Pope Francis arrived in Hungary on Friday at the start of a three-day trip where the war in Ukraine, migration and Europe’s Christian roots are expected to top the agenda in his public addresses and talks with Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
The visit is his first trip since he was admitted to hospital for bronchitis in March. Francis will preside on Sunday at an open-air Mass in front of parliament, overlooking the Danube River in Budapest.
Francis is keeping a promise of an official visit, after a stop of only seven hours to close a Church congress in Budapest in 2021 on his way to Slovakia left many feeling slighted.
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He has acknowledged the visit’s content will be affected by current events, even if the main purpose is meeting Hungarian Catholics.
Francis is due to meet Orban on Friday.
“Looking forward to the visit of @pontifex,” Orban said on Twitter on Thursday evening.
“In troubled times like ours, it is essential to remember what keeps us together, and faith is the foundation upon which we can build a stable future.”
Orban has said Hungary and the Vatican are the only two European states that can be described as “pro-peace” regarding Ukraine.
Both Orban 59, and the pope, 86, have called for a ceasefire and negotiations to end the war and Francis has urged Ukraine to be open to dialogue with “aggressor” Russia, something Ukraine has so far ruled out.
Hungary, which supports a sovereign Ukraine but still has strong economic ties to Russia, has refused to send weapons to Ukraine.
While the pope has often called for a general ban on arms trafficking and reduction in weapons manufacturing, he has also said sending arms to Ukraine is morally acceptable if they are used only for self-defense.
For Hungarians waiting for a chance to see Francis, some saw the visit as a moment of hope.
“I believe that with so much sorrow in the world that a positive message from the Pope would do us good,” Annamaria Duzmath said while passing Budapest’s St Stephen’s Basilica on Friday.