Pope Francis meets Orban: a visit that might be unwelcome

Status: 12.09.2021 5:32 a.m.

The Pope visits Hungary and Slovakia – so far not unusual. The fact that Francis only plans a few hours for Budapest could indicate a deliberate distance from President Orban.

By Rüdiger Kronthaler, ARD-Studio Rome

If it hadn’t been for his smile, it was almost bought from the Pope’s press spokesman: The visit to Budapest was purely spiritual in nature, the only goal being the Eucharistic Congress that ends today, Matteo Bruni emphasized when asked why Francis was in Budapest after only a few hours on to Slovakia, where he stayed three times. But then Bruni had to laugh a little herself. Papal trips are always full of symbolism, and in addition to the almost fleeting onward journey, a statement by Francis invites you to interpret.

In an interview with Spanish Radio Cope last week, when asked whether he would meet Viktor Orban, the Pope replied that he did not know for sure. The protocol of the trip was long established, and it is customary for the Pope to be received by the highest representatives of a state visited. The apparent ignorance in the pre-recorded interview can be understood as a conscious distancing.

Contrasting political positions

Politically, the positions of Pope Francis and the right-wing national Orban are far apart: be it on the reception of refugees or on the subject of “international solidarity”. The Pope should know that Orban tried to use the handshake with the Supreme Shepherd from Rome for himself. In the run-up, Italian media reported voices from the Vatican that the Pope would have preferred to avoid the Hungarian Prime Minister entirely.

In Budapest, after the brief meeting with Orban in the Museum of Fine Arts, Francis will celebrate the Mass at the end of the Eucharistic Congress on Heroes’ Square in Budapest. After the Angelus prayer, he travels to Slovakia. On Monday, the Argentine will meet Holocaust survivors and representatives of the Jewish community in Bratislava and visit the Holocaust memorial.

Memory of murdered Jews

There he will remember the estimated 105,000 Slovak Jews who were murdered by the National Socialists. The Catholic Church played an ambivalent role in the persecution, especially during the fascist epoch of what was then deeply Catholic Slovakia. The anti-Semitic President Jozef Tiso remained a practicing priest during his reign, and at times incited against Jews from the pulpit. On the other hand, the Vatican worked to save Jews. Perhaps the Pope will comment on this.

On Tuesday, Francis will travel to Kosice in eastern Slovakia, where he will visit the Trabenten city of Lunik 9. Almost all Roma live in the district in very precarious conditions. The visit is intended to direct attention to the Roma as the largest ethnic minority in Europe and to highlight their lack of prospects in many parts of Europe. A meeting with young people is planned in the Kosice stadium in the early evening.

Surprises are also possible

As usual, the papal trip is closely timed, surprises are possible on the fringes of appointments or on the plane when returning, when the Pope comes to the journalists and answers questions. He may then also clarify how he feels about Orban now. Or he prefers, like his spokesman, to just smile gently when asked.

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