As Remix News reported yesterday, Pope Francis will visit Hungary on Sept. 12 this year, and will celebrate a mass at the closing event of the International Eucharistic Congress, according to an announcement from Cardinal Péter Erdős. The Eucharistic Congress is a meeting of Roman Catholic clergy and laity, and is usually attended by thousands of people and dignitaries from all across the world. Its closing part, Statio Orbis, is a mass celebrated for the town and the world, and if the pope is to visit the congress, this is the part he usually attends.
The pope has also accepted the invitation of Slovakian President Zuzana Čaputová, and will visit the capital of Slovakia, Bratislava, after his stop in Budapest. This is the first papal visit to Slovakia since 2003, when John Paul II had celebrated mass in the country.
The visit to Hungary is seen as a significant recognition of the Hungarian government’s efforts in supporting persecuted Christian communities by the Vatican. During his visit to Iraq on March 8, Pope Francis met with Tristan Azbej, the Hungarian State Secretary for the Aid of Persecuted Christians and the Hungary Helps Program. This is a sign of recognition of the efforts of the Hungarian government in rebuilding Christian communities in Iraq, destroyed by wars, or during the occupation by Islamic State terrorists. Azbej had informed the pope about the ongoing efforts in rebuilding Iraq’s war-ravaged Christian communities, and the pope had in turn blessed the Hungarian mission.
During the visit, the Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph Yunan had also praised the Hungary Helps Program and thanked the Hungarian government for its assistance in rebuilding the Church of Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh in northern Iraq, former home to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. The Church was torched by Islamic State jihadists in 2014, and the 55,000 Christian residents of the town were forced to flee for their lives, mostly towards the autonomous Kurdish regions. After the terrorists were ousted in 2016, less than half of the original Christian residents have returned, yet the church was successfully rebuilt from international donations.
It is the declared goal of the Hungarian government to help persecuted Christian communities in the Middle East and Africa to rebuild their lives at home, rather than to be forced to migrate to Europe. As the government program’s website claims, “the basic principle of the Hungary Helps Program is that help should be taken where the trouble is, not for the trouble to be brought to Europe. As a result, in the last nearly four years, we have made it possible for more than 100,000 people living in crisis areas to stay in their homeland or to return there.”
As Amal Ezzo, headmistress at a Catholic school in Qaraqosh, noted, “We need to live in peace. The government didn’t help us rebuild our homes — international organizations did.”
Cardinal Louis Sako, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, had also recalled atrocities committed in Qaraqosh by IS terrorists. According to him, those Christians who did not flee were forced to convert to Islam or were murdered.
“Here, the churches were transformed to prisons. Everything was broken. It was heartbreaking,” said the Cardinal.
The Hungary Helps program had also allocated funds in the region of €1.2 million to projects in Africa. These will support communities in Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Mozambique, again with the express goal of “enabling people living in crisis areas to stay in their homeland.” As their official website states, “a new secondary school for internally displaced youth is being built in Nigeria. A program to promote the social reintegration of families living in poverty has been launched in Kenya. In Ethiopia, education, water management, and agriculture projects are supported by the Hungary Helps Program, and in Mozambique, support projects provide assistance to thousands of internally displaced persons.”
The coronavirus crisis has affected Christian communities in Africa and the Middle East disproportionately, as they are doubly isolated under the threat of Islamic terrorism and pandemic-induced economic strain. The Hungarian government had sent aid to Syrian, Lebanese, Congolese, and Nigerian Christian communities worth over €150,000, providing food aid to local churches whose followers are most exposed to the food crisis.