WORCESTER, Massachusetts — Archbishop Michael W. Banach, a native of Massachusetts, will be moving from western Africa to central Europe this summer to start his new post as papal ambassador to Hungary.

The current geopolitical situation caused by the Russian invasion of neighboring Ukraine will be one of the challenges he said he will be facing.

Pope Francis appointed Banach, 59, a priest of the Diocese of Worcester, as apostolic nuncio in Hungary. The announcement was published in the Daily Bulletin of the Holy See Press Office May 3.

“Although I knew I would be transferred from Senegal, Hungary came as a surprise. I am excited,” Banach said in an email to The Catholic Free Press, newspaper of his home Diocese of Worchester.

He sent it from Dakar, the capital of Senegal, where he has been apostolic nuncio since 2016. The same year the pope named him to also serve as nuncio to Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde, and he also is apostolic delegate in Mauritania.

Prior to that string of appointments, he was nuncio to Papua New Guinea for three years. He has been in the Vatican diplomatic service since 1994.

“The new apostolic nuncio is asked to arrive in his new country within two months of the publication of his appointment. Hence, I will probably leave Dakar for Budapest at the end of June or the beginning of July,” he said.

“My ministry in Hungary will be similar to what I, as apostolic nuncio, have been doing in other countries: seeking to strengthen the bonds of communion that exist between the local church and the Apostolic See; working closely with the conference of bishops; promoting ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, etc.,” he said.

Worchester Bishop Robert J. McManus said Banach called him at the time of his appointment to let him know that he was being moved to Hungary.

“The transfer to Hungary is a huge responsibility and a sign of the Holy Father’s confidence in his diplomatic abilities,” the bishop told The Catholic Free Press.

A nuncio also is charged with fostering relations between the Holy See and the government authorities, Banach explained.

According to the U.S. Department of State, the total population of the country as of 2020 was 9.8 million. According to responses to an optional question about religious affiliation in a 2011 national census, 51% of the 73% who answered the question identified as Catholic.

When asked about the state of Catholicism in Hungary, Banach said it is “vibrant” in a country that “throughout the centuries, has remained faithful to the Holy Father. St. Stephen I of Hungary, the first King of Hungary, enshrined Christianity and Catholicism in the national fabric.”

For an example of a witness to the Christian faith, Banach pointed to the life of Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty, who became an internationally known symbol of uncompromising opposition to communism during the period of Soviet domination of Hungary.

Imprisoned after what was widely regarded as a show trial in 1949, Mindszenty was released during the 1956 Hungarian revolt, and after Soviet troops crushed the uprising, he took refuge in the U.S. Embassy until 1971. He died in exile in Vienna in 1975.

“Today, Eastern-rite Catholics, Orthodox, Calvinists and Lutherans are present in the country, but the strength of the Christian faith and witness remains evident,” Banach said.

Judaism and Islam also are represented in the religious affiliations of the Hungarian citizens, he noted.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban made the Vatican his first visit outside of the country after his party won reelection in early April. At a private papal audience, Pope Francis reportedly thanked Orban for Hungary’s generous receiving of Ukrainian refugees as a result of the war.

“So, the current geopolitical situation will also be one of the challenges facing me,” Banach commented.

The archbishop grew up in Auburn, Massachusetts. He has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Jesuit-run College of the Holy Cross in Worcester and studied for the priesthood at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.

After his priestly ordination July 2, 1988, he was an associate pastor for four years then began studies in Rome in 1992 at the Pontifical Gregorian University, where he earned a doctorate in canon law in 1994.

He joined the Vatican diplomatic service following his studies in Rome. Two years later, he was named a monsignor.

He has served in Bolivia and Nigeria and worked in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria as desk officer for Central Europe for the Vatican Secretariat of State.

Before being named a nuncio, he was the Vatican’s permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization in Vienna.

In February 2013, before he retired, Pope Benedict XVI named then-Msgr. Banach an apostolic nuncio, then in April of that year Pope Francis assigned him the post in Papua New Guinea. His episcopal ordination as an archbishop was April 27, 2013.

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Russell is editor of The Catholic Free Press, newspaper of the Diocese of Worcester.