ROME – Ahead of Pope Francis’s visit to Budapest next week, the archbishop of the city has said his country is a bride of dialogue between different cultures and religious traditions, and is a place of great hospitality as it hosts hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees.
Speaking to Crux, Hungarian Cardinal Péter Erdő, the archbishop of Esztergom–Budapest, said Hungary is unique given “the presence of many confessions and by a cultural multiplicity” which he said, “constitutes an appeal, an invitation to dialogue.”
Noting that the logo for Pope Francis’s upcoming visit contains a bridge, he said Budapest, the only city the pope will visit, “is a city of bridges, and it can also have the vocation of being a bridge between east and west, not only in the material sense, but also in the human sense.”
Though he declined to go into depth on the migration issue and the prominence it might have during the papal visit given the often-opposing views between Francis and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Erdő touched on the fallout of the ongoing war in Ukraine and the impact Ukrainian refugees have had on Hungarian society.
“The war in Ukraine represents a great humanitarian challenge for our church and for our country. Our Catholic organizations are present on the Ukrainian border since the beginning of the war,” offering assistance to those who relocated, or simply passed through, he said.
Hungary, which has a population of roughly 10 million, has welcomed some 1,500,000 since the war began last February, Erdő said, saying a planned meeting with Pope Francis and poor people and refugees during the visit “is a great example of Christian charity.”
Pope Francis will visit Hungary, which shares a border with Ukraine, from April 28-30, following a brief visit to the country in 2021 to close an international Eucharistic congress.
He will only visit the capital city of Budapest, but his schedule is packed with appointments including meetings with political leaders such as Hungarian President Katalin Novák and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, as well as the country’s bishops, priests, and religious.
The pope will also hold a meeting with poor people and refugees and will visit a school assisting disadvantaged children.
Please read below Crux’s full interview with Cardinal Péter Erdő:
Crux: What is your response to those who think that this visit is compensating for the ‘snub’ of not having visited for longer in 2021? Was the briefness of that visit seen this way, as a snub?
Erdő: Two years ago, the Holy Father attended the closing Mass for the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest, where pilgrims were present from as many as 83 countries around the world. It was therefore a major international event. This time, instead, Pope Francis is coming to make a pastoral visit to Hungary, where he wants to meet our church and our people. We feel very honored for this personal attention from him.
This visit obviously has added meaning given the war happening in Ukraine. How important of a topic do you expect this to be during the visit?
The war in Ukraine represents a great humanitarian challenge for our church and for our country. Our Catholic organizations are present on the Ukrainian border since the beginning of the war to help the refugees who continue to arrive; Caritas, the Knights of Malta, but also diocesan and parochial organizations have committed themselves to the needy and have ensured food, lodging, help for those who wanted to continue on toward the west, and work and study for those who instead wanted to stay in Hungary.
A special task was the teaching of refugee children. Some know the Hungarian language, others required instruction in Russian, still others in the Hungarian language. For many, we could organize lessons in our schools. Teachers of the Ukrainian language were also found among the refugees. We have also collected and sent to Ukraine material aid such as foodstuffs, medicines and medicaments, aggregators, trucks, etc. More or less 1,500,000 refugees have arrived in Hungary, while the number of the population of our country is less than 10 million. A meeting between Pope Francis, poor people, and refugees is planned at the church of St. Elizabeth which is a great example of Christian charity.
Your President, Katalin Novák, was one of the few heads of state to participate in the funeral of Benedict XVI in January. What type of legacy does Benedict XVI have among Hungarians?
Madam President of Hungary Katalin Novák participated in the funeral of Pope Benedict. There were also several high-ranking politicians from other countries, but not as an official delegation. Pope Benedict strengthened the faith of many. Also in Hungary, numerous works of this pontiff have been translated and published. Dialogue between faith and culture was a favorite theme of Pope Benedict that meant so much to Hungarian intellectuals.
Apart from geopolitical questions, what is unique about the church in Hungary? What will Pope Francis find when he arrives?
Hungary is a border region, if we want, a periphery. The Danube which runs through the city of Budapest was the border of the Roman empire for many centuries. In the last millennium the Hungarians have welcomed western Christian culture, but they were and are directly bordering the cultural area of Eastern Europe and in certain eras they belonged to the Turkish empire. The country is still characterized by the presence of many confessions and by a cultural multiplicity which constitutes an appeal, an invitation to dialogue.
The logo of this papal visit contains the symbol of a bridge. Budapest is a city of bridges, and it can also have the vocation of being a bridge between east and west, not only in the material sense, but also in the human sense.
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