Pope Francis meets Viktor Orban in worldview clash

 Pope Francis meets Viktor Orban in worldview clash

BUDAPEST, Sept. 12 :  (AFP) – Pope Francis met with Hungarian premier Viktor Orban — whose tough views on migration clash with those of the pontiff — at the start of a brief visit to Budapest on Sunday where he will also celebrate a mass.    
The head of 1.3 billion Catholics — in Hungary to close the International Eucharistic Congress — met Orban, accompanied by Hungarian President Janos Ader, behind closed doors in Budapest’s grand Fine Arts Museum.    
Orban posted a photo of the two shaking hands on his Facebook page.     
On the one hand, the Hungarian prime minister is a self-styled defender of “Christian Europe” from migration. On the other, Pope Francis urges help for the marginalised and those of all religions fleeing war and poverty.    
The pope’s approach to meet those who don’t share his worldview — eminently Christian according to the pontiff — has often been met with incomprehension among the faithful, particularly within the ranks of traditionalist Catholics.    
Over the last few years, there has been no love lost between Orban supporters in Hungary and the leader of the Catholic world.    
Pro-Orban media and political figures have launched barbs at the pontiff calling him “anti-Christian” for his pro-refugee sentiments, and the “Soros Pope”, a reference to the Hungarian-born liberal US billionaire George Soros, a right-wing bete-noire.    
– ‘Work together’ –    
Eyebrows have also been raised over the pontiff’s whirlwind visit. His seven-hour-long stay in 9.8-million-population Hungary will be followed immediately by an official visit to smaller neighbour Slovakia of more than two days.    
“Pope Francis wants to humiliate Hungary by only staying a few hours,” said a pro-Orban television pundit.    
In his first address during his visit — to Christian and Jewish leaders after meeting Orban as well as the country’s bishops — Pope Francis warned 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,” the pontiff said.    
Hungary’s 100,000-strong Jewish community is one the largest in Central Europe. Born Jorge Bergoglio to a family of Italian emigrants to Argentina, the pope regularly reminds “old Europe” of its past, built on waves of new arrivals.    
In contrast, Orban’s signature crusade against migration has included border fences and detention camps for asylum-seekers and provoked growing ire in Brussels.    
Orban’s supporters point instead to state-funded aid agency “Hungary Helps” which works to rebuild churches and schools in war-torn Syria, and sends doctors to Africa.    
Orban’s critics, however, accuse him of using Christianity as a shield to deflect criticism and a sword to attack opponents while targeting vulnerable minorities like migrants.    
Days before the pope’s arrival posters appeared on the streets of the Hungarian capital — where the city council is controlled by the anti-Orban opposition — reading “Budapest welcomes the Holy Father” and showing his quotes including pleas for solidarity and tolerance towards minorities.    
– ‘Not here for politics’ –    
Orban — who is of Calvinist Protestant background — and his wife — who is a Catholic — are to attend the Pope’s mass later Sunday to close the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress at the vast Heroes’ Square in Budapest.    
Around 75,000 people have registered to attend the event, with screens and loudspeakers placed the length of a main boulevard near the square to allow others to follow the ceremony.    
From early Sunday, groups of pilgrims from around the country, some carrying signs with their hometowns written on them, were filing under tight security toward the Heroes’ Square.    
“We are not here for any politics, but to see and hear the pope, the head of the Church. We can hardly wait to see him. It is wonderful that he is visiting Budapest,” Eva Mandoki, 82, from Eger, some 110 kilometres (70 miles) east of the capital, told AFP.    
The trip to Budapest was at the invitation of the congress, and follows the path of John Paul II who also attended the event in 1985 in Nairobi, Kenya.    
It is the first papal trip to Hungary since Pope John Paul II in 1996. The 84-year-old pontiff’s 34th foreign trip comes two months after a colon operation that required a general anaesthetic and a ten-day convalescence in hospital.RSS

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