Since his arrival in Budapest on Friday, the Argentine Jesuit has expressed his position, warning before the nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban against “intransigence”, “closure” and the tendency to “retreat”.
On the second day of his visit to Hungary on Saturday, Pope Francis, a tireless advocate of “openness to others”, will meet refugees in the Central European country and build walls on its borders.
Since his arrival in Budapest on Friday, the Argentine Jesuit has expressed his position, warning nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban against “intransigence”, “closure” and a tendency to “retreat”.
Thousands of refugees and the poor will come to the neo-Gothic St. Elizabeth’s Church, in the heart of the capital, where the pope will speak on Saturday morning. The conflict in neighboring Ukraine overshadows this second visit of the pontiff to Hungary in less than two years.
In its usual rhetoric, the Hungarian government likes to praise the hospitality extended to Ukrainian refugees, which Francis praised in April 2022 during a meeting in the Vatican with Orban.
Since the beginning of the conflict, more than two million Ukrainians have entered Hungarian territory, but only 35,000 of those have claimed “temporary protection” status set by the European Union, according to data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. This number is much lower per capita than other neighboring countries of Ukraine such as Poland or Romania.
In fact, Viktor Orban’s vague position on the conflict discourages Ukrainian refugees from staying in Hungary. He has refused to send weapons to Kiev, and has maintained close ties with the Kremlin, in contrast to the wave of solidarity shown by the European Union and NATO.
The situation is more difficult for other nationalities due to the deterioration of the refugee absorption system. Far from the indiscriminate reception of refugees called for by the Pope, Viktor Orban reiterates his defense of “Christian civilization” to repel immigrants.
Under his auspices, Hungary erected walls on its borders and restricted the submission of asylum applications to embassies abroad, a policy that drew condemnations from the European Union’s Court of Justice.
Last year, only 18 people were granted refugee status, a very small number unlike anywhere else in the European Union.
In addition to the Ukrainians, the pope will meet refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, including a man persecuted for his Christian faith and “held for 553 days in a transit zone” with his young son, according to the Hungarian Helsinki Committee.
And the European judiciary found in 2020 that asylum seekers are being detained without justification in camps located in these areas on the border with Serbia. This led the Hungarian government to close down these controversial camps that opened in 2015.
“children with special needs”
The Pope will also meet children with special needs on Saturday before concluding the day in a stadium where 11,000 young people are expected to attend and hold a traditional meeting with local Jesuits.
And just before noon he will visit the Roman Catholic, an eastern church of the Byzantine Rite that recognizes the authority of the Pope.
On his 41st international tour since his election in 2013, Francis, the second pope to visit Hungary after John Paul II, will lead an open-air mass behind parliament on Sunday.