Pope urges Hungarians to 'open doors' to migrants


Published: 2023-04-30 22:02

Last Updated: 2024-06-22 02:25

Pope urges Hungarians to 'open doors' to migrants
Pope urges Hungarians to 'open doors' to migrants

Pope Francis on Sunday called on Hungarians to "open doors" to migrants, as he wrapped up a three-day visit to the central European country led by a prime minister who is staunchly anti-immigration.

Throughout his visit to Budapest -- dominated by the war in neighboring Ukraine -- Francis has emphasized a welcoming stance towards those fleeing conflict or poverty.

The comments have stood in stark contrast to those of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Orban has welcomed Ukrainian refugees but has otherwise espoused anti-immigration rhetoric to defend a "Christian Europe" since coming to power in 2010.

Some 50,000 people, including Orban, listened to the pope lead an open-air mass at a central Budapest square under tight security.

During the mass, the 86-year-old Argentine pontiff urged all, including "those with political and social responsibilities", to be more open.

"Please, let us open those doors!" he 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.

- 'Migration crises' -

At the end of the mass the pope prayed for the "beleaguered Ukrainian people and the Russian people" and for "a future of hope, not war, a future full of cradles not tombs, a world of brothers and sisters, not walls and barricades".

University student Levente Kiss, 21, who was among those thronging the mass, welcomed the pope's stance "that really calls us to our Christian mission to support the people in migration crises, especially the war in Ukraine".

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

While Orban's government has welcomed those fleeing Ukraine, activists say there is barely a support system in place.

Orban's insistence on maintaining ties with Moscow has also alienated Ukrainians.

Orban, for his part, wrote on Facebook on Sunday that: "we need peace, a world full of cradles and not graves".

Orban has also called for peace talks to try to end the war in Ukraine.

- Left for Rome -

Later Sunday, Francis delivered his trip's last speech to academics at a Catholic university in Budapest before leaving for Rome just after 6:00 pm (1600 GMT).

Aboard the plane he is due to give his traditional press conference to journalists after what was his second visit to Hungary following a brief stopover in 2021.

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

Francis' 41st international trip since becoming pope in 2013 took 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 spent three nights in hospital for bronchitis.

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

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

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