“I arrive as a pilgrim and friend in Hungary, a country rich in history and culture; from Budapest, city of bridges and saints, I think about Europe as a whole, and I pray that, united and in solidarity, it may also be in our days a house of peace and a prophecy of welcoming”. These are the words Pope Francis wrote in the book of honour at the Presidential Palace, at the beginning of his three-day Apostolic Journey to Hungary, where he had spent a few hours 0n 12 September 2021, for the closing Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest.
Seventy-three journalists from 10 different countries, accompanied the Pope on the two-hour flight from Rome’s International Airport to Budapest’s International Airport, on Friday morning, 28 April.
Upon arriving in the Hungarian capital for the 41st international visit of his pontificate, Pope Francis was greeted by the apostolic nuncio, the Hungarian Chief of Protocol and the country’s Vice-Prime Minister, Zsolt Semjén. Two children, a boy and a girl, wearing traditional outfits, welcomed the Pope with gifts of bread and salt. A Fiat 500 x took Pope Francis towards the city centre for the first appointments of his trip.
The theme of this 41st Apostolic Journey, “Christ is our future”, sums up the expectations of the local Church in this land with nearly 10 million inhabitants, six million of them Catholic. The current division of the dioceses only goes back 30 years, to the period following the fall of the communist regime, which had persecuted Christians harshly. There are a little over 2,000 parishes in the country’s 17 dioceses. There are about 40 bishops, nearly 2,000 priests — the majority diocesan — nearly 2,000 catechists, and some 600 religious sisters. There are about 20 minor and 30 major seminarians, more than 500 Catholic schools and 17 higher education institutes and universities. The Church oversees five hospitals, five clinics, 65 homes for the elderly and people with disabilities, and about 50 orphanages and nursery schools, among other charitable institutions.
Pope Francis greeted locals gathered along the city streets before arriving at Sándor Palace, the home of the head of state. There he was welcomed by Hungarian President Katalin Éva Novák, for the official welcome ceremony. After a private meeting with the president, the Pope also spent some time with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
Pope Francis then made his way to the nearby former Carmelite monastery for the first public event of his Apostolic Journey in Hungary, a country which re-established diplomatic relations with the Holy See on 2 February 1990. First established in 1920, diplomatic ties between the two States were interrupted after World War ii , during the 40-year period in which Hungary was under Soviet influence. (Gianluca Biccini)