Pope Francis said on Sunday (12), during a short stay in Hungary, that the country can preserve its Christian roots while opening up to the needy.
The declaration goes against the radical position of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on immigration and in relation to refugees from the Syrian civil war, whom he has already called “Muslim invaders”.
Francisco, on his first international trip since undergoing bowel surgery in early July and spent ten days in hospital, met with the prime minister in the morning, before presiding over the closing mass of an international religious congress during the seven hour visit to Budapest.
The Vatican said the meeting lasted 40 minutes, was cordial and that among the various topics discussed were the role of the church in the country, the commitment to environmental protection and the promotion of the family.
Already in his speech at the closing of the congress with a mass for tens of thousands of people, the pope referred to Hungary as a nation “attached to its roots” and which should be open to all.
“The cross, connected to the ground, not only invites us to be rooted, but also extends its arms to everyone,” he said at the ceremony after mass, which Orbán attended. “My wish is for you to be like this: grounded and open, rooted and respectful.”
In a meeting with Hungarian bishops, the pope again defended the reception of immigrants and urged religious to value diversity, according to the American newspaper The New York Times.
“Your country is a place where people from other peoples have lived together for a long time. Numerous ethnicities, minorities, religions and migrations have transformed this country into a multicultural environment. Diversity always provokes fear, because it puts acquired security at risk and disturbs stability.”
So, he added, there is an opportunity to achieve brotherhood. “We can have two reactions in the face of cultural, ethnic, political and religious diversity: close ourselves in a rigid defense of our supposed identity or open ourselves to meeting others and cultivate together the dream of a fraternal society.”
Francisco has often spoken out about what he sees as a resurgence of nationalist and populist movements, calling for unity in Europe and criticizing countries trying to resolve the migration crisis with unilateral or isolationist actions. Orbán, who exacerbates nationalism, said at the Strategic Forum in Bled, Slovenia, last week, that the only solution to migration was for the European Union to “return all rights to the states”.
The prime minister stands as a defender of Christian values and has strengthened ties with traditionalist currents in the Catholic Church, many of which are critical of the current pope. Shortly after meeting the religious leader, Orbán posted photos of the event on his Facebook page, in which he said he asked the pope “not to allow Hungarian Christianity to die”. According to Hungarian media, the prime minister handed Francis a copy of a letter sent by a Hungarian king in the 13th century to the pope at the time he asked the church to send help to contain a Mongol invasion.
Later on Sunday, Francis arrived in Slovakia, where he will make a longer visit, passing through four cities, before returning to Rome on Wednesday (15). The short duration of his stay in Budapest led diplomats and the Catholic media to suggest that the pope was giving Slovakia priority.