The exiled Cardinal
After the repression of the war of independence, Pope Pius XII stated in his Encyclical Letter published on 5 November that "the blood of the Hungarian people cries out to God!" Several prelates from America to Manila expressed similar ideas. Archbishop Giovanni Battista Montini – who later became Pope Paul VI – held the cross of the subjugated Hungary in a candle-light procession at night in the streets of Milan to express the sympathy of the Italian people.
As time passed, all the powers concerned were trying to find solution for the "Mindszenty case" only with their own interests in mind. They were aware that Mindszenty was loath to leave the country due to his emotional attachment. He even considered the possibility of walking out of the embassy and succumbing to the communist authorities, but he fortunately renounced this plan. His destiny was finally decided when he overtly asked the President of the United States in a letter whether he could remain at the Embassy. He received the following short and quick answer: "Resign yourself to your fate!". At Pope Paul VI's invitation and due to the pressure of circumstances, he left Hungary on 28 September 1971.
At the papal mass inaugurating the Synod of Bishops in Rome, Paul VI greeted him with the following words: "Among Us today is Our venerable brother, Cardinal József Mindszenty, archbishop of Esztergom. We have awaited with longing who is concelebrating with Us as a glorious symbol of the living unity between the Hungarian Church and the Apostolic See, a unity that has existed for a thousand years. But he is also a symbol for the spiritual bond with those brothers who are prevented from maintaining normal relations with Us. He is a symbol of unshakeable strength rooted in faith and of selfless devotion to the Church. He has proved this first of all by his tireless activity and alert love, then by prayer and long suffering. Let us praise the Lord and together say a reverent, cordial Ave to this exiled and highly honoured archbishop!"
After a short stay in Rome, he went to live in the Pázmáneum college in Vienna.
At the age of almost 80, József Mindszenty set out to visit and strengthen the Hungarian communities scattered in the world. During his long pastoral tours, he visited a dozen countries and participated in different programmes in more than fifty towns. He covered nearly one hundred thousand kilometres by car, train and plane to visit and strengthen his Hungarian people.
"I did not find it difficult to travel, hold ecclesiastical office, press conferences, meet delegations, families or private individuals and discuss a wide range of national and pastoral problems, because after 23 years of coerced isolation, intensively being engaged in my activities deriving from my vocation and being in missionary touch with the people and the world filled my heart with happiness."
In February 1974, Pope Paul VI was compelled to make one of the most painful decisions of his pontificate when he declared the archiepiscopal seat of Esztergom legally vacant. In Hungary, the communist propaganda celebrated the "sacking" of József Mindszenty while the free world was perplexed by what had happened. For pastoral reasons, the Holy Father had the choice of two evils, therefore the decree did not use the term "dismissal" but that of "making vacant the archiepiscopal seat". Accepting the Pope's decision, József Mindszenty ceased to use his former Hungarian titles.
The report on the Cardinal’s activity published in the journal of Russian emigrants is a sign of exceptional esteem: "There is hardly any educated man in our age who would not know the name of Cardinal Mindszenty. This man is a symbol, a legend, history in one person. In our estimation, Cardinal Mindszenty is the chosen person of the Hungarian people." His compatriots living outside Hungary invited him and waited for him to come and visit them, and he regarded it as his mission to strengthen their faith and national consciousness.