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Budapest (AFP) – Pope Francis called for a recovery of the European spirit and a rejection of “adolescent belligerence” amid rising nationalism and war in Ukraine, during his visit to Budapest Friday.
The pontiff’s three-day trip started with a meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose nationalist views often clash with those of the pope.
The 86-year-old Argentine will only stay in the capital Budapest due to his fragile health, a month after being hospitalised for bronchitis.
“It is vital, then, to recover the European spirit,” the pope said during a speech, attended by Orban together with other dignitaries.
He regretted that on the international stage, “politics serves more to stir up emotions rather than to resolve problems as the maturity attained after the horrors of the war gives way to regression towards a kind of adolescent belligerence”.
Peace would only come by looking at the bigger picture, he added, with “policies that are attentive to individuals, to the poor and to the future, and not merely to power, profit and present prospects”.
‘Welcoming to all’
Some analysts have said the visit, which shines a spotlight onto the central European country, profits Orban.
The pope met the Hungarian leader after being received at the presidential palace by President Katalin Novak. Live footage showed the two men greeting each other with a handshake.
Orban hailed “the Christian path” as “the path of peace today” at the meeting.
On the war in Ukraine, both men have called for peace talks — but Orban has been an exception in the EU in insisting on maintaining ties with Moscow.
Their views differ on migration, the Hungarian premier regularly espousing anti-migration rhetoric to defend a “Christian Europe”.
This is at odds with the pontiff’s more welcoming stance towards those fleeing poverty or conflict zones.
The pope’s first speech Friday was given at a former monastery that now houses the prime minister’s office.
Francis stressed “the need for openness towards others”, warning against “withdrawing into oneself”.
Then in a speech at St Stephen’s Basilica later, he lauded “a church welcoming to all” and urged the attending bishops and clergy to “avoid rigidity”.
Giant screens were set up in the square to transmit his speech live to the public, where thousands of people were gathered.
Among those lining the streets to try to catch a glimpse of the pontiff as he arrived earlier Friday, was Laszlo Temesi, a retired journalist.
He was happy “the world’s attention is on Hungary.
“This country has a slightly negative image… perhaps it will be a little positive now,” he told AFP.
Francis last visited Hungary — where 39 percent of the population of 9.7 million people are Catholic — in a brief stopover in 2021.
Last month he spent three nights in hospital with bronchitis, fuelling concerns about his long-term health and future as head of the worldwide Catholic Church.
On his 41st international trip since becoming pope in 2013, Francis plans to meet young people, local church members and representatives of the academic and cultural sectors.
On Saturday, the pope will meet refugees from Ukraine, Afghanistan and other countries. On Sunday, he will preside over an open-air mass.
During an audience last year at the Vatican, Francis thanked Orban for welcoming Ukrainians fleeing the war across the border.
In a society where family and gender rights are contentious political issues, pro-Orban media have criticised the pope in the past for being too favourable to migrants and the LGBTQ community.
Francis is the second pope to visit Hungary, after John Paul II made trips in 1991 and 1996.
© 2023 AFP