To understand the context of Pope Francis’ visit to Hungary, from Friday, April 28, to Sunday, April 30, you need to look in the direction of the 103 kilometers of border between Hungary and Ukraine overlooked by the imposing Carpathian Mountains. At the foot of the Central and Eastern European mountain range is where these two territories meet. This is an opportune geographical aspect for the 41st apostolic journey of Pope Jorge Bergoglio, who has not stopped appealing for peace since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.
“I ask all of you to accompany me with your prayers on this journey” to “the center of Europe, over which the icy winds of war continue to blow, while the movements of so many people place urgent humanitarian issues on the agenda,” Pope Francis asked the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square on Easter Sunday, April 23. “Let us not forget our Ukrainian brothers and sisters still afflicted by this war,” he added.
The Pope, who has not visited Kyiv, unlike many Western leaders, is expected to discuss the war in Ukraine with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. The two men are scheduled to meet just after Francis lands in Budapest on Friday morning. Their meeting will be closely scrutinized, as their relationship has been cold, even tense. In September 2021, during the Pope’s brief visit to Budapest, where a Eucharistic Congress was being held, they had briefly spoken without the press. At the heart of their dispute is the identity-based version of Christianity put forward by Orbán and his very restrictive policy towards migrants, which is likely to irritate Francis, who has been calling for them to be welcomed since his election in 2013.
Moscow and Kyiv, back to back
But between them, even if disagreements still persist, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has changed the deal. For Francis, Orbán, whose opinions on the ongoing war are close to his own, has “become frequentable again,” in one fell swoop, noted a diplomat in place at the Holy See. The pontiff, who took several months to recognize the legitimacy of the Ukrainian defense and arms deliveries to Kyiv by western countries, because he considered that they fuel the war, has not stopped sending Moscow and Kyiv back to back. Today, he believes that the weapons must be silenced. It is a position close to that of Orbán, who likes to present himself as a member of “the camp of peace” against a “West” that would have chosen “the camp of war,” and has called for an immediate cease-fire and negotiations.
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