ESZTERGOM, Hungary -- Hungarians and Roman Catholi pilgrims laid to rest yesterday the remains of Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty, whose steadfast resistance to fascist and communist tyranny earned him a life of misery in the postwar era.
More than 50,000 people attended an open-air funeral Mass on the soggy cathedral lawns overlooking the Danube River to rebury the unflinching fighter for religious freedom, who died in exile in 1975.
Born of peasant stock in western Hungary in 1892, Cardinal Mindszenty was first jailed four years after being ordained, during the short-lived Communist revolution of 1919. He defied fascist authorities during World War II by defending Jews, then stood up for the rights of embattled minorities until the fight of his life in the late 1940s.
Cardinal Mindszenty's ardent opposition to communism led to false charges of treason and conviction in a show trial, after which he was condemned to life in prison.
A sympathetic guard set him free during the 1956 anti-Communist uprising. Cardinal Mindszenty delivered an impassioned address to his congregation via radio the night before Soviet troops and tanks arrived to crush the democratic revolt.
He sought refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, where he lived in a single room for 15 years.
But the Cold War victim's plight became a political discomfort during the days of detente.
Against his will, the cardinal was spirited from Hungary in 1971, under an East-West agreement endorsed by the Vatican.
"That was the heaviest cross of my life," he wrote in his memoirs, lamenting but adhering to the papal order to abandon his flock.
Cardinal Mindszenty, who died four years later in Vienna, Austria, was entombed at the St. Laszlo Church at Mariazell with the wish expressed in his will that he be returned to his native Hungary only when "the red star of faithless Moscow" had fallen.
The anti-Communist revolutions that swept Eastern Europe in 1989 paved the way for his return. Some argue that it was moral guidance from Cardinal Mindszenty that kept alive dreams of freedom through the years of repression.
Cardinal Mindszenty's example to Hungarians now free to exercise their faith was a recurring theme in the eulogies yesterday.
"He dared to say 'no' to the tyranny of both Hitler and the Communists," said Otto von Hapsburg, who would have been heir to the Hungarian throne under the monarchy that collapsed after World War I. He describing the late primate as "a giant of the Hungarian people."
Pope John Paul II praised the late cardinal as "that outstanding man of God." The pope is to visit Hungary in mid-August, and many Catholics believe he will bring word of sainthood for Cardinal Mindszenty.