Cardinal Czerny meets a Nigerian refugee from Ukraine Cardinal Czerny meets a Nigerian refugee from Ukraine 

Czerny to migrants in Budapest: The Pope is close to you

The mission of the interim prefect of the Dicastery for Integral Development, to bring spiritual and material support, in the name of the Pope, to those who have been forced to flee from Ukraine, began Tuesday morning in Hungary

By Salvatore Cernuzio – Budapest

Tatiana is 31 years old but says she feels twice that age. She hasn't slept for four days, since she decided to flee by train from the Ukrainian countryside near Kryvyi Rih to Lviv, and from there to Budapest. She arrived in Hungary this morning, a few hours before the bombs started raining down on her village. She left behind a cow, chickens, goats, all the livestock she had raised with her parents for decades. She only took one cat with her, which she hides in a hood: “He's blind, the children begged me to take him at least because they were upset.”

The children... There are seven of them playing next to Tatiana and the pile of backpacks, luggage, pouches, where their whole lives are now enclosed. Two are her children, two her nephews, three her younger brothers. With her mother and sister, she decided to leave at night and join relatives in Italy. For more than five hours they have been huddled in a corner of Kelety station, the starting point for international travel, and the first stop on the trip to Hungary by Cardinal Michael Czerny, acting prefect of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development.

Cardinal Czerny with volunteers
Cardinal Czerny with volunteers

The mission begins

The cardinal left Rome’s Ciampino airport this morning to undertake the mission, on behalf of the Pope and "all the Christian people," of closeness and support for those who have been forced by the cruel violence of war to leave their homes and their homeland. About 2000-2500 people have arrived in Kelety each day for the past week, welcomed by the Hungarian Caritas which, together with other organizations (including the ecumenical Caritas and Protestants), has divided up the five borders with Ukraine to better distribute aid. The government seems to have offered guarantees of sustenance for at least three months, but the refugees do not want to stay in Hungary for too long: Poland, Italy, and especially Germany are the most popular destinations, either for job opportunities or because relatives live there. "Hungary is just a bridge," says a priest.

Mothers and children

Around noon, Cardinal Czerny, in cassock and red biretta, and wearing a pectoral cross made from the wood of a boat from Lampedusa (many people are curious, and ask him about its significance), heads to this station in ancient Pest, which had already hosted the great wave of migrants fleeing Syria in 2015. By the time he arrives, volunteers are busy cutting up buns to fill with ham or salami and distributing them for lunch. The children are offered snacks and chocolate bars, along with soda pop and fruit juices. They consume half of them, then leave them to their mothers, because, wrapped up in their heavy coats, they want to play catch or slide across the marble floor. They have fun in their own way, while their mothers watch them with furrowed brows. They take turns throwing themselves on the stands where toys, nappies, clothes, medicines, water, and long-life food are piled up in boxes.

Donated goods made available to the refugees
Donated goods made available to the refugees

Personal accompaniment

There is no limit to the quantity, and of course no charge. Deacon Gabor Csorba, head of Caritas, which coordinates aid at the station, explains to the cardinal: "Whoever wants to takes what they need. On several occasions he says that the work for the refugees is not limited to material goods, but goes much further: "The refugees who arrive by train have passed the bureaucratic checks and have received a free medical examination for Covid and other diseases. Once here, we get in touch with the mayors of the different districts [each district in Budapest has its own mayor, ed.] to provide them with food and accommodation and with big companies to find them work. There are more than a thousand of them, we are fewer than fifteen, but we try to organize their reception and accompany them personally.

“The war of all”

Cardinal Czerny offers words of encouragement: “Thank you for your work.” He repeats these words to a Caritas volunteer who asks him for a blessing for her and her companions: “The Pope's blessing.” “But is he the Pope?” asks a man passing by, also a refugee from Ukraine (he won't say from where), who arrived in Budapest a few hours ago. He stops to talk to the cardinal, says he needs to ask him some questions; he asks about the trip – the itinerary, its significance – but above all, whether this war is everyone's war or a war at the expense of some peoples and minorities. “The whole world is involved,” Cardinal Czerny replies. Many approach to say hello, to take a photo, or to make a request. Many look on, but without moving from their seats, especially those in line at the ticket machines: there are about sixty of them and they have been waiting for several hours.

Cardinal Czerny speaks with a young man who escaped from the war in Ukraine
Cardinal Czerny speaks with a young man who escaped from the war in Ukraine

Groups from Asia and Africa

The Cardinal then goes to greet a group of young Nigerians. Their names are Isy, Christopher, Joyce; they are between 19 and 22 years old. They fled from Ternopil, where they were studying medicine. In their eyes and in their stories, you do not see the desperation of those who have seen their lives crumble: their life in Ukraine was a transition phase, and they have a family and a country waiting for them. The same is true of the groups of Chinese and Vietnamese, who are all standing together in a corner just before the tracks, displaying their flags. They came out without a hitch via the humanitarian corridors; they had no particular difficulties at the borders. All, however, are in an obvious state of shock. "I just want to go home," Joyce tells the cardinal. He shook her hand and replied: "Good luck. God is with you and the Pope is close to you.

In the afternoon, Czerny will go to the Church of St Peter Canisius to visit the assistance centre run by the Sant'Egidio community.

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08 March 2022, 21:21