ROME – On Monday the Vatican announced that for his next international trip, Pope Francis will travel to Hungary later this spring, where his schedule will be marked by appointments with political leaders and meetings with the poor and refugees.
In a Feb. 27 statement, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis will travel to the Hungarian capital of Budapest from April 28-30.
During his three-day visit, Francis will have a busy schedule, meeting with Hungarian President Katalin Novák and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, as well as the country’s civil authorities and its bishops, priests, and religious.
On April 29, he will pay a private visit to children served by the Blessed László Batthyány-Strattmann Institute, a Hungarian physician known as the “doctor of the poor,” and who was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2003.
That day Pope Francis will also meet with poor people and refugees in what will likely be one of his most politically sensitive appointments of the trip, given Hungary’s traditional hostility to welcoming new migrants.
Francis will also meet with young people and will have a private meeting with members of his Jesuit order before concluding the day.
Before returning to Rome on Sunday, he will celebrate a public Mass and meet with the “academic and cultural world” at Budapest’s Péter Pázmány Catholic University.
This trip comes after a much shorter stop in Hungary in September 2021, visiting for just seven hours for the conclusion of a Eucharistic Congress before moving on to Slovakia, where he stayed for several days.
At the time, Pope Francis greeted Orbán briefly before Mass, but his decision not to make a longer visit on that occasion was seen as a snub given Orbán’s rightwing populist politics.
When Orbán won a landslide reelection victory in April of last year, making him the longest serving leader in the EU, he boasted that he had defeated his “opponent” in Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and he received a congratulatory phone call from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
At that time, Pope Francis was visiting Malta, where in nearly every public speech he was urging Europe to adopt a more welcoming attitude toward migrants and refugees and doubling down on his willingness to visit Kyiv in support of Ukraine, under the right circumstances.
In Hungary, pro-Orbán media in the past have described the pope’s stance on migration as “cretinous” and “senile,” and a member of Orbán’s ruling Fidesz party at one point even dubbed Francis the “Soros Pope” for his views on the economy.
Pope Francis, on his part, has repeatedly blasted the right-wing populism of Orbán embraces, saying in a December 2021 visit to Greece that, “We cannot avoid noting with concern how today, and not only in Europe, we are witnessing a retreat from democracy.”
“The remedy is not to be found in an obsessive quest for popularity, in a thirst for visibility, in a flurry of unrealistic promises…but in good politics,” the pope said at the time.
The two met at the Vatican in April of last year, where Pope Francis voiced appreciation to Hungary for welcoming Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion and gave Orbán a medallion of St. Martin in honor of Hungary’s reception of the refugees.
Francis’s visit to Hungary will likely have significant political undertones, and Ukraine and migration will undoubtedly be among the key themes of the trip.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen