Apostolic Nuncio: Hungarians love Pope Francis’ joy, sincerity

In an interview with Vatican News - Vatican Radio, the Apostolic Nuncio to Hungary, American-born Archbishop Michael Wallace Banach, says Hungarians appreciate Pope Francis maintaining his promise to visit them, following his brief 2021 stay, and expresses his wish that the Visit’s motto 'Christ is our future' can truly shape the country’s future, even after Pope Francis' flight departs for Rome.

Apr 26, 2023

By Deborah Castellano Lubov
The Apostolic Nuncio to Hungary, Archbishop Michael Wallace Banach, insists that Hungarians love Pope Francis’ joy and sincerity, and appreciate his maintaining his promise to return to visit them after his brief 12 September 2021 stay in Budapest for the closing Mass of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress.

In an interview granted to Vatican News - Vatican Radio for the occasion of the Holy Father's Apostolic Journey to the country, the long-serving American diplomat, who has served in several continents, granted his insight into the realities for the faithful in the country and the meaning of the Pope's return to Hungarian soil, marking his 41st Apostolic Journey abroad.

He specifically discusses the Central European nation's vibrant Catholicism, but also challenges, and his personal hope that the Apostolic Journey's theme 'Christ is our future,' can continue to shape the Hungarian faithful's mentalities and lives, even once Pope Francis' flight has departed Budapest, and he has returned to Rome.

The Apostolic Nuncio also sheds light on the reality on the ground as the war in Ukraine takes place across Hungary's northeast border causing a massive influx of Ukrainian refugees to pass through and find aid in the nation, since Russia's invasion.

As Apostolic Nuncio to Hungary, how are you preparing to welcome Pope Francis to the country after he had expressed his desire to return following his brief Budapest visit for the closing Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress in 2021?
The preparation is on an administrative, practical level, but also on a spiritual and personal level. On the administrative, practical level, of course, there are numerous details involved in organizing a visit of this nature, that we all hope are going to fall into place. On a personal, spiritual plane, from the moment the visit was announced, the Conference of Bishops had a prayer published, and the Hungarian Catholics are reciting their prayer at the end of each Mass during the week, certainly during the weekend Masses, as we are doing here, in the in the nunciature. We are praying for God's blessings on the Pope and the success of the visit to Hungary. There is that spiritual preparation, also among the faithful. I know many parishes are organizing discussion nights or presentations on the Pope's life, where he comes from, some of the priorities of the pontificate. There's a great interest on that level, and, of course, on the personal level, being the personal representative of the Holy Father to Hungary. It is a great honor as well as a great challenge, a great honor in the sense that not every nuncio has the opportunity to host the Holy Father in in the 'house of the Pope' as we say, but also on a on a personal level, to make sure that that everything goes well, and that not only will the Holy Father be comfortable in in the nunciature, which is his 'house' here in in Hungary, but that we'll be able to respond to the requests that that he may have.

From your experience, how would you describe Catholicism in Hungary? What have you observed as its greatest gifts, but also challenges?
I think Catholicism in Hungary is vibrant. It is a vibrant Catholicism. If you look at the past census, and the results of the information currently being collected, whose results will be published within the next year, about a little more than half of the population described itself as religious, and of that, half the Catholics were in the in the majority.

Catholicism is vibrant here. It is a Catholicism that is strongly liturgically based, but also a Catholicism that that has a great social outreach.

In terms of recent experiences, I think of the speed and the generosity with which the instances of the Catholic Church in Hungary, in particular, the Caritas on the national and local levels, responded to the situation in Ukraine, and the influx of Ukrainian refugees from the moment the war broke out. It was an incredible demonstration of the vitality of that of that sector of Catholicism, the whole social dimension.

I think Pope Francis will be recognizing that on his visit to the Church of Saint Elizabeth, where he'll be meeting with poor people and with refugees. Not only will it be a moment of support for them, but a moment of recognition for what the Catholic Church has done in their favor.

In terms of challenges, the challenges you see here are the challenges that you probably find in the West for the Christian Churches, if not throughout the world. The biggest challenge, or among the biggest challenges, would be the youth, to be able to respond to their needs, to be able to preach the Gospel in in terms that that they understand, and to make sure that they are being invited to really to enjoy the fullness of the joy and truth that that comes from following Christ. And that's a big challenge for us.

I always remember what [Pope] Saint Paul VI said in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, where he wrote that modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses. That's a challenge for us, to give a coherent witness with our lives to be able to attract others to Christ whom we're serving.

Before you had explained the spiritual preparation for this Apostolic Journey, how would you describe the meaning of the visit to the faithful of Hungary?

I think the meaning is very, very important. When Pope Francis, as you mentioned in in your first question, was here for the concluding Mass of the Eucharistic Congress, he made a promise to return to the country, and the Hungarians remember that, and the fact that he is coming back has a special meaning for them. They have great respect for Pope Francis, who is a man of his word, who now is following through on a promise that he made. The Hungarians also have a great respect for the Pope, acknowledging his physical limitations and his age, and appreciating that he is willing to travel and visit their country. Those are realities that really cannot be underestimated. And the Hungarians are very, very appreciative, of that fact, and they're deeply grateful, and recognize the importance of Pope Francis' gesture.

And the meaning of that gesture is to show that 'Christ is our future.' It's all there in the motto of the Visit. And the Pope's gesture is also to show the importance of building bridges - symbolized in the logo chosen for his Apostolic Visit to Hungary.

Speaking about Pope Francis, how do the faithful perceive Pope Francis and his messages, some of the strong messages throughout his pontificate? What impresses them most about him?

There are two qualities that impress the Hungarians most about Pope Francis, and these are observations that I have that I've heard in my discussions with people not only in preparation for this visit, but then also in visits to parishes.

The first quality that strikes people about Pope Francis is his joy, his enthusiasm. They see a man joyful. They see a man who smiles, the Joy of the Gospel to quote one of his encyclicals. They see that, and they recognize that, and are very appreciative of that. Hungary is in central Europe, and the winter days are long, and the weather can be cloudy and gray for long periods of time. And that joy, that smile of Pope Francis, that they see, and it provides great strength not only to believers, but also to non-believers alike.

The other important quality that the Hungarians see in Pope Francis is his sincerity, that he speaks very sincerely. He speaks with great conviction. And they appreciate that sincerity. They appreciate that conviction. And they really look upon him as a man of his word. In this society, that is something that is very deeply appreciated and strongly recognized.

How has the war in Ukraine being in the backdrop impacted this visit and the reality that Pope Francis will find in Hungary?

Obviously, Ukraine is part of the backdrop of the visit, part of the background that goes into preparing this visit. Just from a geographical point of view, Hungary shares a border with Ukraine. Although it's not a very long border, it is nonetheless a border. And there have been, as I mentioned previously, several refugees, perhaps less so now, but certainly when the when the war first broke out, who came to Hungary looking for refuge, for safety. So the war is certainly there, and it practically has had an impact, in the sense that there will be a Ukrainian presence at the events. At the Church of Saint Elizabeth, I believe there will be some Ukrainian refugees who will be speaking to Pope Francis, but also there will be Ukrainians participating in the Mass and in other events. Obviously, our desire is for peace. I think everybody wants that. That will most likely be a part of Pope Francis' message during his visit here.

Anything else you would like to add about your hopes for this visit?

It's a big challenge. My hope is the following: the theme that has been chosen for this visit 'Christ is our Future.' And I think it's a beautiful, beautiful theme because it is a theme that looks toward the future, and not just the present, or in the past, but toward the future. That theme is my hope. And I think that's the biggest challenge to ensure that after the papal flight leaves and the landing gear is retracted after the takeoff from the runway here in Budapest, that the message that Pope Francis will have left here in Hungary, will continue. Christ is our future. We're very, very excited about having Pope Francis on Hungarian soil. But there's going to be a lot of work to do after he leaves to continue his message and to ensure that that his message takes even greater root in in the country in the in the time ahead.

Thank you so much, Archbishop, for your time.--Vatican News

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