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Pope Francis’s Visit to Hungary and Slovakia by Péter Szitás

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Pope Francis’s Visit to Hungary and Slovakia

Source: Vatican News

Five years after his visit to Poland, the Holy Father has returned to the Central European region again. The first stop of his four-day tour was Hungary, where he attended a rapid, official meeting with President János Áder and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, then he celebrated the closing Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress in the presence of more than 150 thousand people at Heroes’ Square in Budapest. Although his visit to Hungary was a relatively short one, it is important to note that the Holy Father attended the International Eucharistic Congress for the first time in 21 years.[1] As he told the reporter of Magyar Kurír, one of the five Hungarian journalists who were privileged to escort him enroute to Rome[2], his visit was originally planned only to the Slovak Republic, but because of the close vicinity of the two capitals and the ongoing catholic event of paramount importance, he decided to take a short stop and attend the closing Mass. In response to another question the Holy Father revealed that he had promised President Áder to look into the possibility of a longer visit to Hungary in the near future.[3]

Immediately after the celebration of the closing Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress, Pope Francis set out for Bratislava, where he spent the next three days

Immediately after the celebration of the closing Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress, Pope Francis set out for Bratislava, where he spent the next three days. The official visit, which complied with the invitation of the President of the Slovak Republic Zuzana Čaputová, was preceded by a huge anticipation on the Slovakian side, as no such sojourn had taken place in the previous decade. The last and only pope to visit the region was the former leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II, who came to the independent Slovakia twice, in 1995 and 2003. For the sake of historical fidelity, it is important to note that the first time the pope set foot on this land was after the Velvet Revolution in the former Czechoslovakia in 1990.[4] From a Christian point of view, Slovakia can be considered as a special country, where the majority of the population is Roman Catholic. According to the last nationwide polls, 65.8 per cent of the people profess themselves Catholic.[5]

The magnitude of the expectation for this visit was reflected well by the fact that at the Airport of Bratislava the Holy Father was welcomed by all the three main public dignitaries. Besides the President of the Slovak Republic Zuzana Čaputová, the Speaker of the House Boris Kollár, and the Prime Minister of the country Eduard Heger were also present. Two Slovak journalists were privileged to be members of the contingent of 80 media workers who accompanied the Holy Father on his flight. After the official reception at the airport, the Pope immediately headed to the Apostolic Nunciature in Bratislava, where an Ecumenical event and a private meeting with members of the Society of Jesus were held.[6]

The following day, Monday, was primarily about completing protocol obligations. Since the Pope is not only the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, but also the head of state of the Vatican City, he also has to fulfill political obligations. In this capacity too, the Holy Father visited the Grassalkovich Palace in Bratislava, where he was first received by the President of the Slovak Republic. After their private discussion, in the garden of the Presidential Palace, he was welcomed by representatives of the state, civil society and the diplomatic corps. This event was followed by the meeting with bishops, priests, consecrated persons, seminarians and catechists in the St Martin’s Cathedral. Also on Monday, the Pope Francis attended a friendly discussion with the members of the Jewish Community. This event was followed by the meeting with the Speaker of the Parliament and later with the Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic at the Apostolic Nunciature in Bratislava.  

The second full day of the official visit in Slovakia was spent neither in Bratislava, nor among public dignitaries, but ordinary Christian believers in the Eastern part of the country. After arriving at Košice Airport the Pope’s official programme started in Prešov, where he presided a Byzantine rite service.[7] It can be considered a rare occasion when the Head of the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the Byzantine Divine Liturgy. The Vicar General of the Eparchy of Košice considered this as a great sign of unity for a Church that breathes with two lungs.[8] In his sermon, Pope Francis opposed political Christianity. As he stated, the cross should not be misused for political purposes.[9]

After the mass in Prešov, the Pope headed to the Luník IX part of Košice, where he celebrated a Mass in the middle of one of the largest slums in Central Europe, which is mainly inhabited by the Roma population. This event was highly noticed by the foreign media as the infamous housing area is well known beyond the borders of Slovakia. ‘Dear brothers and sisters, all too often you have been the subject of prejudice and ruthless trials, discriminatory stereotypes, derogatory words and gestures. As a result, we have all become poorer, poorer in humanity. To restore dignity, we need to move from prejudice to dialogue, from closure to integration,’ said Pope Francis in his homily in Luník IX.[10] After the mass the Pope flew back to Bratislava. 

On the last day of his visit, the Pope celebrated a mass in Šaštín, where crowds of people arrived 10-12 hours before the event in order to be able to get through security and obtain a good spot. In his homily the pope asked the 50 thousand people present not to reduce their faith to the ‘sugar that sweetens life’. [11] After the farewell ceremony at the international airport in Bratislava Pope Francis boarded the plane of Alitalia and headed for Rome. 


Péter Szitás, Danube Institute research fellow


[1] LOZANO, Maria – DIESTRA, Maria Teresa: Pope Francis will be first Pontiff to attend International Eucharistic Congress in 21 years. <08/26/2021> Access: https://www.churchinneed.org/pope-francis-will-be-first-pontiff-to-attend-international-eucharistic-congress-in-21-years/ (09/15/2021)

[2] MAGYAR KURÍR: Ferenc pápa budapesti és szlovákiai apostoli útját követően visszaérkezett Rómába. <09/15/2021> Access: https://www.magyarkurir.hu/hirek/ferenc-papa-visszaerkezett-romaba (09/16/2021)

[3] TŐZSÉR, Endre SP: Lehet, hogy Ferenc pápa Magyarországra látogat? – Először mi kérdezhettünk a római visszaúton. <09/15/2021> Access: https://www.magyarkurir.hu/hirek/lehet-hogy-ferenc-papa-magyarorszagra-latogat-eloszor-mi-kerdezhettunk-romai-visszauton  (09/16/2021) 

[4] RTVS: Ján Pavol II. bol u nás trikrát. František je druhý pápež, ktorý navštívi Slovensko. <09/12/2021> Access: https://spravy.rtvs.sk/2021/09/jan-pavol-ii-bol-u-nas-trikrat-frantisek-je-druhy-papez-ktory-navstivi-slovensko/(09/16/2021)

[5] O’KANE, Lydia: Pope in Slovakia: Presov Divine Litrugy shows Chruch breathes with ’two lungs’. <09/14/2021> Access:  https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2021-09/vicar-general-of-kosice-celebration-of-byzantine-divine-liturgy.html (09/16/2021)

[6] SME: Pápež František na Slovensku 2021 – Program pápežovej návštevy Slovenska. <09/12/2021-15/12/2021> Access: https://domov.sme.sk/t/8774/frantisek-na-slovensku (09/16/2021)

[7] PULLELLA, Philip: Pope, in Slovakia, says don’t exploit religion for politics. <09/14/2021> Access:  https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/pope-slovakia-says-dont-exploit-religion-politics-2021-09-14/ (09/16/2021)

[8] O’KANE, Lydia: Pope in Slovakia: Presov Divine Litrugy shows Chruch breathes with ’two lungs’. <09/14/2021> Access:  https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2021-09/vicar-general-of-kosice-celebration-of-byzantine-divine-liturgy.html (09/16/2021)

[9] SME: Pápež František sa postavil proti politickému kresťanstvu. <09/14/2021> Access: https://domov.sme.sk/c/22742108/papez-na-slovensku-frantisek-sa-postavil-proti-politickemu-krestanstvu.html?ref=tab(09/16/2021)

[10] PRAVDA: Každý je darom a môže zo života urobiť dar, prihovoril sa pápež mladým v Košiciach.  <09/14/2021> Access: https://spravy.pravda.sk/domace/clanok/600601-online-papez-navstivi-lunik-ix-s-mladezou-sa-stretne-na-stadione/ (09/16/2021)

[11] PRAVDA: Pápež pred 50-tisíc ľuďmi: Všetkých vás budem nosiť v srdci. <09/15/2021> Access: https://spravy.pravda.sk/domace/clanok/600719-papez-na-slovensku-do-sastina-sa-zaregistrovalo-45-tisic-veriacich/(09/16/2021) 

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