VATICAN CITY, Sept. 29, 1971 (UPI) -- For 15 years an unmarked car parked daily in front of the U.S. Embassy at 12 Freedom Square in Budapest. Its occupants, three leather-jacketed Hungarian secret police, waited in fruitless vigil for Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty.
Early Tuesday, the aged Cardinal, his bald head covered by a black fedora, stepped into the street. And the plainclothesman stood by and watched him go to freedom -- or exile -- in the Vatican.
He was the last major "prisoner" of Communism's "Church of Silence," a martyr for his faith. As the Hungarian primate once put it, "a dead cardinal may be worth more to the cause of freedom than a live one."
Since the end of World War II Mindszenty, now 79, had fought the Communists who took over his native Hungary. He spent 23 of those 26 years in prison, under house arrest or in the self-imposed exile of the grey stucco building on Freedom Square.
He was prepared, even wanted, to spend the rest of his life in that battle rather than leave Hungary, even if it meant the exile of endless hours in his Spartan, two-room "home" on the fourth floor of the embassy rather than leading the 6.5 million Hungarian Roman Catholics who were his flock.
Mindszenty, named a cardinal by Pope Pius XII in 1948, for years resisted all efforts and pressure to get him to leave the embassy, where he sought refuge Nov. 4, 1956, when Soviet tanks brutally crushed the Hungarian revolt. He could not accept the condition set by the Hungarian Government -- that he leave the nation never to return.
It finally took a direct order from Pope Paul VI to make Mindszenty leave. The Pontiff called on him to "make the hardest sacrifice of your life." Mindszenty bowed to his wishes, saying in a letter, "I accept what will be perhaps the heaviest cross of my life."
The two men finally met Tuesday after Mindszenty was driven to Vienna then flew to Rome. Pope Paul was visibly moved as they embraced in the Vatican gardens. He presented the cardinal with a personal gold ring and gave him the cross from around his neck.
Mindszenty will spend several days resting in the Vatican, then probably go into retirement, living either in the Vatican or someplace in the vicinity. He is only six months away from the mandatory retirement age of 80 that Pope Paul set for cardinals.
The ordeal of Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty began in early 1949 when he was arrested for his anti-Communist pastoral letters and subjected to 40 days of beatings, inquisitions, starvation and other indignities. Hollow-eyed and haggard, he appeared in court to make his "confession" to the state's charges of "treason, plotting to overthrow the government and illegal dealings in currency."
But he still had some strength left, and with it he proclaimed: "I have been more than 40 days before the police and court. They ask me and I answer. The questions and answers are not only for those who question me. A man also gives an answer to his own soul."
He was convicted and went to prison, where, as his health deteriorated, he remained until July 16, 1955, when he was allowed to go under house arrest to the summer residence of the Bishop of Pecs at Felsopeteny, Hungary.
On Oct. 5, 1956, Hungarian freedom fighters using Molotov cocktails and paving stones to battle Soviet tanks released Mindszenty. Only 120 hours later the revolt was snuffed out -- and Mindszenty sought refuge at the U.S. legation in Freedom Square.
There, home was two rooms on the fourth floor. His meals came from the ground floor canteen. He celebrated mass on a makeshift altar, his congregation the Roman Catholics among the legation's American staff and their families.
Outside, the black sedan with its three occupants waited to take Mindszenty back to jail.
As they walked out, the cardinal in an ankle-length cassock and black fedora, U.S. Ambassador Alfred Puhan joined them to say goodbye. At the door, standing under the seal of the United States, they shook hands. Mindszenty said nothing, showed no emotion.
The cardinal walked through the passing crowds to the car, climbed into the back seat. There was no backward look at the embassy, no glance up at the drawn blinds behind which he had lived for 15 years.
An escort car carrying Hungarian government officials pulled slowly away. Mindszenty's car and another auto carrying the Vatican representatives followed it. They headed for the Danube river, then turned west for the 100-mile drive to Vienna.
As the cars drove off, Mindszenty reached up and took off his fedora, revealing the cardinal's red biretta beneath. Thus, proclaiming his identity to his nation, Jozsef Mindszenty left Hungary.