22 November 2019

Recalling Cardinal Mindszenty’s Fifteen Years at the United States Embassy in Budapest

"In Hungarian memory and in the memory of Americans familiar with Europe’s post-war history, Cardinal József Mindszenty has become the embodiment of not only the friendship between our nations, but also the embodiment of an entire historical era, and the perseverance of Hungarians in the face of some of the most bitter trials they have ever faced."

The friendship of two nations can only be truly confidential if it has a human dimension: if there exist individuals who embody this friendship and who by their life achievement have the potential to become an icon for both nations. There are quite a few such extraordinary personalities in the history of US–Hungarian relations as well: Lajos Kossuth, General Harry H. Bandholtz, President Jimmy Carter, who returned the crown, Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, who played a key role in bringing down Communism. And I will not even name all the famous Hungarian businessmen, actors, artists and scientists who made huge contributions in building up America as we know it.

The man we are remembering today commands a prominent place on this long list. Curiously though, he is not there for having performed a single outstanding and widely known act. He is not a fearsome military leader, nor a successful politician. He did not invent some awesome machine nor did he found a Hollywood Studio. He is a clergyman, yet his is perhaps the most noble soul in this entire company of great women and men. He has a place on the list for his role in our history as a unique beacon of dignity.

In Hungarian memory and in the memory of Americans familiar with Europe’s post-war history, Cardinal József Mindszenty has become the embodiment of not only the friendship between our nations, but also the embodiment of an entire historical era, and the perseverance of Hungarians in the face of some of the most bitter trials they have ever faced.

America’s history as a nation is often presented as an unmatched fairy tale. The story of a free land of opportunity for the brave that has grown mighty and risen to world prominence over a few generations. There were, of course, setbacks and challenges to overcome on the way, but all in all, God has blessed your country with peace and prosperity. May He continue to do so!

For Hungary, He had quite a different fate in store. One of ceaseless struggle for mere survival that at times brought on us hardships we thought would crush us irrevocably. But they never have. They may have crushed many people caught up in them, but not the collective spirit of the nation. The ability of the finest to persevere, their faith and defiance were always enough to keep that flame alive. And this ability to endure is what Cardinal Mindszenty represents. He himself is the personification of that spirit, worthy to the end to his self-chosen episcopal motto: devictus vincit, which would translate to something like the vanquished vanquishes (or, more profanely, to win when you lose). These two words describe more powerfully than a thousand others the essence of his character.

As you may rightly guess, his was not an easy life. He lived through the First World War, the collapse of Hungarian statehood and the ensuing dismemberment of the country. He experienced imprisonment by the Communists, the Nazis and again the Communists. He witnessed at first hand the terrible end of the Revolution of 1956, then became an exile in his own country. Eventually, he was forced to leave his beloved homeland, and, stripped of his title of archbishop, died abroad.

What a brutal destiny – one could observe, but only one who is not familiar with the Cardinal’s sweeping energy and the ever-glowing love he projected on all around him and that kept him going throughout the challenges of his exemplary life. This love, stemming from his unwavering faith endowed him with an ability to make a difference around himself throughout his career. He built schools, churches and advocated humanity in all circumstances, never bowing to political pressure, regardless of whether he was acting to protect persecuted Jews during the Holocaust or persecuted Christians and Germans under Communism. He was an immovable rock of principle, a bulwark of resistance to all inhumane regimes, which, accordingly, dreaded him for his strength. All the more so that they sensed his invincibility: remember, devictus vincit. They simply could not stem his influence – they could silence him by confinement, his people still heard him without words, they could torture him to oblivion, he would never give in, not once when his mind happened to be clear of the drugs his Communist captors were stuffing him with. Actually, could there be anything more dreadful for an oppressor than not having power over its most feared enemy even when he is physically reduced to a wreck?

So there is Cardinal Mindszenty’s message: earthly defeat can equal a superior victory. The more you are subdued, the more genuine and powerful and encouraging your resistance is. And that moral resistance of his gave hope to millions in the darkest hours of our recent history. Ultimately, the spirit fed by this hope changed our world. This is how you vanquish even when you are vanquished.

In the Cardinal’s own words: “Time is in God’s hands and time is an ally of truth.” As we remember Cardinal Mindszenty today, who is a candidate for beatification, we again express our gratitude to the United States of America for harbouring him after the suppression of the 1956 Revolution.

It is hard to overstate the importance of the letter sent by President John F. Kennedy to Cardinal Mindszenty reassuring him of the continued refuge and hospitality of the US Embassy in Budapest. The nearly 15 years that Cardinal Mindszenty spent in the US Embassy, from where he would occasionally send messages to his oppressed people, was an important and symbolic part in the shared history of our nations proving that our alliance dates back much further in time than the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Today’s event is also about saluting the actions of courageous American diplomats who understood the perplexities of those challenging times and provided an invaluable service to the Hungarian nation and Christianity as a whole. Our future generations will owe their thanks to them.

I would like to express my gratitude to Ambassador Cornstein for all the assistance the United States of America provided us in those difficult times, and personally to Mr Donald Kursch, who knew Cardinal Mindszenty while he was serving in Budapest as a diplomat, and represented the US at the reburial of the Cardinal on 4 May 1991.

Finally, allow me to close my remarks with the words of Cardinal Mindszenty. When Pope Pius XII appointed him the 79th Archbishop of Esztergom, thereby Prince Primate of Hungary in October 1945, he said: “I want to be a good shepherd – one who, if need be, will lay down his life for his sheep, his Church and his country. I will strive to become the conscience of our people. I will breathe new life into the sacred traditions of our people, without which some individuals could but the entire nation cannot live.”

(Speech delivered by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Levente Magyar at the Mindszenty Memorial Conference and Book Launch at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade on 16 October 2019.)






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