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Anti-Communist Cardinal’s Reinterment Draws Thousands In Hungary

May 4, 1991 GMT

ESZTERGOM, Hungary (AP) _ Tens of thousands of Hungarians paid homage Saturday to the late Roman Catholic Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty, an opponent of communism who was buried in his homeland 16 years after dying in exile.

The faithful, standing in drenching rain, filled the giant square in front of the cathedral of Esztergom, where Mindszenty was dragged off by Communist police 43 years before and never allowed to return.

He had only served as cardinal for three years when he was sentenced to life in prison on Feb. 8, 1949, after a show trial. He spent the rest of his life in prison or exile.

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Mindszenty’s remains were returned to Hungary in accordance with his written will that he be reburied in his native country once ″the star of the faithless Moscow falls.″

Those remains were reinterred in the cathedral crypt Saturday, one year after the new democratic parliament replaced its Communist predecessor.

Addressing the crowd, Prime Minister Jozsef Antall linked Hungary’s political renaissance to Mindszenty’s struggle.

″The rebirth of the country is at the same time commemoration of those who had sacrificed their lives in the past decades for the independence ... of Hungary,″ he said.

Many in the crowd, estimated at between 50,000 and 100,000, called Mindszenty a symbol of resistance to Communist oppression.

He was ″the personification of Hungary,″ said Agnes Balazs, 61.

The Vatican stripped Mindszenty of Hungary’s chief Catholic office in 1974, after the exiled cardinal refused to relinquish it voluntarily. But on Saturday, Pope John Paul II praised him.

In a letter read before the requiem Mass, the pontiff called Mindszenty ″an outstanding man of God, servant of the church and unshakeable witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.″

The day ″cannot be allowed to pass without the final expression of respect to an outstanding person,″ the pope said.

Mindszenty’s remains were exhumed this week from a tomb in Mariazell, Austria, where he was buried after his death at age 83 in Vienna on May 6, 1975.

The rain stopped before the ceremony, which was attended by Cardinal Laszlo Paskai, Hungarian and foreign government leaders and clergy. The ceremony also was shown on a screen mounted on the cathedral facade.

Some of those present said they came to atone for not rejecting Communist dictates that sought to suppress the Church and raise young Hungarians as atheists. Others recalled loved ones who suffered under the Communists.

One woman, who refused to give her name, said that in 1948, at the height of Communist propaganda attacks on Mindszenty, she had been forced as a school girl to march in a rally against him.

″Deep in our hearts, we were weeping,″ she said. ″This is the greatest day in my life.″

Another woman, age 76, said her husband, as a top official of the Budapest city council, had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for refusing to sign a document on the secularization of Catholic schools.

Also in attendance were many Hungarians who left the country in 1956, during the failed anti-Communist revolution.

Mindszenty was freed from prison by revolutionaries on Oct. 30, 1956, but when Soviet troops invaded to put down the revolt he fled to the U.S. Legation, where he spent the next 15 years. In 1971, he left Hungary under an agreement between the Vatican and the Hungarian government.

″His exile became a special gift for the Hungarians abroad, and ... his tomb in the Basilica of Mariazell became the symbolic center of exiled Hungarians,″ said Bishop Attila Mikloshazy, who administers to emigre Hungarians.

A plaque over his new tomb reads: ″Humbled in life, elevated in death.″