International News

Competing Versions of Christianity on Display Between Pope and Hungary’s Orbán

Pope Francis meets with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at Sándor Palace in Budapest, Hungary, April 28, 2023. The pope was beginning a three-day trip to Hungary’s capital with meetings with government officials. (CNS photo)

By Elise Ann Allen

BUDAPEST (Crux) – While neither Hungary’s Viktor Orbán nor his most prominent guest this weekend, Pope Francis, have appeared anxious to play up their differences, there’s no getting around the fact that the two men represent contrasting versions of Christianity — one focused on identity, tradition and family values, the other on welcome, dialogue and the social gospel.

That clash, albeit in subtle and polite fashion, was clear Sunday morning as Pope Francis celebrated Mass in front of the Hungarian parliament building dominated by Orbán and his allies.

Orbán and Hungarian President Katalin Novák were in attendance at the Mass, along with a slew of political officials and ecclesial delegations from other religious and Christian confessions. Local authorities said roughly 50,000 people were in Budapest’s Kossuth Lajos Square, with another 30,000 in another nearby piazza.

In his homily, Pope Francis stressed the importance of embracing an inclusive Christianity, invoking the image of the Good Shepherd as a pastor who leaves no one behind, regardless of their background or status.

“We Christians, all of us called by name by the Good Shepherd, are summoned to receive and spread his love, to make his fold inclusive and never to exclude others,” he said, stressing the need to “cultivate relationships of fraternity and cooperation, avoiding divisions.”

Pope Francis used the word “doors” a robust 10 times in his homily Sunday morning, urging against closure: “Please, open the doors!” he said, in a clear if indirect challenge to Orban’s broadly restrictive policies on immigration.

He cautioned Catholics against “retreating into our own community” and being overly concerned to “stake out our individual territory, but rather opening our hearts to mutual love.”

Pope Francis noted that in the Gospel, Jesus is presented as the Good Shepherd who both calls his sheep to him, and then leads them out to pasture.

“On the one hand, Jesus is the wide-open door that enables us to enter into the Father’s fellowship and experience his mercy. Yet, as we all know, open doors are not only for entering, but also for leaving. After bringing us back into God’s embrace and into the fold of the Church, Jesus is the door that leads us back into the world,” he said.

In leading his flock back out into the world, Jesus, the pope said, “urges us to go forth to encounter our brothers and sisters.”

“Let us never forget that all of us, without exception, are called to this; we are called to step out of our comfort zones and find the courage to reach out to all those peripheries that need the light of the Gospel.”

Pope Francis said it is both “sad and painful” to see within the Christian community “the closed doors of our selfishness with regard to others; the closed doors of our individualism amid a society of growing isolation; the closed doors of our indifference towards the underprivileged and those who suffer; the doors we close towards those who are foreign or unlike us, towards migrants or the poor.”

He also chided what he said were the “closed doors” within the ecclesial community itself, when Christians are closed “to other people, closed to the world, closed to those who are ‘irregular,’ closed to those who long for God’s forgiveness.”

Though he did not go into specifics, Pope Francis has consistently advocated on behalf of Catholics living in “irregular” situations, whether they be divorced and remarried, members of the LGBTQ community, or other groups who don’t fit the norms of traditional Christian faith.

While he has repeatedly praised Hungary for its defense of traditional Christian and family values and urged the country’s faithful not be discouraged by a growing European secularism that puts those values at risk, the pope has also challenged Hungarians to broaden their faith with a more visible practice of the Church’s social doctrine, particularly in regard to migrants.

In his homily, Pope Francis begged Christians to “to be — in our words, deeds and daily activities — like Jesus, an open door: a door that is never shut in anyone’s face, a door that enables everyone to enter and experience the beauty of the Lord’s love and forgiveness.”

This openness is especially important for the church’s pastors, he said, specifically pointing to bishops and priests, telling them that “a good shepherd is neither a robber nor a thief.”

A true pastor, he said, “does not take advantage of his role; he does not lord it over the flock entrusted to his care; he does not occupy spaces that belong to his lay brothers and sisters; he does not exercise inflexible authority.”

“Let us encourage one another to be increasingly open doors: ‘facilitators’ of God’s grace, masters of closeness; let us be ready to offer our lives, even as Christ, our Lord and our all, teaches us with open arms from the throne of the cross,” he said.

Pope Francis closed his homily saying this same attitude must be embraced by catechists and pastoral workers, as well as those who hold political and social leadership.

“Be open doors! Let the Lord of life enter our hearts, with his words of consolation and healing, so that we can then go forth as open doors within society. Be open and inclusive, then, and in this way, help Hungary to grow in fraternity, which is the path of peace,” he said.

Yet while Pope Francis and Orbán embody different versions of Christianity, the two also share a sort of odd-couple synergy on the question of Ukraine and its war with Russia.

Both men have urged compassion for war victims, especially Ukrainian refugees who have fled, but neither believes in isolating Russia and neither are seen as reliable allies of the West.

Pope Francis has been criticized repeatedly for not coming down harder on Russia, and for at times even appearing to suggest that they had legitimate security concerns before the war. His meeting with Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion in Budapest Saturday further drove home just how hard he is trying to dialogue with Russia amid the conflict.

Hilarion, the former number two official in Russian Orthodoxy and now the metropolitan of Budapest and Hungary, was also in attendance at the Mass Sunday morning.

In brief remarks for his Regina Coeli address after Mass, the pope offered prayers for both Russia and Ukraine, noting that Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdő, archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, in his greeting had said that Hungary has been living “on the eastern border of Western Christianity for a thousand years.”

“It is a beautiful thing when borders do not represent boundaries that separate, but points of contact, and when believers in Christ emphasize first the charity that unites us, rather than the historical, cultural and religious differences that divide us,” he said.

Insisting that God “desires us to be united in one flock,” Pope Francis asked that the Virgin Mary would watch over all those who are suffering, specifically “the neighboring, beleaguered Ukrainian people and the Russian people, both consecrated to you.”

He prayed that Mary would “instill in the hearts of peoples and their leaders the desire to build peace and to give the younger generations a future of hope, not war, a future full of cradles not tombs, a world of brothers and sisters, not walls and barricades.”

Pope Francis closed by asking Mary to intercede for the Church in Europe as a whole, so that European Christians “may find strength in prayer, renewed humility and obedience, and be an example of convincing witness and joyful proclamation.”

Pope Francis later today is scheduled to pay a visit to the Faculty of Information Technology and Bionics of the Catholic Péter Pázmány University, where he will meet members of the academic and cultural communities before returning to Rome.

One thought on “Competing Versions of Christianity on Display Between Pope and Hungary’s Orbán