Parolin: The Pope goes to Hungary as a pilgrim of peace

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin Pope Francis’ three-day visit to Budapest will demonstrate his commitment to building up a more fraternal society in a Europe wounded by war and experiencing “the greatest crisis of refugees since the Second World War.”

Apr 27, 2023

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State

By Massimiliano Menichetti
Final preparations are in full swing in Hungary for the visit of Pope Francis,, who will be in Budapest from tomorrow, 28 April, until the end of the month. It is an apostolic journey that will see the Pope meet the faithful for the second time in the “pearl of the Danube,” following on from his visit in 2021 on the occasion of the International Eucharistic Congress. He is the second Pope to make an apostolic journey to this nation, after St John Paul II in 1991 and 1996.

For three days, events will be concentrated in the capital. There are great expectations for the Pope’s visit. Some are hoping to meet the Successor of Peter, who is coming to fulfill his evangelical mandate to confirm the brothers and sisters in the faith.

Some are looking forward to the Pope’s words on the topics of family and reception of others: “We are experiencing in Europe the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War,” says the Holy See’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin. In this interview with Vatican Media, Cardinal Parolin speaks about the “living faith of Hungary,” noting that “having overcome the phase of the threats of communism,” the faithful, and especially the young, face the “seemingly more innocuous” challenges of materialism and consumerism.

Massimiliano Menichetti (MM): Cardinal Parolin, Francis’ 41st apostolic journey will be to Hungary, a country firm in the faith that endured the communist dictatorship. How did this trip come about?

Cardinal Pietro Parolin (CP): I would say that this trip is a bit like the happy fulfilment of a promise. As we know, the Holy Father travelled to Budapest a year and a half ago, in September 2021, for the conclusion of the International Eucharistic Congress; and in that context, in addition to the solemn Mass, there had been a number of meetings: at a private level with the Authorities, then with the Bishops, and finally with Christians of other denominations and with representatives of the Jewish communities.

Now with this apostolic journey that he is about to make, the Holy Father intends first of all to give continuation and completion to his previous visit to Budapest, and so the journey will be dedicated for the most part to meetings with the various groups, with the various elements of the Hungarian people. Public meetings are planned with civil authorities; with the Clergy, Deacons, Consecrated Persons, and Pastoral Workers; with the world of the marginalised – we think above all of the many refugees from neighbouring Ukraine; with young people – we are almost on the eve of World Youth Day which will be held this time on the European continent, in August, in Lisbon; and then with the world of culture.

MM: The visit focuses on the capital Budapest, there will be no other stops. Why was this mode chosen?

CP: It was chosen above all because this makes it possible to concentrate as many meetings as possible in the capital, avoiding travel and having the various realities of the country converge in Budapest – a city, by the way, that celebrates an important anniversary this year, the 150th anniversary of its foundation.

MM: The Holy Father will be in the heart of war-wounded Europe. Hungary borders Ukraine. What is the significance of the Pope’s presence?

CP: This visit has been planned for some time and is therefore not primarily motivated by the current situation, which is marked by the war in Ukraine. As we know, however, this tragedy that is being perpetuated is very close to the Pope’s heart, and I am sure that during this visit no opportunity that may present itself to promote peace will be overlooked. This special concern of the Holy Father, therefore, also enriches his presence in Hungary with this encouragement for a greater commitment to peace.

Hungary is very committed to supporting the family and the Pope always has young people and grandparents in his heart. Will this meeting with the Successor of Peter encourage the building of bridges between generations and nations?

It will certainly also have this result, Let us remember that the Pope decided two years ago, in 2021, to establish the World Day of Grandparents and Elders, which falls each year on the fourth Sunday in July, and this year it will be 23 July. And in the context of Hungary, this theme is even more topical if we consider that the President – who has also held the position of Minister of the Family, from 2020 to 2021 – pays a lot of attention to the family; we could also see this when she visited the Holy Father here and we met her in the Secretariat of State. Attention to the smallest but also the most important building block of any society.

It seems to me that a harmonious coexistence between the members of a family generates positive effects. Let’s say it has a domino effect on the wider circle of families and so on. And so starting from the family one can also try to build more peaceful societies. We therefore hope that, on the basis of this intergenerational family bridge, a bridge of peace can also be built between nations.

MM: The country is at the centre of the migratory flows of the Balkan route and of those fleeing the war between Moscow and Kiev. At the Church of St Elizabeth of Hungary there will be a meeting with the poor and refugees, as you also mentioned earlier. Will the Pope’s visit urge even more to recognise and thus help those in need?

CP: We are experiencing in Europe the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War: more than 8 million Ukrainian refugees have crossed into the European Union. And Hungary, in this situation, has pledged to keep its borders open to people fleeing the war in Ukraine, and more than 4 million people have passed through Hungary, either directly from Ukraine or from Romania. And although there are only a few of them left – the figures give around 35,000 – the local Catholic Church, through Caritas in particular, but also with the help of the government, has done its best to welcome and care for these refugees as they continue their journey to other European countries. And part of this work has also been to prevent women and children in particular from falling victim to human trafficking.

At the same time, however, the Church remains concerned about the situation of irregular migration along the Balkan route and the difficult situation many face, for example, along the border between Hungary and Serbia. Although many of those at the border are not refugees, most are in need of protection and all must be treated with the respect they deserve as human persons.

But we also point out, and it is right to do so, that this is a problem that does not concern Hungary alone, but all the countries in the region, especially those along the border with the European Union, which are struggling to cope with increasing flows of mixed migration from countries in conflict and extreme poverty. In this sense, all of Europe must find a way to take responsibility for those seeking a better life within its borders. And this, of course, includes working to help migrants stay in their countries of origin, in peace and security, so that they are not forced to flee or seek peace, security and decent work abroad.

MM: There is great expectation in the country: Church and government are working together to give everyone the opportunity to participate in the meeting with the Pope. For example, transport to the places of the visit will be free of charge. So does the whole country have a living faith?

CP: The faith of the Hungarian people is a living and admirable faith, especially linked to many saints that are venerated in the country, from St Martin, to St Stephen, to St Elizabeth.

But it is also a faith that has been exemplarily witnessed by recent figures: Consider the various martyrs and confessors of the faith linked to the period of atheist persecution – how can we not recall here the emblematic figure of the Venerable Cardinal József Mindszenty! [It is] a faith, therefore, forged through suffering and practised for years by a hidden Church that, like a seed then sprouted and flourished after years of repression.

Hungary is a country with a living faith, [and] in today’s changed circumstances it needs, let us say, to keep this faith alive, bearing in mind that we live in a different context from that of the past, in a context that – as the Pope has repeatedly reminded us – is not just a time of change, but a change of epoch. And so there are new challenges to face, which concern the clergy, which concern young people: they are the challenges of a faith that, having passed the phase of the threats of communism, is now facing other challenges, for example those that are only seemingly more innocuous, the challenges of materialism and consumerism.

MM: Your Eminence, what do you expect from this trip?

CP: That the Pope will fulfil the objectives he proposes in going to Hungary and completing his previous visit; therefore, [there is] always the aspect of the universal pastor who confirms his brothers and sisters in the faith, where ‘to confirm in the faith’ also means consoling, encouraging, relaunching the beauty of the proclamation of Jesus. It is the very motto of the visit that brings us to this: “Christ is our future”; it looks to hope in the name of the Gospel and has to do precisely with the priority intent of the Pontificate of Pope Francis, as he expressed it in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, the promotion of missionary activity, of a Church going out to the world to bear witness to the beauty of the Gospel of Jesus.

And the Visit will also be an opportunity to embrace a people particularly dear to the Pope since the time of the Hungarian nuns he met in Argentina.

And finally, I quote some of his words, the ones he said on Sunday after the Regina Coeli: “It will also be a journey to the centre of Europe, on which icy winds of war continue to blow, while the movements of so many people put urgent humanitarian issues on the agenda.”--Vatican News

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