The three-day visit of Pope Francis to Hungary has been welcomed by the ruling party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban. The trip by the Argentine pontiff marks Pope Francis' 41st Apostolic Journey abroad and is his first since he was hospitalised for bronchitis in March.
“First of all, it is a pastoral visit for the Pope”, commented Balázs Hidvéghi MEP, spokesman in the European Parliament for Hungary’s ruling FIDESZ party and a Catholic who will attend mass in central Budapest on Sunday. “But as is the case with the Vatican and with Pope Francis, it's always political as well”, he added.
In line with expectations about the visit, Pope Francis used a meeting with government leaders to call for a rejection of what he called "self-referential forms of populism" and nationalist interests.
In his speech in the presidential palace overlooking the River Danube, the pontiff urged a return to the "European soul" envisioned by those who laid the groundwork for modern Europe after World War Two.
Speaking in front of Prime Minister Viktor Orban who has opposed mass migration across European Union borders, Pope Francis said nations had to "look beyond national boundaries". Quoting from the eleventh century first Christian King of Hungary, St Stephen, the Pope said "In this regard, Saint Stephen bequeathed to his son extraordinary words of fraternity when he told him that those who arrive with different languages and customs 'adorn the country'.
Quoting the saint's command to 'welcome strangers with benevolence and to hold them in esteem', he said “Those who profess themselves Christian, in the company of the witnesses of faith, are called to bear witness to and to join forces with everyone in cultivating a humanism inspired by the Gospel”.
Commenting on plans for Pope Francis to meet Ukrainian refugees present in Hungary, Balázs Hidvéghi said this underlined that his government did in fact have a strong record in humanitarian aid. “Since the war broke out, we have helped close to 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees who have come to Hungary”, he said. “We've helped every single one of them as, as we should. And that's the most normal and natural thing to do”, he added.
“We need to make a clear differentiation between a refugee who has the right for asylum, and economic migrants who would like to come and work live in another state or enjoy the benefits of Western Europe”, he explained.
According to Balázs Hidvéghi, criticism Hungary has faced from other EU member states over alleged rule of law breaches, lack of co-operation over migration and alleged corruption were “ideologically motivated”.
“It's more of an attack against a traditional Christian Democratic government that is not afraid to stand up for traditional values, of Christianity in the European tradition, and a government that is not afraid to defend national competences when it comes to European cooperation”, he said.
“I think we need we need a new approach where you accept the diversity of the European continent, which includes obviously, our Christian heritage, Catholic traditions and our way of life”, he continued.
He added that the papal visit was a welcome act of solidarity:
“I think it's a very encouraging sign. It's a sign of a blessed relationship, and our long standing Catholic tradition and Christian tradition in this country.”