Hungarian bishop who defied Stalinist persecution beatified


On October 31, the Church beatified Bishop Zoltán Lajos Meszlényi, a victim of the Communist persecution of the Catholic Church in Hungary. The beatification was scheduled shortly after Pope Benedict approved a decree verifying the martyrdom of the bishop, who died in 1951.

Cardinal Péter Erdő, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest and Primate of Hungary, presided over the Mass and beatification of Bishop Zoltán Lajos Meszlényi on Saturday at the Basilica of Esztergom. During the Mass, the cardinal emphasized that the “mission of Christians is to announce Jesus Christ even if they are persecuted,” adding that Bishop Meszlényi “is an example of witness by a person fortified by the Holy Spirit.”

Cardinal Erdő explained that Bishop Zoltán Meszlényi’s life and death are exemplary for his time, in which many kept silent for fear of losing their jobs, homes, families, and lives. Blessed Meszlényi’s teaching is still very timely today when we feel “trapped by our individual and common selfishness, short-sightedness, thirst for power, hatred, ’ a trap that we are unable to free ourselves from using our own strength.”

According to Magyar Kurír, a Catholic news organization in Central Europe, Bishop Meszlényi was an exemplary priest who led a life of service to the Church. Having studied in Rome at the Gregorian University as part of his education at the Pontifical German-Hungarian Institute, Blessed Meszlényi became fluent in Italian, French, English, German, Latin and Greek, in addition to his native Hungarian. His studies led him to a degree in canon law as well as diplomas in philosophy and theology.

Despite the excellence of education and his incredible intellect, Blessed Meszlényi was known as a very down to earth man. He did not mind being alone and was very humble, not even considering himself to be a candidate to replace Cardinal József Mindszenty who had been arrested and sentenced to life in prison. He was also known for his strict but loving treatment of the priests in his diocese, encouraging them to always become better, more faithful servants of the Church.

However, Blessed Meszlényi would not back down when confronted by the Communists. The Church in Hungary faced many difficulties when the country gained its independence from the Hapsburg empire, as well as when the borders of many Eastern European countries were re-drawn after WWI, which caused the geographical area of one diocese to be located in two different countries.

The presence of the Communists, as well as Russia’s invasion, which put the country behind the Iron Curtain, also presented the Church with difficulties, as the Communists tried to seize Hungary's Catholic schools and influence the election of bishops. Blessed Meszlényi quickly became an enemy of the Communists when it became known that he was not afraid of the threat of force.

Meszlényi was appointed bishop, however only two weeks after his episcopal ordination, the communist authorities took the newly-appointed bishop and he was never heard from again.

Magyar Kurír also explains that as was the custom, the communists were very secretive about their persecution of the Church so they wouldn’t create any martyrs whose stories of standing up for their faith would inspire others. Thus, no one heard from the bishop after his arrest, and there are no documents to show where he was detained, how he was tortured, of what he was accused, or how he died. Nevertheless, based on accounts of other priests who also suffered Stalinist repression, it was concluded that his martyrdom was preceded by imprisonment and common tortures which included solitary confinement, physical beatings, psychological torture, unheated jail cells without windowpanes, and no access to medical treatment.

Asking for the intercession of Blessed Zoltán Meszlényi, Cardinal Erdő concluded: “Pray for us all so the renewal of the hearts may help the world around us become better and happier and may lead as many people as possible to Christ."

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