Grounded in its Christian faith, Hungary “can draw on its specifically ecumenical character” to bring unity to Europe…

By Shannon Mullen (CNA)

Budapest (Hungary), April 28, 2023. Pope Francis is welcomed by Katalin Novák, President of the Republic of Hungary, and by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (Photo – Grzegorz Galazka)

Speaking to Hungarian civil authorities in Budapest, “a city of bridges,” Pope Francis on April 28 challenged the nations of Europe to recapture a spirit of fraternal unity and pursue “creative efforts for peace.”

“In the postwar period, Europe, together with the United Nations, embodied the noble hope that, by working together for a closer bond between nations, further conflicts could be avoided,” the Pope said at the start of his three-day visit to the Hungarian capital.

“In the world in which we presently live, however, that passionate quest of a politics of community and the strengthening of multilateral relations seems a wistful memory from a distant past,” the Holy Father lamented.

Before his address, delivered in a former Carmelite monastery in Budapest’s Castle District, Pope Francis met with Hungary’s President Katalin Novák and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, whose conservative policies, many of which aim to preserve and strengthen the nation’s Christian identity, have placed Hungary’s government at odds with more liberal members of the European Union.

In his remarks, the Pope made no direct reference to the ongoing war in Ukraine, Hungary’s neighbor to the northeast. Instead, he spoke broadly of an urgent need to “generate forms of diplomacy capable of pursuing unity, not aggravating differences.”

Pope Francis placed Hungary, a historically Christian nation with a rich tradition of statesmanship, and Budapest itself, forged 150 years ago out of three separate cities, at the center of this leadership challenge.

“I think of a Europe that is not hostage to its parts, neither falling prey to self-referential forms of populism nor resorting to a fluid, if not vapid, ‘supranationalism’ that loses sight of the life of its peoples,” the Pope said.

In a sense, the Pope said, the city of Budapest symbolizes that vision.

“The most famous bridge in Budapest, the chain bridge,” the Pope noted, “helps us to envision that kind of Europe, since it is composed of many great and diverse links that derive their solidity and strength from being joined together.

“In this regard, the Christian faith can be a resource, and Hungary can act as a ‘bridge builder’ by drawing upon its specific ecumenical character.

“Here, different confessions live together without friction, cooperating respectfully and constructively.”

Yet Hungary must also confront internal challenges to its historical character as a welcoming nation, the Pope emphasized, alluding to efforts by Orbán and his party to curtail the flow of refugees from the Middle East and Africa.

Hungary has welcomed some 1.5 million war refugees from Ukraine since Russia invaded the country more than a year ago, and the country has been a global leader in assisting persecuted Christian communities in Syria, Lebanon, and other parts of the world.

While praising those efforts, Pope Francis also evoked the fraternal spirit of the country’s first king, St. Stephen, noting that the 11th-century monarch advised his son, St. Emeric, that those who brought different languages and customs to Hungary “adorn the country.”

“The issue of acceptance and welcome is a heated one in our time, and is surely complex,” the Pope acknowledged.

“Nonetheless, for those who are Christians, our basic attitude cannot differ from that which St. Stephen recommended to his son, having learned it from Jesus, who identified himself with the stranger needing to be welcomed,” he continued.

Hungary’s Christian Trans-national Viewpoint: The Best Hope for Unity?

The Pope’s decision to visit Hungary, and what he said there, may have ramifications that reverberate more widely than expected.

Despite the attempts of the popular media to drive a wedge between Pope Francis and the political leadership of Hungary, including, especially, its Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and president Katalin Novák, herself a Catholic, Francis spoke positively of Hungary’s role as a “bridge builder” in efforts to foster peace: a Christian balance between respecting national sovereignty and identity while building a cooperative Europe.

The Holy Father called for a Europe “centered on the human person” and denounced the “‘supranationalism’ that loses sight of the life of its peoples”:

“This is the baneful path taken by those forms of ‘ideological colonization’ that would cancel differences, as in the case of the so-called gender theory, or that would place before the reality of life reductive concepts of freedom, for example by vaunting as progress a senseless ‘right to abortion,’ which is always a tragic defeat,” the Pope said.

“How much better it would be to build a Europe centered on the human person and on its peoples, with effective policies for birth rate and the family like those pursued attentively in this country,” Francis concluded.

Gladden Pappin, a Catholic visiting senior fellow at the Mathias Corvinus Collegium in Budapest, commented on the pertinence of the Holy Father’s remarks to the current conditions and needs of Europe — and the world.

“How do the Holy Father’s evocations map onto the Hungary of 2023?” Pappiun asked in a May 3 article in First Things. “The situation has led Hungary to plead instead for connectivity among nations — not by dissolving them into a global order, but by creating practical relationships between them that respect national traditions, including religion. ‘To generate forms of diplomacy capable of pursuing unity, not aggravating divisions’ is a formidable challenge from the Holy Father. Increasingly, it seems like something that only a Christian transnational viewpoint — rather than an isolated, culturally alien liberal one — can achieve.” — ITV staff

“Christianity Lies at the Core of Hungarian Identity”

Budapest (Hungary), April 2023 28. Pope Francis meets the bishops, priests, and religious men and women in St. Stephen’s Co-Cathedral (Photo – Grzegorz Galazka)

Katalin Novák, President of Hungary, addressed a March 5 gathering hosted by the Bonum Commune Foundation in New York City. Mrs. Novák, a Catholic, discussed Hungary’s conception of the role of Christianity in public life. Gladden Pappin, a member of the Foundation, summarized her remarks:

President Novák expressed that Christianity lies at the core of Hungarian identity, both by definition — going back to its founding king, St. Stephen — and according to its destiny. President Novák named five chief elements of Hungary’s Christian identity.

The first, she said, is that Christianity gives priority to the common good and not only to the individual.

Second, from Christianity Hungary draws the notion of its own sovereignty.

Third, she mentioned respect for the contribution of work as essential to the Christian vision—that human beings are to work, while retaining their dignity as creatures made in the image of God.

Thus, fourth, she highlighted Christianity’s fundamental commitment to the protection of human life and dignity.

Finally, and relating to each of these, Christianity communicates the idea of responsibility — that is, that human choices matter.

Hungary, said President Novák, is in the fortunate situation of having the power to implement these elements of Christian understanding in concrete practice. That comes about, she said, through establishing them on a legal basis and carrying them out through policy decisions, resulting in a more Christian mentality—even where Sunday observance may be lacking.

Sometimes, the president noted, people suggest that public Christianity and the state’s support for it constitutes “pushing” Christianity. But the Hungarian view is that public support is “enabling” rather than pushing a Christian way of life. Hungary thus enables a Christian way of life by its constitution itself and by the subsidizing of traditional family values—including family support schemes and financial support for church-run institutions. (

Gladden Pappin
Catholic politics professor at the University of Dallas in Dallas, Texas, and a Knight of Malta

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