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Pope in final Mass in Budapest urges Hungary to open doors

Citing local organizers, the Vatican said some 50,000 people attended the Mass
Pope Francis attends a meeting with the academic and cultural world at the Catholic University “Peter Pazmany” in Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, April 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Pope Francis urged Hungarians to open their doors to others on Sunday, as he wrapped up a weekend visit with a plea for Europe to welcome migrants and the poor and for an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Francis issued the appeal from the banks of the Danube as he celebrated Mass on Budapest’s Kossuth Lajos Square, with the Hungarian Parliament and Budapest’s famed Chain Bridge as a backdrop. The celebration provided the visual highlight of Francis’ three-day visit that has been dominated by the Vatican’s concern for the plight of migrants and the war in neighboring Ukraine.

Citing local organizers, the Vatican said some 50,000 people attended the Mass, more than 30,000 of them in the square, on a brilliantly sunny spring morning. Among them were President Katalin Novak and Hungary’s right-wing populist prime minister, Viktor Orban, whose lukewarm support for Ukraine has rankled fellow European Union members.

Francis has expressed appreciation for Hungary’s recent welcome of Ukrainian refugees. But he has challenged Orban’s hard-line anti-immigration policies, which in 2015-2016 included building a razor wire fence on the border with Serbia to stop people from entering. Upon arrival, Francis urged Hungary and Europe as a whole to welcome those who are fleeing war, poverty and climate change, calling for safe and legal migration corridors.

“How sad and painful it is to see closed doors,” Francis said in his Sunday homily on the Danube. “The closed doors of our selfishness with regard to others; the closed doors of our individualism amid a society of growing isolation; the closed doors of our indifference towards the underprivileged and those who suffer; the doors we close towards those who are foreign or unlike us, towards migrants or the poor.

“Please, let us open those doors!” he said.

In a final prayer at the end of the Mass, Francis prayed for peace in Ukraine and “a future of hope, not war; a future full of cradles, not tombs; a world of brothers and sisters, not walls.”

The 86-year-old Francis has tried to forge a diplomatic balancing act in his pleas to end Russia’s war, expressing solidarity with Ukrainians while keeping the door open to dialogue with Moscow. On Saturday, he prayed with Ukrainian refugees and then met with an envoy of Russian Patriarch Kirill, who has firmly supported Moscow’s invasion and justified it as a metaphysical battle against the liberal West.

Francis kissed the cross of Metropolitan Hilarion in a sign of respect for the Russian Orthodox Church during what the Vatican said was a “cordial” 20-minute meeting at the Holy See’s embassy in Budapest. Hilarion, who developed good relations with the Vatican as the Russian church’s longtime foreign minister, said he briefed Francis on his work now as the Moscow Patriarchate’s representative in Budapest.

Hilarion attended Francis’ Sunday Mass, along with representatives of Hungary’s other Christian churches and Jewish community, Vatican News said.

Francis’ visit to Hungary, his second in as many years, brought him as close as he’s been to the Ukrainian front but also to the heart of Europe, where Orban’s avowedly right-wing Christian government has cast itself as a bulwark against a secularizing Western world.

Francis, though, has used the visit to call for the continent to find again its spirit of unity and purpose, referencing Budapest’s bridges across the Danube as symbols of unity and connection.

The site for his final Mass couldn’t have been more appropriate for Francis’ message: The sprawling square is named for one of Hungary’s most famous statesmen who served as its first prime minister after the 1848-1849 revolution against Habsburg rule. It is separated from the left bank of the Danube river only by Hungary’s iconic neo-Gothic parliament, the country’s largest building and home of its National Assembly. Nearby is the Chain Bridge, one of several bridges spanning the river and linking the Pest and Buda sides of the city.

Sister Marta, a nun of Hungarian origin from Brazil who attended the Mass, said she hoped Francis’ message of welcome would be heard in Hungary. “We (Brazilians) have gotten accustomed to openness towards others, and we hope that Hungary as well will open in this direction,” she said after the liturgy.

But Budapest resident Erno Sara said the country is fine as it is.

“I don’t know if we (Hungarians) need to change. There is nothing at all in this country that is out of the ordinary, any kind of behavior that we would have to change,” Sara said.

Later Sunday in his final event in Hungary, Francis warned against the dangers of technology dominating human life, during a speech at the Pazmany Peter Catholic University. Speaking broadly about Europe’s future, Francis said culture and scholarship forged by universities were the antidote to a future dictated by technology.

The university, he said, “is a temple where knowledge is set free from the constraints of accumulating and possessing and can thus become culture,” he said. Such a culture he said, cultivates “our humanity and its foundational relationships: with the transcendent, with society, with history and with creation.”

Nicole Winfield And Justin Spike, The Associated Press