By Delphine Allaire & Linda Bordoni
As the people of Hungary and the participants of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress taking place in Budapest prepare to welcome Pope Francis on Sunday for the closing Mass, the Congress itself is in full swing, with a rich programme of Masses, concerts, exhibits, testimonies, and a film festival.
Organizers of the Congress point out that the gathering is a unique opportunity for the more than one billion Catholics in the world to focus on the centrality of the Eucharist in Christian life.
The Budapest event is also an occasion to discover Hungary’s 1,100-year history of faith and respect for tradition, and a long-standing relationship between the country’s Church and State.
The Hungarian Ambassador to the Holy See, Eduard Habsburg-Lothringen told Vatican Radio’s Delphine Allaire that the people of Hungary view the Pope’s presence in Budapest as "a real gift."
“They are thrilled, happy, and excited that the Holy Father comes to visit Budapest for the Eucharistic Congress,” Ambassador Habsburg-Loghringen says, noting that everyone is well aware of the fact that this is something the Pope rarely does.
A rare presence
“In fact, it has happened once in the 140 years of Eucharistic Congresses,” and "we view the Pope’s presence to celebrate the final Mass of the Congress as a great gift," he says, "and as an honour."
Regarding the role of the Catholic Church in the country, the Ambassador explains that, together with other religious communities, the Church is “very visible” in the Hungarian State.
“That’s partly because our Constitution states that while Church and State, of course, are very clearly distinguished from each other, Church and State work together for the good of society,” he adds.
That means the different churches and religious communities are very present in the public space and that many schools are run by churches.
“You will see the presence of religious leaders in Hungary as something very normal. Something you don’t see often in other countries in the more western parts of Europe,” he notes.
Ambassador Habsburg-Lothringen also highlights the deep connection between Europe and Hungarians, pointing out that the country is in a very central part of Europe – historically it is part of Mitteleuropa – and the people really feel they are at the heart of the Continent.
“Funnily enough, people sometimes say Hungary is going to leave the EU and I always tell him there are very few countries in Europe in which the enthusiasm for the European idea and for the EU are as high as in Hungary, and for instance, in Poland,” he says.
The Hungarians, he stresses, are “very, very consciously aware of the importance of the European project. They are very much at home in Europe, they are something like ‘the beating heart’ of Europe.
Deeply tied to this scenario is the fact that the Hungarian Church is tightly connected to the Church in other European countries in Europe.
Something, the Ambassador concludes, that is perhaps best symbolized perhaps by the fact that the Hungarian Cardinal, Cardinal Peter Erdo, was the President of the European Bishops Conferences for years.