Pope in Hungary: 'Church must speak the language of charity'

On the second day of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Visit to Hungary, he meets with a group of refugees and poor people assisted by Catholic associations, and says genuine faith challenges us to encounter the poor and speak the language of charity.

By Linda Bordoni

About a six hundred refugees and poor people gathered at St. Elizabeth's Church in Budapest, to listen first-hand to Pope Francis’ words of closeness for those he carries closest to his heart. Some one thousand others filled Rózsák Square outside.

Some were able to offer their testimonies of life marked by persecution, fear and flight. 

The Pope said he was moved by the stories, and he reflected on the testimony brought by Oleg and his family who fled the horrors of war in Ukraine.

“Their journey to the future,” brought them to Hungary, he said, and “began with a journey of memory because Oleg remembered the warm welcome he received in Hungary years ago when he came to work here as a cook.”

New journeys in life

Noting that the memory of that experience encouraged Oleg to take his family and come here to Budapest, where he met with generous hospitality, the Pope said “The memory of love received rekindles hope and inspires people to embark upon a new journey in life.”

“Even amid pain and suffering, once we have received the balm of love, we find the courage needed to keep moving forward: we find the strength to believe that all is not lost, and that a different future is possible.”

Amongst those gathered at St Elizabeth’s Church, many were from Ukraine, but also from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, South Sudan and other countries.

Since Russia invaded its neighbour more than a year ago, more than two million Ukrainians have crossed into Hungary. Some 35,000 have applied for the EU's temporary protection status in the country.

Pope Francis in Budapest at meeting with poor and refugees
Pope Francis in Budapest at meeting with poor and refugees

The language of charity

Pope Francis’ discourse was pastoral in tone and references, as he reminded those present to never forget that the poor are at the heart of the Gospel.

“The poor,” he said, present us with a great challenge that demands we go beyond a kind of “spiritual egotism” that serves to preserve our own inner tranquillity and complacency.

“Genuine faith is challenging, it takes risks, it leads us to encounter the poor and, by the witness of our lives, to speak the language of charity,” the Pope continued.

He recalled that Saint Elizabeth, to whom the Hungarian people have great devotion, spoke the language of charity. 

Like St. Francis of Assisi, who was an inspiration to Saint Elizabeth, “she was touched and transformed by her encounter with Christ, she felt repelled by worldly riches and vanities, and sought to renounce them and to care for those in need.”

“She not only sold her possessions but also spent her life serving the poor, lepers and the sick, personally caring for them, even carrying them on her own shoulders. That is the language of charity.”

The Pope noted that many of the lives of those present to be with him today, are lives marked by pain but also touched by the charity, thanks also to the Greek Catholic Church that has shown “compassion toward all, especially those experiencing poverty, illness and pain.”

“We need a Church that is fluent in the language of charity, that universal language which everyone can hear and understand, even those farthest from us, even those who are not believers,” he said.

Pope Francis meets with the poor and refugees in Budapest
Pope Francis meets with the poor and refugees in Budapest

Gratitude for the Church's service

He thanked the Church in Hungary for its generous and wide-ranging service to charity.  

“You have built up a network that links pastoral workers, volunteers, parish and diocesan Caritas organizations, while also engaging prayer groups, communities of believers, and organizations belonging to other confessions, yet united in the ecumenical fellowship that is born of charity,” he noted.  

"Thank you too, for having welcomed – not only with generosity but also with enthusiasm – so many refugees from Ukraine," he said.

He expressed sadness for the story of Zoltan and his wife who offered their testimony of having to deal with the challenges of homelessness and marginalization.

“Thank you,” he said, “for responding to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, which led you with courage and generosity to build a centre to take in the homeless.”

He expressed appreciation for the fact that the humanitarian organization took care not only of their material needs but was also “attentive to their personal stories and their wounded dignity, caring for them in their loneliness and their struggle to feel loved and welcomed in the world.”

“Anna told us that, 'Jesus, the living Word, heals their hearts and relationships because people are rebuilt from within'; once they realize that in God’s eyes, they are beloved and blessed, they are reborn.”

A lesson for the Church

“This is a lesson for the whole Church, “he said, “it is not enough to provide bread to fill stomachs; we need to fill people’s hearts!”

Charity, the Pope said, is much more than material and social assistance, it has to do with the whole person. “It strives to put people back on their feet with the love of Jesus: a love that helps them to recover their beauty and their dignity.”

Pope Francis meets the poor and refugees in Budapest
Pope Francis meets the poor and refugees in Budapest
Budapest, Meeting with Poor People and Refugees

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29 April 2023, 11:00