Inside look at Pope's first day in Hungary

Our correspondent in Budapest, Deborah Castellano Lubov, takes a look at the first day of Pope Francis' Apostolic Journey to Hungary, during which he met with the country's civil authorities and the local Church's clergy and consecrated religious.

By Deborah Castellano Lubov - Budapest

In line with the motto of his 41st Apostolic Journey abroad, 'Christ is our future', Pope Francis concluded his first full day in Budapest on Friday evening warning against interior exhaustion which, he noted, leads to mediocrity, and instead offered words of encouragement to strive ahead with joy.

These comforting words were addressed to bishops, priests, deacons, consecrated persons, seminarians and pastoral workers in St. Stephen's Co-Cathedral at an event full of emotion and enthusiasm.

Even the Square outside, in front of the Cathedral, was full and people were steeped on the balconies in order to catch a glimpse of the Pope at the event that would conclude his first day in Hungary.

The Square in front of the Co-Cathedral
The Square in front of the Co-Cathedral

The lead-up to this event was no less exciting. In fact, the Pope began his day meeting with 15 homeless people at his residence at Casa Santa Marta in the Vatican before he boarded the papal flight with around 75 journalists, cameramen and producers.

And while the streets of Budapest appeared somewhat understated in their welcome, with few banners and flags, Hungarians are unanimous in expressing their joy for Pope Francis' presence, as he delivers on his 2021 promise to return to the nation and spend more time with the people.

As the motorcade brought the Pope to his first appointment at the President's residence, many people, including groups of school children, some in pink hats, all waving and excited to see the Holy Father, lined the streets to welcome him.

The State even offered free public transportation to anyone registered for the Pope's public events.

Even though we could not understand the Hungarian reportage in local media, Hungarians confirmed that there is much joy for the Pope's presence. They told us how the Church and State help families live their faith.

One mother shared the fact that her children attend a Catholic school, adding that here in Hungary parents can send their children to Catholic schools for free.

In his first official address in the nation, the Holy Father urged Hungarian authorities to "look beyond national boundaries", warned against rising nationalism in Europe, and made yet another appeal for an end to the war in Ukraine, calling for "creative efforts for peace" to drown out the "soloists of war".

Pope Francis addresses Hungarian authorities
Pope Francis addresses Hungarian authorities

The dark shadow of war

This visit to the country feels different to the last time he was on Hungarian soil for the closing Mass in September 2021 of the International Eucharist Congress.

While joy is palpable in Hungary for the Pope's presence, there seems to be a cloud hovering nearby: namely, the war in neighbouring Ukraine and the indescribable suffering it wreaks just across the border. This tragedy has led the Pope to issue countless appeals for peace, dialogue, diplomatic solutions, and as many warnings against the threat posed to the entire human family by the escalating conflict and the increasing armament race.

Since Russia renewed its invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, nearly 1 million Ukrainian nationals have travelled through Hungary as refugees. The Cardinal Archbishop of Budapest told me how the Church has been committed to welcoming and helping the suffering Ukrainians who have arrived here. The Ambassador to the Holy See, and those who offer support and assistance to those on the move, have said the same.

Pope Francis ended his first day in Budapest at the Apostolic Nunciature where he will be staying throughout his visit, as he prepares for Saturday, which includes a visit to an institute for blind and disabled children, a meeting with a group of poor people and refugees, an opportunity to pay his respects to the Greek-Catholic community, and a chance to spend time with young people.

Hungarians line the streets to welcome Pope Francis
Hungarians line the streets to welcome Pope Francis

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28 April 2023, 21:08