BUDAPEST – When Pope Francis met with Hungarian Greek Catholics Saturday, members of an eastern church in communion with Rome, the community’s leading prelate said its members have shed their blood for the faith and want to be a bridge between eastern and western Catholicism.

Speaking at the Mother of God Greek Catholic church in Budapest, Metropolitan Archbishop Fülöp Kocsis of the Byzantine Eparchy of Hajdúdorog told Pope Francis that he is “beloved by all of us.”

“From Pope John Paul II we learned the important truth that the Church of Christ breathes with two lungs, the spirit of the East and the spirit of the West, which together make up the living mystical body,” he said.

Kocsis said that image is especially potent in Budapest, where the Greek Catholic parish, Mother of God, is only a few steps away from the Roman Catholic Church of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, which sits directly across the street.

Prior to meeting with the Greek Catholic community in Hungary, which makes up roughly 300,000 of the country’s estimated 5.6 million Catholics, according to Vatican statistics, Pope Francis visited St. Elizabeth of Hungary cathedral, where he met with poor people and refugees.

Among those present for the event were Ukrainian refugees who had fled the war sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year. The Greek Catholic Church is the largest eastern Church in Catholicism. Its faithful make up the majority of Catholics in Ukraine, and since the outbreak of the war with Russia last February, they have been on the front lines providing humanitarian and spiritual support.

Pope Francis’s schedule for his three-day visit to Hungary initially did not include a meeting with the Greek Catholic community, but the appointment was added last-minute and announced days before the pope departed.

In his speech, Kocsis noted that in Budapest, the Greek Catholic church is located mere steps away from the Roman Catholic cathedral, meaning the two communities “live together in the same place.”

“For us Greek Catholics, belonging to the Catholic Church is especially important. Since our birth, since our first unions, we have had to suffer due to this double belonging. Our martyrs died not only for their Christian faith, but for their fidelity to the Catholic Church,” he said.

Referring to the persecution faced during Hungary’s Soviet era, Kocsis said that “instead of bowing to the dictates of communist violence,” those who were killed “remained faithful to the Catholic Church and, because of this, they died.”

“Therefore, no one can doubt that, while seeking to remain faithful to our eastern roots, we do not wish to separate, but intend to become a bridge between the two sister churches, since, in a certain sense, we belong to both,” he said

Kocsis said the pope’s visit to their community gave them “a strong confirmation that we are equal members of the Catholic family,” and he pledged to “commit ourselves in bringing to all a message of unity and fraternity.”

He then gave Pope Francis as a gift a rosary of the Eastern church, called a chotki or komboskini prayer rope, which was made by Greek Catholic youth in Hungary, and which was presented to the pope by children belonging to the community.

“This is the message of all of us who love with filial faith our Lord Jesus Christ, the Church, and his earthly head, Pope Francis,” he said.

The pope, who did not deliver any remarks, joined the Greek Catholics in a traditional prayer, most of which was chanted with the pontiff delivering a blessing at the end. After the brief encounter, Pope Francis walked out of the small church using a cane, accompanied by Kocsis, offering blessings to several individuals including an elderly man and several youth.

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