Orbán on private audience with the Pope — RT EN

21 Apr 2022 10:26 pm

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has met Pope Francis at the Vatican on his first trip since re-election. The 45-minute meeting was the second between Francis and Orbán in less than a year. Among other things, it was about Ukraine.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán paid Pope Francis his first official visit abroad after winning the election in early April. The head of the Catholic Church also asked the 58-year-old about Hungary’s acceptance of Ukrainian war refugees, it said on Thursday.

Orbán had asked Francis for support for Hungary’s peace efforts, his spokesman later wrote on Twitter. The Hungarian ambassador to the Holy See spoke of a “long and friendly meeting” on the social network. A smiling and cheerful Francis reportedly showed his appreciation for welcoming Ukrainians who had fled to the neighboring country.

It was the second between Francis and Orbán in less than a year, although this time the tone was very different from the previous meeting. The pope had made a brief stop in Budapest to wrap up a church congress, and the awkwardness of that September meeting had been apparent given the wildly different views of Francis and nationalist Orbán on migration to Europe.

But on Thursday, Pope Francis showed his appreciation for welcoming people from Ukraine. A video distributed by the Vatican showed the Fidesz politician and the Pope exchanging gifts. Francis presented Orbán with a medallion of Saint Martin, saying he had chosen it specifically to honor Hungary’s reception of refugees.

At Thursday’s meeting, Francis and Orbán both seemed in good spirits. When it came time to part, the pope told the prime minister in English: “May God bless you, your family and Hungary.” Orbán replied, “Your Holiness, we are waiting for you,” alluding to Francis’ plans to return to Hungary for a pastoral visit sometime in the future.

While Orbán’s government had pursued anti-immigration policies in the past, it now said it would welcome all people fleeing Ukraine and provide them with food, shelter and the opportunity to work. This is in contrast to the last wave of refugees in Europe. When over a million people, mostly from Iraq and Syria, had arrived in the European Union in 2015, Orbán had ordered the construction of a barbed wire fence along Hungary’s southern border and set up legal roadblocks for asylum seekers.

Hungary developed into an important transit country for war refugees from the Ukraine. According to the UN refugee agency, more than 476,000 people have entered the country from Ukraine since the conflict began eight weeks ago. Many people from Ukraine have dual citizenship because the government in Budapest had been issuing passports to the more than two million Hungarians living across the country’s borders for several years.

Orbán’s visit to the Vatican was his first trip abroad since his right-wing party Fidesz won Hungary’s general election on April 3, and the destination marked a departure from his tradition following past elections. The now longest-serving head of government in the EU was after the Hungarian election Traveled to the Polish capital of Warsaw in 2010, 2014 and 2018. Poland has long been Hungary’s strongest ally in the EU, and the two countries’ governments have backed each other in their respective disputes with the EU because their populist governments are said to have undermined the independence of the judiciary, media freedom and the rule of law. But the war in Ukraine tested the cordial relations between Budapest and Warsaw, revealing fault lines caused by differing attitudes toward Moscow.

Poland, which traditionally views Russia as a major security threat, is among Europe’s most active players in imposing sanctions on Moscow and providing military aid to Ukraine.

Orbán has long maintained close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and in recent weeks has refused to supply arms to Ukraine or allow their movement across the Hungarian-Ukrainian border. The Hungarian government has also campaigned strongly against extending EU sanctions to ban Russian energy imports, on which Hungary is dependent.

For his part, Francis has long sought to improve relations with the Russian Orthodox Church. In 2016, he became the first pope in a millennium to meet with the head of the church, Russian Patriarch Cyril I.

There has already been speculation about a trip by the Pope to Hungary. Most recently, the 85-year-old Argentinian only traveled to the Hungarian capital Budapest for a few hours for a large church congress last September and then went on to Slovakia. At the time, Francis called for Hungary to be more open about welcoming migrants — an issue on which Orbán and the pope had differed views. This time, Francis initially criticized the situation in Ukraine with restraint, thus continuing the diplomatic tradition of the Vatican. But he is increasingly outraged by what he calls a “blasphemous” war and the creation of millions of Ukrainian refugees.

Francis continues to try to keep open a path of dialogue with Cyril. The two spoke via video call last month and there are reports they could meet in person in Jerusalem in June.

More on the subject – Pope Francis promises historic trip to Russia

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