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Pope warns of ‘threat of antisemitism in Europe’ during Hungary visit

In whirlwind trip to Budapest, Pope Francis meets with anti-immigration premier Viktor Orban, meets leaders of local Jewish community

Pope Francis greets faithful as he arrives in an open vehicle for a Holy Mass at the end of an International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest on September 12, 2021, during his papal visit to Hungary. (Attila KISBENEDEK / AFP)
Pope Francis greets faithful as he arrives in an open vehicle for a Holy Mass at the end of an International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest on September 12, 2021, during his papal visit to Hungary. (Attila KISBENEDEK / AFP)

Pope Francis warned on Sunday of “the threat of antisemitism” in Europe and beyond in an address to Christian and Jewish leaders during a brief visit to Hungary, where he also met anti-migration premier Viktor Orban.

“I think of the threat of antisemitism still lurking in Europe and elsewhere. This is a fuse that must not be allowed to burn. And the best way to defuse it is to work together, positively, and to promote fraternity,” the pontiff said.

During the ceremony, held in the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest, Francis met with leaders of the Hungarian Jewish community, the largest in Central Europe, estimated to number between 47,000 and 130,000 people.

The pontiff met Zoltan Radnoti, the chairman of the rabbinical council of the Mazsihisz Jewish umbrella group in Hungary, and the group’s president Andras Heisler, as well as two representatives from the reform-progressive community.

Radnoti presented the pope with a silver pointer used during public readings of the Torah. The pointer was specially made for the occasion by a goldsmith whose parents are Holocaust survivors.

During the pope’s seven-hour-long stay in Budapest, he also met the country’s bishops and representatives of various Christian congregations.

Ferenc pápa Budapesten: Azon kell együtt dolgozni, hogy a testvériségre neveljük az embereket„Szeretném felidézni…

Posted by MAZSIHISZ-Magyarországi Zsidó Hitközségek Szövetsége on Sunday, September 12, 2021

Francis’s meeting on Sunday with Orban — whose tough views on migration clash with those of the pontiff — has raised eyebrows among papal observers.

The head of 1.3 billion Catholics — in Hungary to close the International Eucharistic Congress — met Orban, accompanied by his deputy and the president, behind closed doors in Budapest’s grand Fine Arts Museum.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, center, does the sign of the cross as he attends a mass celebrated by Pope Francis for the closing of the International Eucharistic Congress, at Budapest’s Heroes Square, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

On the one hand, the Hungarian prime minister is a self-styled defender of “Christian Europe” from migration. On the other, Pope Francis has urges help for the marginalized and those of all religions fleeing war and poverty.

Days before the pope’s arrival posters appeared on the streets of the Hungarian capital — where the city council is controlled by the anti-Orban opposition — reading “Budapest welcomes the Holy Father” and showing his quotes including pleas for solidarity and tolerance toward minorities.

The pope’s approach to meet those who don’t share his worldview — eminently Christian according to the pontiff — has often been met with incomprehension among the faithful, particularly within the ranks of traditionalist Catholics.

“I asked Pope Francis not to let Christian Hungary perish,” Orban posted on his Facebook page following a photo of the two shaking hands.

The Vatican in a statement after the meeting described it as “cordial.”

“Among the various topics discussed were the role of the church in the country, the commitment to the protection of the environment, the protection and promotion of the family,” the statement said.

Over the last few years, there has been no love lost between Orban supporters in Hungary and the leader of the Catholic world.

Pro-Orban media and political figures have launched barbs at the pontiff, calling him “anti-Christian” for his pro-refugee sentiments, and the “Soros Pope,” a reference to the Hungarian-born liberal US billionaire George Soros, who is reviled by the right.

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