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Pope Francis urges unity in final Mass in Hungary

April 30, 2023

The 86-year-old pontiff capped his trip to Hungary with a final Mass in Budapest on a sunny spring morning, with thousands having gathered for the blessing. He told people to fight the "closed doors" of nationalism.

The pope waves at crowds as he arrives at the central square in Budapest
The pope held Mass for huge crowds in BudapestImage: Marton Monus/REUTERS

Tens of thousands of Hungarians gathered on the bank of the Danube in downtown Budapest for visiting Pope Francis' final Mass on Sunday.

The Vatican, citing local organizers, said some 50,000 people participated, with more than 30,000 of them in the Kossuth Lajos Square on a sunny spring morning. Among them were President Katalin Novak and Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Francis spoke out against rising nationalism, urging Hungarians to fight the "closed door 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."

Tens of thousands of people gathered in the central square in Budapest for a Mass led by Pope Francis
Tens of thousands of people gathered in the central square in Budapest for a Mass led by Pope FrancisImage: Remo Casilli/REUTERS

The Mass on the square, with the Hungarian parliament and Budapest's famed Chain Bridge as a backdrop, provided the visual highlight of the pope's three-day visit to the country.

Estimates suggest around 60% of Hungary's population is Catholic, well above the European average.

Francis was set to deliver a final speech on European culture at the Pazmany Peter Catholic University in Budapest before returning to Rome.

Pope calls for unified Europe

The pope's visit to Hungary was his foreign visit since being rushed to hospital last month

Though primarily designed to embrace Hungary's large Catholic population, the pontiff spoke strongly about building a united Europe when he addressed the president and the prime minister over the weekend.

Pope Francis has often advocated compassion for migrants, while Orban has locked horns with European Union leaders over his immigration policies, gay rights and views on Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

On Saturday, he prayed with Ukrainian refugees and then met with an envoy of Russian Patriarch Kirill, who has firmly supported Moscow's invasion.

The pope has taken a comparatively soft line on Ukraine, despite expressing sympathy for the country, keeping a door open to Moscow. Hungary and Ukraine share a roughly 135-kilometer (85-mile) border. 

On his flight home from Hungary, Francis said Sunday that the Vatican was involved in a peace mission to try to end the war in Ukraine.

"I am willing to do everything that has to be done. There is a mission in course now but it is not yet public. When it is public, I will reveal it," Pope Francis said.

"I think that peace is always made by opening channels. You can never achieve peace through closure. ... This is not easy."

rm/msh (AP, AFP)

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