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Pope appeals for to Hungarians to be ‘open’ to migrants

Some 80,000 people were in attendance, according to the local authorities
Some 80,000 people were in attendance, according to the local authorities - Copyright AFP Paul ELLIS
Some 80,000 people were in attendance, according to the local authorities - Copyright AFP Paul ELLIS
Clément MELKI with Peter MURPHY

Pope Francis on Sunday called on Hungarians to be “open” toward migrants, as he wrapped up a three-day visit to the central European country whose nationalist premier has taken a staunch anti-immigration stance.

Tens of thousands thronged a central Budapest square to hear the pope lead an open-air mass during which he urged all, including “those with political and social responsibilities”, to be more open.

“Let us encourage one another to be increasingly open doors,” the 86-year-old Argentine pontiff said, adding it was “sad and painful… to see closed doors”.

“The closed doors of our selfishness with regard to others… the doors we close towards those who are foreign or unlike us, towards migrants or the poor,” he said.

Throughout his visit to Budapest — his second since a brief 2021 stopover — Francis has emphasised a welcoming stance towards those fleeing poverty or conflict zones.

The comments have stood in stark contrast to those of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban who has regularly espoused anti-migration rhetoric to defend a “Christian Europe” since coming to power in 2010.

On Saturday, some 50,000 people thronged to hear the pope say mass under tight security at Kossuth Lajos Square, behind the parliament on the banks of the Danube, according to local authorities.

“I feel emotional. He is very important in my life,” onlooker Ferenc Toth, 43, told AFP after the pope passed by in his popemobile.

– ‘Christian mission’ –

University student Levente Kiss said it was “unique” to see the pope up close.

“It was good to see that the pope has taken a stance that really calls us to our Christian mission to support the people in migration crises, especially the war in Ukraine,” the 21-year-old added.

On Saturday, Francis gave a speech to refugees — mostly from neighbouring Ukraine — and poor people at a Budapest church.

Orban’s government has welcomed those fleeing the war in Ukraine, which borders Hungary.

But activists say there is barely a support system in place and Orban’s insistence on maintaining ties with Moscow has also alienated Ukrainians.

Francis’ 41st international trip since becoming pope in 2013 is taking place entirely in Budapest, the capital of the EU member where 39 percent of the 9.7-million population are Catholic.

It comes a month after he was hospitalised for three months for bronchitis, so all eyes have been on the pontiff’s health.

But despite persistent knee pain forcing him to move around in a wheelchair, the pope has appeared to be in good shape.

On Saturday, Francis met Budapest mayor Gergely Karacsony, a staunch Orban opponent.

He also met with bishop Hilarion, who was ousted as head of the Russian church’s department for external relations by Russian Orthodox leader Patriarch Kirill, a staunch Kremlin backer.

Francis will deliver his trip’s last speech at 4:00 pm (1400 GMT) at a private Catholic university in Budapest.

He will return to Rome in the early evening, giving his traditional press conference on the plane to journalists accompanying him on board.

John Paul II was the first pope to visit Hungary, making trips in 1991 and 1996.

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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