In an interview in Budapest at the conclusion of Pope Francis’ 41st Apostolic Journey abroad, Cardinal Péter Erdő, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, said the “people felt the Holy Father’s warmth and responded to it, and that the Holy Father, amid these troubling times, truly came as a pilgrim of peace and man of faith.” The Primate of Hungary reflects on Pope Francis’ Apostolic Journey to Hungary, and says the Pope came as a true pilgrim of peace and brought the faithful a sense of immense joy and a call to work for peace.
“I have the feeling that the Holy Father came here first of all with great love, specifically love for us,” according to Cardinal Péter Erdő, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest.
“The visit of Pope Francis was a special joy for the Hungarian Catholic community in particular, but I believe also for the whole nation,” said Cardinal Erdő.
Pastoral love for Hungary
“It is not some international event or other purpose that has brought him here, but specifically pastoral love; that he wanted to visit us,” he said, noting, “This is a great encouragement for us.”
“When we went to St. Stephen’s Basilica, the city was full of people. Not only in the square in front of the basilica, but also along the streets, crowds were greeting him,” he said, adding that the Pope expressed great affection for those whom he met.
The Cardinal also noted that Pope Francis frequently stopped his popemobile — or papal golf cart — to shake hands with the faithful and to show his affection for babies and young children.
“It was really a great, loving relationship with the faithful community,” he said.
Christ coming to us in loving encounter
Cardinal Erdő pointed out that there were many non-Catholics who turned out for the Pope’s events.
“There were numerous ecumenical guests, representatives of social life, many of whom were not Catholics or non-believers,” he said, “who were overjoyed to receive the Holy Father, because they saw that this journey is for us,” he said.
“Through the person of the Pope we experience that Christ is coming to us — and that is a very great thing,” said the Cardinal. “Jesus comes in every Mass. We see Him in the poor person. And yet, when the Pope comes, we are emotionally affected by this reality.”
Pilgrim of peace, with war next door
In his Regina Caeli address at the end of Mass on Sunday, Pope Francis offered Hungary and Europe to the protection of the Virgin Mary and prayed for peace.
“It was especially beautiful at the end of the Mass,” said the Cardinal, “because we know that it was he who last year called on the bishops of the world to consecrate Ukraine and Russia to the Blessed Virgin Mary. And we Hungarians have a very old tradition of this, because it was Saint Stephen who, according to historical tradition, dedicated the whole country, the whole nation, to the Virgin Mary.”
A statue of St. Stephen, he recalled, still stands in Fatima in memory of that historic event.
Entrusting to Mary’s miracles
“We made this gesture last year, and the faithful — Eastern and Western Christians — have come to understand that here we are truly entrusting this situation to Divine Providence and the intercessory love of the Virgin Mary, which we cannot resolve by human power alone,” said the Cardinal.
Cardinal Erdő recalled that Pope Francis prayed before the icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the end of Mass on Sunday.
“This is the icon which, according to historical tradition, found its way to the Bakócz Chapel when the city of Esztergom was liberated from the Turks, and this old icon was found under the ruins of the basilica,” he said. “They displayed and prayed before it, and many of them thanked the Virgin Mary.”
The Cardinal concluded the interview by reflection on a few highlights of the Apostolic Visit.
“Great encouragement was felt by bishops, priests, deacons, religious, teachers of the faith, and all those actively involved in the life of the Church, as well as by the poor, the disabled, the blind children, the homeless, and of course, refugees, and those who care for refugees,” he said.
Cardinal Erdő said the Hungarian faithful will never forget the unforgettable testimony offered by a refugee family in St. Elizabeth’s Church, the Pope’s reverent and moving visit to the Greek Catholic Community, and the contagious joy and peaceful and prayerful atmosphere of the Holy Mass in Parliament Square on Sunday morning.
By Deborah Castellano Lubov