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Pope Francis Hungary visit, all eyes on meeting with Orban

Credit: Belga

Pope Francis arrived on Sunday morning in Budapest to celebrate the closing mass at a major international religious congress, but all eyes will be on his brief meeting with Hungarian leader Viktor Orban.

The Pope’s plane landed just before 7:45 AM, according to an AFP journalist who was on board the aircraft. His agenda includes a 30-minute meeting with Prime Minister Orban, which will also be attended by President Janos Ader and two top officials of the Roman Curia.

The question on many lips is whether the leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics, who is known for his frankness, will raise issues dear to him, such as migrants and tolerance towards the LGBT+ persons, with Mr. Orban. The world’s first Argentinian pope has called incessantly on the world’s wealthier countries to open their doors to refugees fleeing wars or economic misery, whatever their religion. This has caused him some misunderstanding, even among Catholics.

Pro-Orban media have even gone so far as to deem Pope Francis an “imbecile”. They have also not failed to mention the fact that he would only be making a seven-hour lightning visit to Hungary whereas he will spend three days in neighbouring Slovakia on a full-fledged state visit.

The Pope is in Budapest at the specific invitation of the International Eucharistic Congress, following in the footsteps of John-Paul II, whom he had assisted at a similar event in 1985 in Nairobi, Kenya.

Jorge Bergoglio, himself the descendant of Italian migrants who emigrated to Argentina, has never stopped reminding Europe of its history, built by waves of new arrivals. Moreover, without naming any political leaders, he continuously slams “sovereignism” which, in his words, “reveals an attitude towards isolation,” with its proponents delivering “speeches that resemble those of Hitler in 1934.”

In April 2016, the Pope had made an indelible impression on many minds on the Greek island of Lesbos, the gateway to Europe, when he took in three Syrian Muslim families, whose homes had been bombarded, on board his plane, saying “We are all migrants!”

At the time, Viktor Orban was having a wall built on his country’s southern border to keep “Muslims” out. While he regularly arouses the ire of Brussels for his highly restrictive asylum policy, the Hungarian leader brandishes his will to preserve Europe’s Christian heritage.

His supporters have been anxious to avoid any controversy on the first visit by a pontiff since John Paul II visited in 1996 so they have preferred to highlight the “Hungary Helps” programme, which assists persons in distress to “remain in dignity in their country of origin” by building churches or schools. Hungary “is not a rich country,” but it has helped rebuild churches and schools in Syria and sends doctors to Africa, said Father Fábry, secretary-general of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress, a week-long event marked by colloquia and prayers.

The Pope’s agenda in the Hungarian capital includes meetings with the country’s bishops, representatives of various Christian denominations and the Jewish community, the biggest in Central Europe with 100,000 members.

His programme further includes a tour in the Popemobile and an open-air mass at the huge Hero’s Square: the attendance list included Prime Minister Orban, who comes from a Calvinist family but is married to a Catholic.

Some 75.000 persons were expected to be at the mass, while others followed it on big screens.

Meanwhile, the capital, controlled by the opposition, has been adorned with posters welcoming the Pope and highlighting his calls for solidarity and tolerance towards minorities.

The Brussels Times

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