With the motto ‘Christ is our future,’ Pope Francis returns to Hungary to bring his closeness to the faithful. This 41st Apostolic Visit abroad by the Holy Father takes place as Europe faces a migration and humanitarian crisis, triggered also by the war in Ukraine on Hungary’s eastern border.
By Deborah Castellano Lubov
Pope Francis is set to embark on his 41st Apostolic Journey abroad to the Central European nation of Hungary, even if it is not the first time the Holy Father was in the nation’s capital after having presided over the Closing Mass of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress, recalled Matteo Bruni, Director of the Holy See Press Office, in a briefing to share details on the visit on Friday.
With the motto ‘Christ is our future,’ Pope Francis will set out on his three-day visit to the majority-Christian nation, Bruni underscored, even if this time the Pope’s message for hope will echo in a new way as the war in Ukraine provokes increased suffering on the nation’s northeast border.
Since the start of the war in Ukraine, almost two and a half million refugees fleeing the Russian invasion have passed through Hungary to various European nations, where they have received aid. A fraction of that number has stayed in Hungary.
This visit marks the Pope’s second Apostolic Journey of 2023, after his visit to the African nations of the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan at the beginning of the year.
Pope St. John Paul II visited Hungary twice, in 1991 and 1996, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Bruni recalled.
Maintaining a promise
Even if some question why the Holy Father returns to the same country for the second time within two years, the difference lies in the fact that in 2021, he was there to participate in an international event bringing together faithful from some 83 countries, whereas this time he goes to visit the local Church and the people of Hungary, which was not the case when he passed through Budapest for the Mass for a few hours, before undertaking his Apostolic Journey to Slovakia.
The Holy Father had expressed his desire to visit Hungary more at length during his return flight from Slovakia to Rome in 2021.
“Pope Francis is maintaining his promise to the people of Hungary to return,” Matteo Bruni said.
The Director of the Holy See Press Office went through the Apostolic Journey’s full programme, noting the Pope would give six official discourses, speaking always in Italian, and that translations would be available.
Among the highlights of the Apostolic Journey’s programme will be a meeting with migrants and poor people, another with blind and disabled children, and his encounters with civil authorities and the diplomatic corps, clergy, young people.
He will celebrate Mass for the Hungarian faithful, recite the Regina Caeli, and will have his usual private meeting with his fellow Jesuits.
The Director of the Holy See Press Office announced that there will also be an encounter on 29 April with the Greek-Catholic community.
Holiness in Hungary
The entire visit will be taking place in Budapest, and Bruni noted that Hungary has produced several saints, many of whom came from noble origins, and ended up dedicating their lives to taking care of the ill or poor.
Understanding the examples of holiness in Hungary’s history, Bruni added, will enable those following the Holy Father’s Journey “to get to know and understand our destination.”
Closeness to the suffering from war
As is customary, the Vatican officials travelling with the Holy Father will include Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin; Vatican Secretary for Relations with States and Multilateral Organizations, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher; Vatican Substitute, Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra; Vatican Prefect of the Dicastery for Oriental Churches, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti; Vatican Prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops, Archbishop Robert Francis Prevost; Vatican Prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communications, Paolo Ruffini.
The presence of the Prefect of the Dicastery for Oriental Churches, the Director of the Holy See Press Office noted, is to offer additional closeness to those suffering nearby.
This Apostolic Journey takes place as there is war in Europe and a humanitarian and migration crisis across the border and around the world.
Bruni acknowledged that among the themes the Pope will highlight, will certainly be the nearby suffering and the need for peace.
The Hungarian government has adopted measures to facilitate participation in the Pope’s visit, including free transit for those attending events.
The nation’s government has enacted laws and policies that favor supporting families in the country.
Martyrs and Christianity’s witness
Christianity has more than a 1,000-year history in the country, dating back to St. Stephen, King of Hungary. It survived under communism and during the Cold War, and lives strong, thanks to the witness of martyrs, and a hidden church, over the centuries.
As is customary, it is foreseen that the Holy Father will hold a brief conference on the return flight to Rome.