It is said that the crown of St. Stephen was given as a gift by Pope Sylvester II (945-1003) in appreciation for Christianizing Hungary. While the Soviets occupied Hungary at the end of World War II, the Hungarian Crown Guard gave it the U.S. Army for safekeeping from the Soviet Union. It was kept in Ft. Knox until January 6, 1978 when Cold War tension was reduced and President Carter returned it to Hungary under a set of strict conditions. At the time Hungarian Americans strongly opposed the decision. My family saw it at the National Museum when we visited Hungary in 1999. I was thrilled. The crown is currently displayed in the central Domed Hall of the Hungarian Parliament Building.
This is not the first time that Hungary hosted such an important event. It was the 34th International Eucharistic Congress May 25-29, 1938 (a week after I was born), and a little over a year before the official start of World War II when Germany invaded Poland September 1, 1939. Half a million pilgrims attended from all over the world. However, the Nazi government of Germany forbade its citizens from attending. The flag of Hungary was red, white, and green with the crown of St. Stephen in the center. See https://hungarytoday.hu/budapest-first-international-eucharistic-congress-pictures-fortepan/ and the video https://hungarytoday.hu/budapest-first-international-eucharistic-congress-pictures-fortepan/.
Communist Takeover. Once the war ended, the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin, taking advantage of the Yalta and Potsdam agreements, set up puppet regimes in Hungary as well as Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, etc., annexed the Ukraine and imposed Communism upon the people while the West did nothing to prevent it, really a de facto conquest.
Churches were closed; apostolic and charitable work of the Church was forbidden. Priests were tortured and jailed, including the primate of Hungary, József Cardinal Mindszenty (1892-1975) who was forced to confess to treason under great duress in a show trial. Basic freedoms of religion, assembly, and the press were crushed. The Hungarian flag with the crown of St. Stephen was replaced by the hammer and sickle. Who would have dreamed of another Eucharistic Congress in Budapest?
The Hungarian Revolution. In 1956 the people revolted. Freedom fighters destroyed Communist tanks with home-made Molotov Cocktails made of gasoline. The flag of Hungary now consisted of a hole in the center formerly occupied by the hammer and sickle. Cardinal Mindszenty was freed. These freedom fighters were winning and controlled the country.
Fearing the defeat of Communism, the Soviet Union under Nikita Khrushchev sent in troops to crush the rebellion. Soviet tanks patrolled the streets, killing 2,500 people and destroying. In desperation the free government of Hungary appealed to the West, particularly the United States for help, but key leaders were afraid to act.
Over 180,000 fled to Austria as refugees and many were executed in the aftermath. I met a few including a girl I dated. Who would have dreamed of another Eucharistic Congress in Budapest? For greater detail see my blog article: "A Son of Immigrants Remembers the Hungarian Revolution". http://paulrsebastianphd.blogspot.com/2016/10/178-son-of-immigrant-remembers.html
In the 1970s and 1980s the Communist regime mellowed somewhat, but the people were still not free and the Cold War continued.
Democracy Restored. Finally in 1989 Communism in Europe collapsed because socialism over the long run is untenable. Central planning and government ownership of the means of production were very inefficient. Shortages of basic commodities were common. There was little or no incentive to innovate and increase productivity. The economy was stagnant and inflationary. The people needed and yearned for basic freedoms.
Finally, the system collapsed in all of the communist countries of Eastern Europe along the Iron Curtain and democracy was restored……so sudden that it bordered on the miraculous, reminiscent of the sudden collapse of the walls of Jericho. Interesting is that now St. Pope John Paul II in union with the bishops of the world consecrated Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary five years before on March 25, 1984 as Mary requested at Fatima. Communism in Europe was dumped onto the ash heap of history.
Business now has the freedom to prosper, benefiting both capital and labor. The Church now has freedom to evangelize and serve the people with diverse charities. No longer does the Hungarian flag have the hammer and sickle in the center.
The patron of the Eucharistic Congress is József Cardinal Mindszenty, who had a special devotion to the Eucharist. While in prison, he yearned so much to say Mass that God gave him a tremendous gift to the Cardinal as consolation. The Lord gave St. Padre Pio the gift of bilocation and sent him to the Cardinal’s jail cell to concelebrate Mass with him. The link below from the tv program "Vaticano" shows his cell and describes the miracle. It also shows József Mindszenty Square in front of the former Budapest prison with his statue in the center. In Cleveland, Ohio one may visit Cardinal Mindszenty Square. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gU4bQuPVOzY&list=PL0296666211FB63DA&index=1&ab_channel=EWTN - Pope Francis’ Recovery in the Hospital & A Hero of Faith: Cardinal József Mindszenty.
The huge Heroes Square was once the scene of Communist demonstrations, military parades, and propaganda shows. Now it is the venue of an outdoor Mass with a huge platform that served as the altar. The boots of the Gestapo marched on these streets, seizing Jews from their apartments and sending them to the gas chambers. Later the boots of Communist soldiers trod the streets. During the 1956 Hungarian Revolution Soviet tanks patrolled the boulevards, destroyed numerous buildings, and fired on the people as blood flowed onto the streets. Who would have dreamed of a Eucharistic procession on these same streets?
Today September 11, 2021 the Blessed Sacrament, the Body of Christ, of whom the people are a part, is processing on the very same streets that have such a bloody history. This is the triumph of the cross which was part of the procession. THIS IS THE TRIUMPH OF THE EUCHARISTIC HEART OF JESUS that always comes sooner or later even when the current outlook seems to be so dark! God is always in control. See the procession at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JbqDZAO2bBY&ab_channel=EWTN.
Presidents, kings, and dictators come and go through the millenniums. Empires rise and fall. Nazism and European Communism that once threatened all of mankind are now on the ash heaps of history. Throughout history forces of evil have tried to stamp out Christianity --from pagan Rome to atheistic Communism and radical Islam-- but the Church has always prevailed. Through all of this there is one constant. The truth of the Eucharist endures and continues to thrive. How true the theme of the Congress is: “In You (Eucharistic Jesus) is the source of all our blessings” (Cfr.: Ps 87, 7).
Today there is another enemy perhaps more sinister than ever……secularism that takes God out of social discourse and public life, ignoring traditional morality and Church teaching for the false gods of pleasure, personal convenience, money, power, prestige, and the materialistic accumulation of wealth and things while restricting religion to the four walls of the church as though God did not exist. This mentality has caused a marked drift of people away from the Church.
Let us pray today on this 20th anniversary of 9/11 (2001) that the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus will also triumph with a Eucharistic Revival that will bring those who have drifted away back to the Church as faithful Catholics. Lord, please do not permit another 9/11 that brings people back to the Church only for the duration of the terrorism crisis.
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