Pope Francis’ visit to Hungary: “More Creative Work for Peace needed”

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By Elisabeth Hellenbroich

The apostolic trip of Pope Francis to Hungary’s capital Budapest (April 28/29 /30) has been one of the most impressive visits by this Pope and will be remembered as a „unique“ moment in history – a word that was also used by  Hungarian President Katalin Novak in her welcome greeting to the Pope.  In an interview with Vatican News the Hungarian primate, Cardinal Péter Erdö (also known for his translation and in depth studies of the German theologian and philosopher Nikolaus von Kues – E.H.) evaluated the papal visit by stating that „Pope Francis came to Hungary as a pilgrim of peace and brought the faithful a sense of immense joy and a call for peace.“ Whether we look at the meeting with the handicapped and blind children, who received the Pope, or the meeting with representatives of the Catholic community caring for the poor and refugees above all from Ukraine, all these meetings were characterized by great joy and hope. They showed the immense potential that Hungary has as a pace setter for peace and a cultural bridge between East and West.

Outstanding was the meeting which the Pope had with authorities of the Hungarian government, civil society and the diplomatic corps at a Carmelite monastery during the first day of his visit. The meeting was opened by Hungarian President Katalin Novak (former Minister for family affairs under Prime Minister Orbán). In her courageous speech, the President spoke about „Kairos“ – a unique moment, in which the Pope visit was taking place in Hungary.  „We Hungarians are called to live to ‘sursum corda’ –  we are called to live towards a higher goal where unity is possible between believers and others,“ she stated. She expressed the hope that the Pope’s visit represents a „rise for an intellectual and spiritual renewal“ of Europe. „Only we, citizens and leaders, can work in the direction of a more peaceful and harmonious Europe“,  Novak stated.

She recalled that Pope John Paul II visited Hungary twice after the collapse of communism. „You, Holy Father, come at a time, when Hungary in the last 30 years has renewed the ecumenical alliance between Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox, those who in their martyrdom gave their best on the basis of Christian values.“ In light of the perspectives for the 21rst century, the President emphasized that what matters „is the protection of human life, the protection of the family and the strength of the religious belief. Therefore, the Hungarian constitution underlines that the institution of marriage as the conjugal relation between man and woman in the family must be looked at as the basis for the life of the nation. That each human being has the right to life and that the unborn must be protected. That human life is the basis for the freedom of mankind.“ According to the President, the meeting with the Pope occurs at a tragic moment, when war is happening, and she called on the Pope for help. „We want to protect our values. We don’t want to heat up the war, but we want that there is peace and the people wish that you raise your voice. We ask for an honest and just peace!“

War is always bringing about misery and poverty, she further stressed, and reminded that the poor play a special role in Hungary, as is symbolized by the example of Saint Elisabeth, a duchess from Thuringia who in the 14th century helped the poor and whose gifts for the poor where by miracle once „transformed into roses.“ As a gift, the President gave the Pontiff a rose bush to be planted in the Vatican Garden. When some roses flourish, she told the Pope, he should „think about St Elisabeth from Hungary.“

Hungary and the “dream of peace”

In his beautiful address, the Pope used the image of Budapest (located at the Danube river), which is not only a noble and „lively metropolis“, but also a theatre of great historical events, that is called to take a leading role in the present and in the future. He called Budapest „a city of history, a city of bridges and a city of saints.“  In reference to the horrible two world wars and the deportation of thousands of Jewish citizens, he spoke about Hungary as a country that „is conscious of its mission to preserve the treasure of democracy and the dream of peace. “

The pope gave particular emphasis to the vital role which Hungary played „in the process of European unification“ and which it still plays.  However, the principles which the United Nations stand for, represent the hope of the possibility of working together for a closer bond among nations, such that further conflicts will be avoided, and the quest of politics to strengthen „multilateral relations“. All this, the Pope stated „seems a distant memory from the past. We seem to be witnessing the sorry sunset of that choral dream of peace, as the soloists of war now take over!  Politics seem to be more stirring up emotions than to resolve problems. The maturity attained after the horrors of the past world war, now gives way to regression towards a kind of adolescent belligerence (…). Peace will never come as the result of the pursuit of individual strategic interests, but only out of policies capable of looking at the bigger picture, to favour the development of everyone: policies that are attentive to individuals, to the poor and to the future, and not merely to power and present prospect.“

As Pope Francis underlined „at this historical juncture Europe is crucial, for, thanks to its  history, it represents the memory of humanity; in this sense, it is called to take up its proper role, which is to unite those far apart, to welcome other peoples and to refuse to consider anyone an eternal enemy.”  He also used the image of „Budapest a city of bridges“, underlining that that this Europe of 27 member states, that was built to create bridges between nations, requires a contribution of all, while not diminishing the uniqueness of each. He pleaded for a „Europe that is not hostage to its parts, neither falling prey to populism, nor to supra-nationalism that loses sight of its population.” He also strongly argued against those forms of „ideological colonization“ that would cancel differences, as in the case of the so called Gender Theory, that would “place before the reality of life, reductive concepts of freedom – for example by vaunting as progress a senseless right to abortion, which is always a tragic defeat.“

„How much better it would be to build a Europe centered on the human person and on its peoples with effective policies for natality and the family, like those pursued attentively in this country”. The Pope emphasized that Hungary can act as a „bridge builder“ by drawing upon its specific  „ecumenical character“ and he paid homage to Budapest as the „City of Saints“ above all St King Stephan and St  Elisabeth, by referring to the Hungarian constitution which uses a clear and concise phrase imbued with Christian spirit, according to which „we have a general duty to protect the vulnerable and the poor.“ This finds expression in the promotion of numerous charitable and educational works inspired by Christian values, in which the Catholic community actively participates, while also giving  support for Christians worldwide which experience hardships and adversity, especially in Syria and Lebanon.

Very moving was also the Pope’s visit to the Hungarian Greek Orthodox Catholic Community and Church, where he was cordially greeted by Archbishop Fülöp Kocsis, who underlined that it was Pope John Paul II who said that the Eastern and Western Churches „breathe with two lungs“, one has byzantine-latin rite, the other is Catholic. As Greek Orthodox Catholic community „we try to be faithful to our Eastern roots“, he said.

During his three day visit in Budapest the Pope also had informal meetings at the Ppostolic nunciature of Budapest. In a press conference on his flight back to Rome, the Pope reported that he had an informal meeting with the former “Foreign Minister” of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, Metropolit Hilarion who, after his replacement a year ago, came to Budapest. When asked by a journalist about the meeting, and whether Hilarion and Orbán could become channels of openness towards Moscow, in order to accelerate a peace process for Ukraine, the Pope replied that „Hilarion is someone I respect very much, and we have always had a good relationship. And he was kind enough and met me, while also attending the mass. Hilarion is an intelligent person with whom one can talk, and these relationships need to be maintained.“ He also stressed that through Anthony, who is in Hilarion’s place now „I am in contact with Patriarch Kirill.“

In his address to the bishops, priests, deacons and seminarians at the St Stephen co-Cathedral,  the Pope referred at one point to his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI and his analysis about the growing „secularism.“ He stated that it was important not to pay too much attention to „worldliness“. That even in Hungary, with its solid tradition of faith „we witness the spread of secularism and its effects, which often threaten the integrity and beauty of the family, expose young people to lifestyles marked by materialism and hedonism, and lead to polarization regarding new issues and challenges.“  On the other hand, as Pope Benedict XVI had also observed, „secularizing trends… have always meant a profound invitation to purify the Church from worldliness.‘“

The Pope: Do not virtualize life – against imposition of consensus

The Pope also spoke in front of 10.000 enthusiastic young people who had gathered in the Papp László Budapest Sportarėna (Budapest), presenting beautiful music, dances and testimonies. He told them not to „fear getting rid of secularization“ and called upon them not to become enslaved by their cell phones and virtual reality. They should put their “talent to a good use” and strive for a higher goal in life, he said. Young people indeed should dare to swim against the main stream: „Please do not virtualize life, for life is concrete! Today we have great need of such real and authentic people.“

At the Péter Pázmany Catholic University, Pope Francis had a fascinating encounter with some members of the academic and scientific community of Hungary. He had been invited by the faculty of Informatics and Bionic, which educates computer engineers as well as electro technical engineers while at the same time it is overlapping its research with biological and neurological sciences investigating the human brain. The rector of the university pointed, in his welcome address, to the unique dialogue that the university Pázmany with its faculty of Humanities has with neighboring countries like „Syria, the cradle of Christianity.“ While at the same time it devotes a lot of attention to the Armenian studies in respect to the old Christian heritage.

The Pope in his address spoke about culture, by using the image of the Danube River connecting different countries and cultures. He focused his remarks on the theologian and philosopher Romano Guardini (about whom the Pope in the mid-eighties had intended to write a doctoral thesis during his stay in Germany at the Jesuit University Sankt Georgen – E.H.). In his Letters from Lake Como: Explorations in Technology and the Human Race (Edinburgh 1994), as the Pope underlined, Guardini  „did not demonize technology, which improves life and communication and brings many advantages, but he warned of the risk that it might end up controlling, if not dominating our lives. And he left to posterity the troubling question: ‚What will happen when we become subject to the imperatives of technology? A system of machines is engulfing life…. Can life retain its living character in this system?‘“

The Pope also referred to the novel The Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson (NY 1908) who somehow made a prophetic description of a „future dominated by technology, where everything is made bland and uniform in the name of progress, and a new „humanitarianism“ is proclaimed , cancelling diversity, suppressing the distinctiveness of peoples and abolishing religion, abolishing all differences.“ Where an ‚ideological colonization‘ prevails, as humanity in a world run by machines, is gradually diminished and social bonds are weakened. (…) In this technically advanced yet grim world described by Benson, it appears obvious that the sick should be ignored, euthanasia practiced and language and cultures abolished, in order to achieve a universal peace that is nothing else than an oppression based on the imposition of a consensus.“

Fascination of discovering

As the Pope stressed, at the Second Vatican Council, the Church reflected about culture, underlining that “culture must be directed to the total perfection of the human person, to the good of the community and human society as a whole. It should cultivate the mind in such a way as to encourage a capacity for wonder, for understanding, for contemplation for forming personal judgements and cultivating a religious, moral and social sense,“ (Gaudium et spes, 59). The Pope referred to the testimony by a scientist in molecular biology, who had stated in a testimony at the beginning of the encounter in the university: “As we delve into the smallest details, we find ourselves immersed in the complexity of God’s work.“

According to the Pope „true lovers of culture, in fact, never feel entirely satisfied; they always experience a healthy interior restlessness. They research, they raise questions, they take risks and they continue to probe. They are able to move beyond their certitudes and plunge with humility into the mystery of life, which reveals itself to the restless, not the complacent, is open to other culture and calls for the sharing of knowledge. That is the spirit of the university and I thank you for experiencing it as such.“ At the end of his speech the Pontiff made reference to the word inscribed in the ancient Temple of Delphi: „Know thyself“ (which was one of the corner-stones of Socratic reasoning). He commented that „the inscription of Delphi invites us to a kind of knowledge that starting from the humility of our limitations, leads us to discover our amazing potential, which goes far beyond that of technology.“ He expressed the hope that the university, and indeed every university, “will always be a beacon of universality and freedom, a fruitful workshop of humanism, a laboratory of hope.“

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