Pope Francis is making his first foreign trip since undergoing intestinal surgery in July, a four-day visit to central Europe that will not only test his health but also provide one of the most awkward moments of his papacy—a meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the sort of populist, right-wing leader Francis typically scorns. The pope is only spending seven hours in Budapest on Sunday before moving on to a three-day, hopscotch tour of neighboring Slovakia. The lopsided itinerary suggests that Francis wanted to avoid giving Orban the bragging rights, political boost, and photo opportunities that come with hosting a pope for a proper state visit, the AP reports.
Trip organizers have insisted Francis isn't snubbing Hungary, noting that the Hungarian church and state only invited him to close out an international conference on the Eucharist on Sunday. "If I am only invited to dinner, I cannot spend the night," said the Rev. Kornel Fabry, secretary general of the Eucharist conference. But the message is clear, and Francis hammered home the point in a recent interview with the COPE broadcaster of the Spanish bishops' conference. In the interview last week, Francis said he didn't know if he'd meet with Orban while in Budapest. Vatican officials have said he will, of course, meet with the prime minister along with the Hungarian president.
Botond Feledy, a policy expert for a Hungarian Jesuit organization, said that Francis and Orban disagree on issues—especially migration—but that the aim is not to escalate conflicts. "It is quite clear that the 30 minutes that Pope Francis has in his program to meet with the head of state, the head of government and the bishop is a very, very short time," Feledy said in an interview. "This shows that he is not really coming for a political visit, but to give a Mass at the congress after having a protocol greeting with the Hungarian politicians." Francis has long expressed solidarity with migrants and refugees—he once brought a dozen Syrian Muslim refugees home with him from a refugee camp in Greece—and criticized what he called "national populism" advanced by governments like Hungary's.
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