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 pope’s seven-hour-long stay in Budapest he was also set to meet the country’s bishops, and representatives of various Christian congregations.
He was also set to meet with leaders of the Hungarian Jewish community, the largest in Central Europe, estimated to number anywhere between 47,000 and 130,000 people.
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.
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.