Pope Meets Orban, Then Asks Faithful to Be Tolerant and Open

Francis' address to crowd seems to counter official policy in Hungary
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 12, 2021 3:10 PM CDT
Pope Meets Orban, Then Asks Faithful to Be Tolerant and Open
Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Mass at the closing of the International Eucharistic Congress on Sunday in Budapest's Heroes Square.   (AP Photo/Laszlo Balogh)

After meeting Sunday with a nationalist ruler who's reduced civil liberties and judicial independence while opposing immigration, Pope Francis asked the people of Hungary for tolerance. His comments, delivered to as many as 100,000 people at an outdoor Mass in Budapest, appeared to be in conflict with the policies of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, CNN reports. "This is what I wish for you: that the cross be your bridge between the past and the future," Francis told worshippers during Mass. He talked about the planted cross opening its arms to anyone. "My wish is that you be like that: grounded and open, rooted and considerate," he said.

At an ecumenical meeting of Christian and Jewish leaders during his seven-hour stay, the pope particularly called out anti-semitism, per NBC. "I think of the threat of antisemitism still lurking in Europe and elsewhere," Francis said. "This is a fuse that must not be allowed to burn." Orban has faced accusations of stoking anti-semitism in the past. In his 2017 campaign, he used images of American George Soros, who is Jewish, in an anti-immigration billboard campaign, per Axios. Orban denied the antisemitism accusation, but "he knew what he was doing," a Human Rights First adviser said. "The whole Soros campaign was chockablock with anti-Semitic allusions," Ira Forman said.

The brevity of the pope's visit also made a point; by contrast, Francis is spending four days in Slovakia next. He has been critical of what he called the "national populism" of governments such as Orban's in the past and has said refugees coming for better lives should be welcomed in Europe. The Vatican reported the discussion topics Sunday included environmental protections and the church's role in Hungary. A Jewish leader who was in the meeting said later that he doesn't think Orban is a source of the nation's anti-semitism, but that it's been passed on through the generations. After his talks with Francis, Orban posted on Facebook that he had asked the pope "not to let Christian Hungary perish." (More Pope Francis stories.)

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