Christ is our future. This is the theme chosen by Pope Francis for his 41st apostolic journey which will see him go to Budapest, Hungary, from April 28 to 30, 2023. Immigration, the war in Ukraine, and many others issues will likely be on the menu for discussions between the successor of Peter and Prime Minister Viktor Orban, two men who often oppose each other.
For health reasons, the 86-year-old Pope has decided to concentrate his visit to Budapest. He has also planned a gathering in the company of bishops, priests and seminarians, at St. Stephen’s Cathedral, an impressive 96-meter high building, which evokes the era of triumphant Christianity. Of the 9.7 million inhabitants of the country, only 39% profess the Catholic religion and 11% Protestantism, according to data from the last census carried out in 2011.
Under the communist regime, the level of religious practice decreased considerably, and, as of November 2022, the country now has no official religion, however, the various confessions present on Hungarian soil encourage their followers to declare their religious affiliation.
The meeting between the Roman Pontiff and the refugees, scheduled for April 29 in the Church of St. Elisabeth, will have symbolic value, as the theme of migrants has become, over the years, a stumbling block between the Pope and the Hungarian chief executive. The country was in fact an entry point for migrants – mainly Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans – into the European Union in 2015, which led Viktor Orban to close its borders to them.
Conversely, since the start of the war in Ukraine, a country which has a common border with Hungary, the founder of Fidesz has shown great generosity in welcoming refugees: an attitude that came at just the right time to initiate a warming of relations.
But Hungary has another trump card in its hand, and a sizeable one: Viktor Orban is one of the rare European leaders to maintain good relations with the President of the Russian Federation. Moreover, the Church of Hungary has always sought to be a bridge between Latin Catholics and Russian Orthodox.
Vatican diplomacy is thus well aware that the road to peace passes through Budapest. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of the Holy See and number two of the Church, affirmed last April 19, before the Italian deputies, that his services “would certainly take advantage of all the opportunities during this trip to promote peace.”