Pope Francis’ upcoming trip to Hungary and Slovakia, while seemingly standard as papal visits go, could prove to be among his most challenging visits at a time when distrust in government authorities and the looming threat of the delta variant are leading the headlines.
When he visits Slovakia Sept. 12-15, Pope Francis, who throughout his pontificate has strongly denounced corruption and organized crime, will be seen as an important advocate after several tumultuous years that saw massive protests in the country and a series of changes of governments. Since 2018, two governments have been ousted because of corruption.
Most recently, “at the beginning of the first wave of the pandemic, the government in Slovakia changed,” said Jesuit Father Vlastimil Dufka, who will direct the choir at the pope’s Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows in Sastin Sept. 15.
“The previous government was marked by many corruption cases, and the arrival of a new government brought new hope to our country,” he told Catholic News Service.
Recent legislation requiring vaccinations sparked protests in the country, causing divisions and tensions, including within the Catholic Church.
Father Martin Kramara, spokesman for the Slovak bishops’ conference, told Catholic News Service Aug. 20 that the government’s mandate for all participants of papal events to be vaccinated “is no small challenge to organize.”
Despite the challenges, Father Kramara said the pope’s visit to the country, especially to a homeless shelter run by the Missionaries of Charity and to Slovakia’s Roma community, are a much-needed reminder of the Church’s primary mission.
The pope, he said, wants to show the local Church and religious communities’ “sacrificial activities for the benefit of the poor and needy, those who are on the periphery of society, and he reminds us of the important truth that living faith must always be connected with active love in deeds.”
Long mired by accusations of corruption, the government of former Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico came to an end after the murder of Ján Kuciak, an investigative journalist, and his fiancee, Martina Kusnírová, in 2018.
The pope’s trip begins in Budapest, Hungary, where he will preside over the closing Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress Sept. 12.
While the main purpose of the pope’s trip to Hungary is to celebrate the closing Mass, the pope will meet with Hungarian President János Áder and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, before flying out the same day to Bratislava, Slovakia.
That meeting with Orbán, and the brevity of the visit—a mere seven hours—was the subject of much speculation.
The Hungarian prime minister, who often has portrayed himself as the standard bearer for European Christianity, finds himself at odds with Pope Francis, particularly when it comes to immigration.
According to the Financial Times, during a 2017 speech to European center-right leaders, Orbán said “migration turned out to be the Trojan horse of terrorism” that threatened Europe’s “Christian identity.”
His views stand in stark contrast to those of Pope Francis, who has denounced growing anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe and abroad.
After meeting the two leaders in Budapest’s Museum of Fine Arts, the pope will meet with the country’s bishops, representatives of other Christians churches and Jewish communities in Hungary.