After a three day visit Pope Francis left Hungary on Sunday evening, the EU state closest to Russia and the one whose far-right government is the most vehemently opposed to migration.
The conservative populist prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has refused to accept many asylum-seekers trying to enter the country through its southern border, leading to prolonged legal disputes with the European Union.
Orbán, who has held office since 2010, has hinged multiple election campaigns on the threats he alleges that migrants and refugees pose to Hungarians. Controversially he has said that migration even threatens to replace Europe’s Christian culture.
But whilst Orbán’s government has consistently rejected asylum-seekers from the Middle East and Africa, he did allow around 2.5 million Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion to enter Hungary. Only 35,000 of them remain and have registered for temporary protection there, according to the U.N.
Pope Francis has expressed appreciation for Hungary’s recent welcome of Ukrainian refugees. But he has challenged Orban’s hard-line anti-immigration policies, which in 2015-2016 included building a razor wire fence on the border with Serbia to stop people from entering. Upon arrival, Francis urged Hungary and Europe as a whole to welcome those who are fleeing war, poverty and climate change, calling for safe and legal migration corridors.
“How sad and painful it is to see closed doors,” Francis said in his Sunday homily on the Danube. “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.
“Please, let us open those doors!” he said.
Euronews asked Father László Gájer of Pázmány Péter Catholic University for his opinion on how the papal visit went.
“Pope Francis has also given a message now. If we listen to the few speeches that have been given so far, there was already a message that nationalism or over-emphasis on national identity is not necessarily the right way. We should be thinking more in terms of greater community living together in Europe.”
“There was a sharp contrast between the Hungarian government’s refugee policy and the Pope’s evangelical preaching,” he added.