Hungary on high security alert ahead of Pope Francis visit as police search sewers, warn of neighborhood lockdowns, and prepare no-fly zone

Pope Francis celebrates a mass for the closing of the International Eucharistic Congress, at Budapest's Heroes Square, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Laszlo Balogh)
By Dénes Albert
4 Min Read

All of Hungary’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies are coordinating to ensure Pope Francis’ visit goes smoothly, with the various heads of these agencies saying that everything is in place to ensure the safety of the pope during his three-day visit to Hungary between April 28-30.

Security preparations are underway for Pope Francis’ visit to Budapest. At the planned sites for the visit, on the roads surrounding the locations he will visit, and even on the three possible routes from Liszt Ferenc International Airport to St. Stephen’s Basilica, gutter covers are being welded and lamp posts are being checked.

All the sewer networks along the roads leading to all the sites of the papal visit are being thoroughly checked for explosives and weapons. Bomb detection robots will be used in the sewer sections under the public areas where the pope will journey between April 28 and April 30. At the points where people can enter to see or meet the pope, all visitors will be checked, primarily by the bomb squad of the Counter Terrorism Centre (TEK), Hungarian newspaper Magyar Nemzet writes.

In addition to welding down the sewer covers, sewer construction specialists are also closing some sewer sections underground, and the authorities are constantly monitoring the closed points.

It is not yet known on which route Pope Francis’ motorcade will arrive in the city center on Friday and on which route it will leave on Sunday. Generally speaking, at least three routes will be designated, and it will be decided at the last minute, after the Holy Father’s plane has landed, which one will be used by the convoy of vehicles, which will also feature tight security.

An officer of Hungary’s Counter Terrorism Centre in riot gear. (Magyar Nemzet/Árpád Kurucz)

In addition to the canals, the lamp posts and traffic lights along the routes concerned are also being checked for weapons and explosives, as they are hollow and could theoretically contain such devices. Residents and surrounding houses and buildings in the areas affected by the papal visit will also be subject to security checks. It is expected that some roads, and even neighborhoods, will be closed for a period of time, during which no one will be allowed in or out. Police will even ask residents to stay indoors.

Snipers will be on duty throughout the visit, as will police helicopter units, which residents are warned will be far more active over Budapest during the pope’s visit. In addition, larger numbers of drones will be monitoring any area the pope chooses to visit.

There is a no-fly zone in place over the city center and key sites, such as the Basilica and Kossuth Square, and no personal drones will be allowed. The police warn they will force down or destroy any unknown drones spotted over Budapest.

Crowded locations where the pope is preparing to visit, such as Kossuth Square or St. Stephen’s Square in front of the Basilica, will be accessible only after repeated searches.

The head of the Catholic Church is among the world’s most vulnerable leaders. It is well known that all leading politicians in the world are closely guarded by secret services and law enforcement. However, four of them are in a special category because of their power to influence the world. The U.S. and Russian presidents, the Israeli prime minister and the pope are considered among the world’s most vulnerable leaders, with far greater security risks.

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