 26 October 1956.
Despite the political changes which took place after October 1956, the authorities of the Polish People's Republic did not let up on the national atheization campaign. Religion lessons were withdrawn from schools. A move to take down crosses at educational establishments began. Clerics were enlisted for the national service. Epiphany and the Assumption of Mary were no longer recognised as public holidays. Nonetheless, the Church, under the leadership of Primate Wyszyński was highly consolidated – the hierarchy, clergy and worshippers. Cardinal Wyszyński did not only draft the Jasna Góra Vows of the Nation in Komańcza, but also the Solemn Novena to the Millennium of the Baptism of Poland, which for 10 years prepared Catholics for that event and paved the way to a religious and patriotic mobilisation around the Church.
Celebrations associated with the Millennium of the Baptism of Poland began in Gniezno in 1966. Millions of worshippers took part in processions and masses despite countermeasures put in place by the authorities. "Imprisoning" a copy of the miraculous painting of Our Lady of Częstochowa in order to prevent its peregrination around Poland was an act of desperation by the communist authorities. The painting was transported by Security Service agents to Jasna Góra and was "guarded" day and night by the national police to prevent its possible "illegal" removal. The Church responded by organising a pilgrimage of empty picture frames around Poland.
Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński's last Corpus Christi procession – 5.06.1980
Hungary was enduring the terror imposed by János Kádár's regime. Many priests, released in 1956, were put back behind bars. The communists reactivated the "patriot priests" organisation under the name of Opus Pacis. The Church fund itself under total control. many priests were enlisted as agents.
Despite the respect he commanded and the goodwill he was shown by officials and staff at the American Embassy, Primate Mindszenty only received vestments and liturgical books after a number of months. Pope Pius XII. died in 1958. Mindszenty expressed his grief in these words: "Poor Hungary and now Pius XII also left us..." The Primate's mother passed await two years later. He was unable to attend the funeral. In 1962 Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council. Cardinal Mindszenty was invited for the Council's second session and an offer of a position at the Roman Curia. The communist authorities also offered to grant leave to depart the country as long as a he made a plea for clemency. Over the next years, Archbishop of Vienna Franz König took up the mission of persuading the Primate to make concessions. He travelled to Budapest on many occasions to try and persuade the Primate to leave. Other envoys arrived from Pope Paul IV, attributed with building the Vatican's "eastern policy", consolatory acts towards Moscow and other Eastern Bloc countries. Contrary to naive calculations, announcement of "peaceful coexistence" did nothing to improve the situation of the Church in the Soviet Union not in its satellite states.
Talks between János Kádár's government and the Vatican which began during John XXIII's pontificate and were continued by Pope Paul VI led to a signing of a document known as the "partial agreement" in 1964. Primate József Mindszenty was critical of those actions. Pursuant to the agreement, newly appointed bishops were obliged to take a vow to faithfully serve the Hungarian People's Republic. Kádár's regime could decide which priests were allowed to study at the Hungarian Papal Institute in Rome. According to historians, the Hungarian delegation to the Second Vatican Council comprised mostly of security service agents. Representatives of the Hungarian Catholic immigrant communities also took part in the Council's works. They sought, ineffectively, for the Vatican to condemn those priests who cooperated with the Communists.
The Primate of Hungary refused to accept the suggestions of Cardinals König and Casardi – proponents of normalising relations with communist countries – for whim to approach the national authorities for a pardon, which will allow him to leave the country. Paul VI's envoys guaranteed that he would retain the title of Primate. In return, Cardinal Mindszenty was to refrain from publishing and having his memoirs approved by the Vatican. And on top of that he was to declare that he will not make any statements in Rome which could disturb the relationship between the Holy See and the government of the Hungarian People's Republic. Mindszenty rejected both of those conditions.
Vatican's diplomats agreed the terms with the communist government. Primate of Hungary was to leave the country without a rehabilitation by the communists, was not to talk about the state of the Church in Hungary and step down as Primate and Archbishop upon his 80th birthday. Cardinal Mindszenty was unaware of these arrangements. Shortly after Pope Paul VI wrote a letter wherein he stated his expectations as to the Primate's presence at the council which was to take place in Rome in 1971.
On 28 September 1971, after 15 years of enforced stay at the US Embassy, the Primate of Hungary left his homeland in secret, travelling in a car which belonged to the nunciature from Vienna. After arriving in Tome he said, "It is only now that I have to bear the biggest cross of my life". The authorities in Budapest revoked the life imprisonment sentence, which was tantamount to an amnesty rather than a rehabilitation. The Vatican – Hungarian People's Republic agreement was presented to the Cardinal in Rome on 10 October. Mindszenty did not agree to step down as Primate of Hungary and give up his seat at the Bishop's capital in Esztergom. He declared that he did not intend to stay in Rome, but would live in Vienna, in a house founded in the 18th century by one of the Archbishops of Esztergom for Hungarian priests and theology students. This decision had embarrassed the proponents of "normalisation" - especially Cardinal König and Archbishop Casaroli, who made a commitment to the communist government of Hungary that Cardinal Mindszenty would not speak on "political matters". Abp Casaroli tried unsuccessfully to keep the Cardinal from leaving Rome. But the greatest troubles were yet to come. On December 18, 1973, Pope Paul VI dismissed Cardinal Mindszenty from the office of Archbishop Esztergom and thus Primate of Hungary. However, it was not until February 12, 1976 that the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Veszprem, Bishop László Lékai succeed him. A few months after this blow, Cardinal Mindszenty published his 500-page Memoirs, and this, he said, "was only to make the world realise what fate communism is preparing for it". After the Cardinal was deprived of the title of government of the oldest Hungarian diocese, the Secretary of the Primate of Hungary made a brief statement on his behalf:
1. Hungary and the Church in Hungary are not free.
2. The leadership of the diocese is in the hands of an administration controlled by the communists.
3. No archbishop or apostolic administrator is able to change anything.
4. The communists decide on the appointment of all priests.
5. The freedom of conscience and religion, guaranteed by the Constitution, does not exist.
6. The appointment of bishops or administrators without remedying the shortcomings mentioned above cannot solve the problem of the Church in Hungary.
The Cardinal in exile made many pastoral journeys (among others to Austria, Germany, Great Britain, Canada, USA, South Africa). At the age of 82 he went on a missionary journey to the Far East, to North and South America. He died on May 6, 1975. In his will, he expressed the wish that he be buried in the Marian sanctuary in Mariazell, Austria, near the Hungarian border. And that’s exactly what happened.
In May 1991, his remains were transported to Hungary and deposited in the Basilica in Esztergom.
Cardinal József Mindszenty's plaque in Budapest
Primate Stefan Wyszyński, as a shepherd of the Catholic Church in Poland, pursued pastoral work called "folk Catholicism". Public confessions of faith, pilgrimages, processions, provoked criticism of the so-called progressive Catholics, i.e. centres licensed by the state authorities. However, it was "folk Catholicism" that allowed the faithful to strengthen their attitudes. A common form of conveying religious and social principles were the Episcopal letters read in churches. The Primate drew attention to the demographic threats threatening the biological existence of the nation. He was committed to protecting human rights and employees' rights. Therefore, the state authorities did not allow the Primate to go to Rome for the Synod of Bishops in 1967. After the massacre of 1970 on the coast by the army against striking workers he said: "Your pain is our common pain (...) How I would like to protect everyone from pain, from torment, if this sacrifice were accepted."
During the period of legal activity of the Independent Self-Governing Trade Union "Solidarity" the Primate played a great role as an intermediary between workers and authorities. He emphasized that Poles must first emerge from spiritual slavery, from moral defeat, make a change in the social, economic and national life in the spirit of the Gospel.
On 16 May 1981, Primate Stefan Wyszyński received the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick in his residence at ul. Miodowa in Warsaw, in a solemn form. He died on 28 May on Ascension Day.
The funeral of Primate Stefan Wyszyński
On 8 February 1990, in Esztergom, Hungary, official ceremonies commemorating the life, work and attitude of József Mindszenty took place. In 2012 the Hungarian Prosecutor's Office announced the legal, moral and political rehabilitation of the cardinal. In November 2017 a monument to József Mindszenty was unveiled in Budapest. The square in front of the seat of the Hungarian Primate in Esztergom is named after him.
Tombstone of Primate József Mindszenty
In 1993 the process of beatification of Cardinal Mindszenty began and since October 1996 it has been handled by the Congregation for Canonization Affairs. Last February, on the 70th anniversary of the show trial, Pope Francis issued a decree acknowledging the heroic virtues of the Servant of God, the Primate of Hungary, József Mindszenty.
The beatification process of Primate Stefan Wyszyński has been underway since 1989. In December 2017, the Pope published a decree on the heroic virtues of Cardinal Wyszyński. On June 7, 2020, the beatification of the Servant of God Stefan Wyszyński, proclaimed the "Primate of the Millennium", will take place in Warsaw.