Pope serenaded by a singing band during his visit to Hungary | world news

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Pope Francis thanked Hungarians for their hospitality after they were serenaded by a singing Roma band on Saturday as part of a tense three-day visit to the country dominated by the war in Ukraine.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s far-right government is one of the most unfriendly to immigrants in Europe, which it justifies by claiming that migrants will undermine the country’s traditional Christian culture.

But despite its usual hardline anti-immigration stance, the country has taken in a small number of refugees fleeing the war in neighboring Ukraine.

But activists say there is little support system in place, while Mr Orban’s insistence on maintaining ties with Moscow has proved repugnant to Ukrainians.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Luca Zennaro/ANSA via ZUMA Press/Shutterstock (13890716b) Pope Francis meets authorities and diplomats at Kossuth Lajos Square on April 28, 2023 in Budapest, Hungary. The Pope is on a three-day visit to Hungary. ANSA / LUCA ZENNARO Pope Francis in Hungary, Budapest – April 28, 2023

The pope addressed Hungarian politicians before preaching a sermon to refugees at a nearby church (Image: Shutterstock)

On the first day of his visit on Friday, Pope Francis delivered a speech to Mr Orban and other government officials, in which he demanded that the European Union authorize safe and legal routes for migrants to enter the country and that the Hungarian government not hold on to Europe ” Hostage” of populist demands.

The Pope recalled the lofty ideals behind the bloc’s founding and lamented that rising nationalism and “aggressive youth” had replaced them.

“We seem to be witnessing the sad sunset of this choral dream of peace while the soloists of war now take over,” said Francis.

“At this historical turning point, Europe is crucial. … It is called upon to assume its proper role, which is to unite those who are far apart, to welcome these other peoples and to refuse to regard anyone as an eternal enemy.’

Francis met with refugees and the poor earlier this morning at St Elizabeth’s Church – named after a Hungarian princess who gave up her wealth to serve the poor as a follower of the Pope’s namesake, St Francis of Assisi .

He was joined by around 600 refugees – mostly from Ukraine – and a number of poor and vulnerable people who listened to the Pope while thousands more waited outside.

Immediately afterwards, Francis met the representative of the Russian Orthodox Church in Hungary, Metropolitan Hilarion. The Vatican said the 20-minute meeting at the Holy See’s embassy in Budapest was “cordial.”

epa10597322 A handout picture provided by the Vatican media shows Pope Francis (L) with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (R) during a welcoming ceremony at the Sandor Palace in Budapest, Hungary April 28, 2023. Pope Francis will visit Hungary from April 28-28. April 30, 2023. EPO/VATICAN MEDIA HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALE

The Pope urged Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (R) to be more accommodating to refugees (Image: EPA)

The Russian Church’s support for the war in the Kremlin has prevented a papal meeting with Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Francis and Kirill had an encounter in Cuba in 2016 that was the first in centuries between a pope and an Eastern Orthodox leader.

Speaking at the white-brick St. Elizabeth’s Church in Budapest, Pope Francis recalled that the gospel directs Christians to show love and compassion for all, especially those experiencing poverty and pain, and “even for those who are not believers”.

“The love that Jesus gives us and commands us to practice can help eradicate from society, from our cities and from the places we live, the evils of indifference and selfishness—indifference is a plague—and the Hope for a new, more just and fraternal world to kindle, where everyone can feel at home,” he said.

Viktor Orban has said that migration threatens to replace Europe’s Christian culture. Orban, in office since 2010, has focused several election campaigns on the threats he believes migrants and refugees pose to Hungary.


After his homily, the Pope was serenaded by Humgarian musicians (Image: AFP)

While Orban’s government has consistently turned away asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa, around 2.5 million Ukrainians fleeing the war in their country have found the door open. Around 35,000 of the refugees remain in Hungary and have registered there for temporary protection, according to the UN

One who chose to stay was Olesia Misiats, a nurse working at a COVID-19 hospital in Kiev, when she fled with her mother and two daughters on February 24 last year. She first went to the Netherlands, but high costs forced her to move to Hungary, where she says she found an apartment and gave birth to her third daughter, Mila, who sat in the pews with her mother and sister on Saturday sat.

“It’s safe here,” Misiats said of her new life. She said she hopes to return to Kiev one day, but for now, she and her children are adjusting.

‘I want to go back home. There’s my life, it was my life,” she said. “But the war changed my life.”

At the end of the event, a band of Hungarian Roma musicians serenaded the Pope, leading to a standing ovation and cheers from the crowd and a thumbs-up from Francis.

He plans to conclude his visit on Sunday with an open-air mass and speech at the Pázmány Péter Catholic University in Budapest.

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Justin Scaccy

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