He Pope Francisco urged Hungarians on Sunday to open their doors to each other, to the conclude a visit weekend calling for an end to Russia’s war in the Ukraine and for Europe to welcome immigrants and the poor.
Francis issued the appeal from the banks of the Danube while celebrating mass at the Kossuth Lajos square in Budapestwith the Hungarian Parliament and the famous Chain Bridge in Budapest as a backdrop.
The celebration provided the visual highlight of the three day visit of Francis that has been dominated by the Vatican’s concern about the plight of neighboring Ukraine.
Citing local organizers, the Vatican said that some 50,000 people participated in the Mass, more than 30,000 of them in the square on a bright and sunny spring morning. They included President Katalin Novak and Hungary’s right-wing populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose tepid support for Ukraine has riled other members of the European Union.
Francis has expressed his gratitude for the recent reception of Ukrainian refugees in Hungary. But he has challenged Orban’s hardline anti-immigration policies, which in 2015-2016 included building a barbed wire fence on the border with Serbia to prevent people from entering. Upon his arrival, Francis urged Hungary and Europe to welcome those fleeing war, poverty and climate change, calling for safe and legal migration corridors.
“How sad and painful it is to see the doors closed”Francis said in his Sunday homily on the Danube. “The closed doors of our egoism with respect to others; the closed doors of our individualism in the midst of a society of increasing isolation; the closed doors of our indifference to the underprivileged and those who suffer; the doors that we close to those who are foreigners or different from us, to migrants or to the poor,” Francisco said.
After the Mass, Francis had one final event in Budapest before returning to Rome: a speech on European culture at the Pazmany Peter Catholic University.
Francis, 86, has tried to forge a diplomatic balancing act in his pleas to end Russia’s war, expressing solidarity with Ukraine and keeping the door open for dialogue with Moscow. On Saturday he prayed with Ukrainian refugees and then met with an envoy of Russian Patriarch Kirill, who has strongly supported the invasion of Moscow and justified it as a metaphysical battle against the liberal West.
Francisco kissed Metropolitan Hilarion’s cross out of respect for the Russian Orthodox Church during what the Vatican called a 20-minute “cordial” meeting at the Vatican embassy in Budapest. Hilarion, who developed good relations with the Vatican as Kirill’s longtime foreign minister, said he briefed Francis on his work now as the Moscow Patriarchate’s representative in Budapest.
Hilarion attended Francis’ Sunday Mass, along with representatives of other Christian churches and Hungary’s Jewish community, Vatican News said.
Francis’ visit to Hungary, his second in as many years, brought him as close as he has come to the Ukrainian front, but also to the heart of Europe, where Orban’s outspoken right-wing Christian government has become a bulwark against a secularizing West. .
However, Francisco took advantage of the visit to make a called upon the continent to find again its spirit of unity and purposereferencing Budapest’s bridges over the Danube as symbols of unity and connection.
The site of his final mass could not have been more appropriate for that message: the sprawling square is named after one of Hungary’s most famous statesmen who served as prime minister after the 1848-1849 revolution against the government of the Habsburgs. It is separated from the left bank of the Danube River only by Hungary’s iconic neo-Gothic Parliament House, the country’s largest building and home to its National Assembly. Nearby is the Chain Bridge, one of several bridges that cross the river and link the Pest and Buda sides of the city.
(with information from AP)
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