Pope Francis in Hungary and Slovakia - Where he's been, what he's said, where he's going

News: Pope Francis

Pope Francis traveled over the weekend to Hungary and Slovakia, marking his first international trip since March.

The pope spent seven hours in Hungary, where he presided over the closing Mass of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest. Held every four years in a different location, the weeklong congress focuses on Catholic teaching that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist. 

Francis then flew to Slovakia, where he is visiting four cities before his return to Rome Wednesday.

What has the pope said and done so far? The Pillar brings you a recap from the first half of the papal trip:

Where he’s been

Pope Francis arrived in Budapest on the morning of Sunday, September 12. He met briefly with the Hungarian president and prime minister before speaking to the Catholic bishops of the country. He then participated in an ecumenical meeting with a group of Protestant and Jewish leaders. Afterward, he celebrated the closing Mass for the International Eucharistic Congress at Heroes’ Square, with roughly 100,000 people estimated to be in attendance.

Following his brief visit to Hungary, the pope flew to Slovakia, where he will remain until Wednesday. He met with both civil and Catholic leaders in the capital of Bratislava. He also spoke to members of the Jewish community and made a private visit to the Bethlehem Center, run by the Missionaries of Charity to care for the homeless. 

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What he’s said

Speaking to the Catholic bishops of Hungary, Pope Francis called for an embrace of dialogue and fraternity in a diverse society. He asked the bishops to be advocates of hope in the face of adversity and encouraged them to maintain the unity of the Episcopal Conference, while striving to be close to God, to their priests, to the faithful. 

The pope also emphasized “fidelity and passion for the Gospel” as key to the ministry of the bishops: 

Let us not forget that the heart of the Church’s life is our encounter with Christ. Sometimes, especially when society around us is less than enthusiastic about the Christian message, we can be tempted to retreat into a defence of our institutions and structures.  Your country today is caught up in the great changes affecting Europe as a whole. After the long years when the practice of the faith met with opposition, the growth of freedom has brought new challenges, with the advance of secularism and a lessened thirst for God. Let us not forget: Christ is an ever-flowing spring of water that quenches every thirst. Structures, institutions and the Church’s presence in society are meant to awaken in men and women the thirst for God and to offer them the living water of the Gospel. As Bishops, you are not called to be primarily bureaucrats and managers; other people can fulfil these tasks. Nor are you called to seek privileges and benefits. Please be servants. Servants, not princes. 

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Addressing Christian and Jewish leaders, the pope reflected on the famous Széchenyi Chain Bridge that connects the two halves of Budapest. The bridge, he said, can teach us lessons about unity and the need to work together to support fellowship and religious freedom.  

The bridge does not fuse those two parts together, but rather holds them together. That is how it should be with us too. Whenever we were tempted to absorb the other, we were tearing down instead of building up. Or when we tried to ghettoize others instead of including them. How often has this happened throughout history! We must be vigilant and must pray that it never happens again. And commit ourselves to fostering together an education in fraternity, so that the outbursts of hatred that would destroy that fraternity will never prevail. I think of the threat of antisemitism still lurking in Europe and elsewhere. This is a fuse that must not be allowed to burn. And the best way to defuse it is to work together, positively, and to promote fraternity.

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In his homily for the closing Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress, Pope Francis spoke about the need to move “from an empty admiration for Christ to an authentic imitation of Christ.” Just as he asked his apostles on the road to Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asks each one of us, “Who do you say that I am?” and we, like the apostles, must embrace Christ as the crucified savior rather than our own images of him, the pope reflected.

“How distant is the God who quietly reigns on the cross from the false god that we want to reign with power in order to silence our enemies! How different is Christ, who presents himself with love alone, from all the powerful and winning messiahs worshiped by the world! Jesus unsettles us; he is not satisfied with declarations of faith, but asks us to purify our religiosity before his cross, before the Eucharist. We do well to spend time in adoration before the Eucharist in order to contemplate God’s weakness. Let us make time for adoration, a way of praying too frequently forgotten. Let us make time for adoration. Let us allow Jesus the Living Bread to heal us of our self-absorption, open our hearts to self-giving, liberate us from our rigidity and self-concern, free us from the paralyzing slavery of defending our image, and inspire us to follow him wherever he would lead us, not where I want.”

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Shortly after arriving in Slovakia, the pope spoke with members of the Ecumenical Council of Churches, encouraging them not to grow complacent, but to remain zealous in their pursuit of the Gospel.

Your communities made a new start after the years of atheistic persecution, when religious freedom was stifled or harshly repressed. Then, finally, that freedom returned. Now you are sharing a similar experience of growth in which you are coming to discover how beautiful, but also how difficult it is to live your faith in freedom. For there is always the temptation to return to bondage, not that of a regime, but one even worse: an interior bondage.

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In Slovakia, the pope also spoke with political and diplomatic leaders, urging them not to allow the Communism of past decades to be replaced by an unfettered pursuit of profit. He encouraged them to adopt the Beatitudes as “the inspiration for a Christian vision of society.” 

At the time of Christ, salt gave flavour but it was also used to preserve food, to keep it from spoiling. It is my hope that you will never allow the rich flavours of your finest traditions to be spoiled by the superficiality of consumerism and material gain. Or by forms of ideological colonization. In these lands, until just a few decades ago, a single thought-system stifled freedom. Today another single thought-system is emptying freedom of meaning, reducing progress to profit and rights only to individual needs. Today, as then, the salt of the faith acts not by reacting in worldly terms, by engaging in culture wars, but by quietly and humbly sowing the seeds of God’s kingdom, especially by the witness of charity, of love. 

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Addressing bishops, priests, religious, seminarians and catechists in Slovakia, Pope Francis emphasized the need for freedom, dialogue, and creativity in preaching the Gospel in the modern world.

Isn’t this perhaps the most urgent task facing the Church before the peoples of Europe: finding new “alphabets” to proclaim the faith? We are heirs to a rich Christian tradition, yet for many people today, that tradition is a relic from the past; it no longer speaks to them or affects the way they live their lives. Faced with the loss of the sense of God and of the joy of faith, it is useless to complain, to hide behind a defensive Catholicism, to judge and blame the evil world. No! What we need is the creativity of the Gospel. 

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Pope Francis spoke to the Jewish community of Slovakia after listening to the testimony of a Holocaust survivor from the country. Jews in Slovakia faced anti-Semitic riots, attacks, and discriminatory policies in the 1930s, and mass deportation in World War II. In his address, the pope called for an end to anti Semitism and stressed that “your sufferings are our sufferings.”

Now is the time when the image of God shining forth in humanity must not be obscured. Let us help one another in this effort. For in our day too, so many empty and false idols dishonour the Name of the Most High: the idols of power and money that prevail over human dignity; a spirit of indifference that looks the other way; and forms of manipulation that would exploit religion in the service of power or else reduce it to irrelevance. But also forgetfulness of the past, ignorance prepared to justify anything, anger and hatred. I repeat: let us unite in condemning all violence and every form of anti-Semitism, and in working to ensure that God’s image, present in the humanity he created, will never be profaned.

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Where he’s going next

Over the next two days, the pope will visit three additional cities in Slovakia. He is scheduled to preside over a Byzantine Divine Liturgy in Prešov, as well as Mass in Šaštin. He is also planning to meet with young people and members of the Roma community in Košice. He is slated to arrive back in Rome on Wednesday afternoon.

Stay tuned for more - The Pillar will have highlights from the second half of the pope’s trip later this week.