Pope Francis to Meet Hungarian Leaders But Details Remain Unclear

According to a statement by the Hungarian Bishops’ Conference, the Holy Father will meet with Hungary’s president and prime minister ahead of his planned appearance at the International Eucharistic Congress.

Pope Francis exchanges gifts with  President of Hungary Janos Ader during an audience at the Apostolic Palace on February 14, 2020 in Vatican City.
Pope Francis exchanges gifts with President of Hungary Janos Ader during an audience at the Apostolic Palace on February 14, 2020 in Vatican City. (photo: Vatican Pool / Getty)

VATICAN CITY — The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Hungary issued a statement Wednesday saying that Pope Francis will meet with the country’s president and prime minister when he visits Budapest in September.

The bishops confirmed that the Holy Father is “expected to arrive in Hungary on Sept. 12, 2021, for the closing Mass of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress,” adding that “prior to the Mass, it is planned he will meet separately with the leaders of the Hungarian state, President János Áder, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, members of the government and other senior state leaders.”

In their statement, the bishops said they found it “unfortunate that false information and misinterpretations of the Holy Father's program in Hungary, which is still being organized, have spread in local and international media.” They added that “the rumor that the Holy Father would have excluded anyone from his program is untrue.”

The statement follows reports of a potential diplomatic rift after it emerged that the Pope might only stay briefly in Budapest before making a longer visit to neighboring Slovakia, and that meetings with Hungary’s president and prime minister could be omitted, as reported by the Register June 3. 

The Pope had already made it clear that his visit would be limited to the Eucharistic Congress, and that he had no plans to visit the country itself. 

“It is not a visit to the country, but for that Mass,” the Pope told reporters on the flight back from Iraq on March 8. “But Budapest is a two-hour drive from Bratislava: Why not pay a visit to the Slovaks?” 

As the preparations for the visit developed, the Vatican allegedly told the Hungarian authorities that any political meetings were to be avoided, including visiting the Presidential Palace in Budapest, which would be standard diplomatic protocol during a papal visit to a capital city. 

The Register asked the Vatican organizer of the papal trip, Msgr. Dieudonné Datonou, to comment on these allegations on June 2. He declined, directing the inquiry to the Holy See Press Office, which has not responded. 

Despite the bishops’ confirmation, questions remain over the visit, including what should be the venue for the now-confirmed meeting with state leaders. Budapest’s Fine Arts Museum was allegedly raised as a possibility as it is next to Heroes Square, the venue of the Eucharistic Congress, but this was deemed unacceptable by the Hungarian government. 

Details also remain unclear about the Pope’s possible state visit to Slovakia, which could last up to three and a half days — a possibility that would be taken as an affront by many Hungarians given a difficult past relationship between the two countries and the brief non-state visit he is expected to make to Hungary. 

The program for the visit to Budapest was expected to be announced on May 26 but differences over the precise schedule have led to delays and the itinerary is still to be released. 

“Something is not right here, at least from the point of view of diplomacy and protocol,” Luis Badilla Morales, the editor of Il Sismografo, a Church news website overseen by the Vatican Secretariat of State, wrote on June 3. “Thinking like this is the wrong move.” 

He added, “What the Pope does, any pope, cannot appear or be presented as a use of his diplomacy to divide, separate and distinguish countries, peoples and ruling classes. The Pope and his paternal arms should be open to all.”