Hundreds of Faithful Gather in Prayer for Pope Francis at Budapest’s Oldest Parish Church
‘Nothing is more unifying than hope in Jesus,’ said Father Zoltán Osztie, parish priest of the Inner City Parish Church.
A time of celebration, prayer and adoration for the faithful who came from different parts of the world to attend Pope Francis’ apostolic journey to Budapest, Hungary, April 28-30, was held on the evening of April 29 at the Inner City Parish Church, the city’s oldest parish.
The church, which celebrates the 975th anniversary of its founding this year, was also the rallying point for some 1,500 pilgrims who set out at dawn on Sunday, April 30, to attend the Pope’s Mass.
The April 29 celebrations in the church, organized by the network of Marian pilgrimages in Central Europe, Mária Út (“The Way of Mary”), included a Mass for the Holy Father followed by a roundtable discussion with several Christian intellectuals and artists on the theme “Christ Is Our Future,” the theme of the Pope’s trip to the Hungarian capital.
In a packed church, an artistic performance based on biblical episodes by Hungarian actors Zakariás Éva and Soma Zámbori preceded the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, which continued uninterrupted until 6am the following day.
Among the vigil attendants was Lucinda Higgie, a young woman who converted to Catholicism four years earlier and traveled from England to attend a papal trip for the first time.
“As a convert, it’s particularly exciting to be in the presence of the Pope,” she told CNA, expressing her enthusiasm for the atmosphere of fervor that she has witnessed in the capital. “It feels very special to be in Hungary, especially coming from the U.K., where there is often some sort of assumption that Christianity is a force for things that are not necessarily good; in Hungary, by contrast, there’s still a sense that Christianity is a force for good.”
“The wonderful thing about such events — a few months away from the World Youth Day in Lisbon — is that they unite us, the faithful Christians of the world, and show young people how great the faith is,” she said.
Gathered in front of the church a few hours later, beginning at 5:30am, the crowd of faithful sang the Hungarian national anthem followed by the Pontifical Anthem. They then proceeded to Kossuth Lajos Square, facing the emblematic Hungarian Parliament, for the papal Mass in which hundreds of thousands of faithful participated.
“It was a real joy and emotion for me to welcome these faithful of all generations and backgrounds gathered here in faith through multiple artistic expressions and thus show the world that nothing is more unifying than hope in Jesus,” Father Zoltán Osztie, parish priest of the Inner City Parish Church, told CNA.
For him, the Pope’s visit to Budapest a year and a half after the 2021 International Eucharistic Congress was held here took on a prophetic dimension in the context of the war in Ukraine and the resulting international tensions.
“The Holy See and Hungary are in tune in their promotion of peace, and the Pope’s presence came to give spiritual power to our cause,” he said, adding that while a “new order” was trying to emerge to break peace around the world, the Pope came to remind us that any world order separated from God’s order and peace is destined to failure and destruction.
“Furthermore,” he added, “Francis came to shed new light on Hungary in the eyes of the rest of the world, which has tended to have a bad image of our country in recent years, often on the basis of false information.”
And this apostolic visit represents for him a grace all the more significant in that it took place on the 975th anniversary of his parish community.
“It strengthens us in our mission to transmit our centuries-old faith tradition,” Father Osztie said. “It’s fascinating to imagine the amount of fervent prayers that have gone on within these walls over the centuries; it makes us aware that we are small links in this chain that we must pass on to future generations.”
His words echoed those of Hungarian Cardinal József Mindszenty, who in a speech given in 1948, just 75 years ago for the ninth centenary of the church’s founding, praised the perseverance of this community despite the multiple storms and tragedies that have marked the history of the country. “This church tells stories, teaches, and ultimately guides you towards eternal life,” stated the hero of the anti-communist resistance.
This religious monument, also known as Our Lady of the Assumption Church, is indeed symbolic in more ways than one for the Hungarians. Located next to the ruins of the Contra-Aquincum Roman Fort and the Elisabeth Bridge, which connects the foot of Gellért Hill to the city center of Pest, the parish church was founded in 1048, two years after the martyr St. Gerard of Csanád was thrown from the top of the hill across the Danube.
According to some historical accounts, the Hungarian saint was originally buried in this church before being transferred to Italy. The church still houses one of his relics, as well as those of St. Ladislaus and St. Elizabeth of Hungary.
As Mihály Aranyossy, the person in charge of the church’s tours, pointed out in an interview with CNA, that the history of the site goes back 2,000 years. Indeed, the foundations of the church rest partly on the remains of a Roman military fortification. What was once the commander’s room lies beneath the ground floor and can be seen from inside the building through a large glass window.
Only a part of the church dating to the Gothic period remained after its transformation into a mosque for several decades after the Turkish invasion in the 16th century. It was renovated in the Baroque style in the 18th century thanks to the donations of the faithful.
The church is also closely associated with the famous composer Franz Liszt, who stayed there for several years and often performed within its walls. Two of his works, Missa Choralis (1872) and Via Crucis (1929) premiered there.
The celebrations in honor of the Pope in the parish church marked an important step in the long series of commemorative events that will mark the year 2023 and that will culminate in August around the Solemnity of the Assumption, whose name the church bears.