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Pope Francis Strengthens the World’s Hungarians by Visiting Csíksomlyó- Interview with Father László Németh

Zsófia Nagy-Vargha 2019.05.21.

Many might expect Pope Francis to talk about politics in Csíksomlyó, but the truth is that he doesn’t have to. If he chooses not to attend the International Eucharistic Congress held in Budapest next year, it shouldn’t be interpreted as a message to Hungary or its politics. We discussed the former as well as a myriad of other topics with Father László Németh after meeting him at the Holy Mass for the beatification of Archbishop Mindszenty. The Father currently serves his many diverse followers in Rome.

The original interview was published by our sister site, Ungarn Heute.

Archbishop Péter Erdő greeted the 150 members of the Friends of Hungary Foundation from 29 countries separately at the Holy Mass for Archbishop Mindszenty. Why is this important?

Most of the time, people only focus on the episodes of Archbishop Mindszenty’s life that occurred in Hungary; for instance, when he became the Prince Primate of Esztergom after the war or his involvement in ’56. They also tend to dwell on his leaving the US embassy as well as his trial. On the other hand, very few know about the time he emigrated to the west in 1971 and settled down in Vienna or when he later traveled around the world. In 1991, when Mindszenty’s remains were brought home for his reburial, Otto von Habsburg (the last Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary – editor) explained that the archbishop was able to leave to the West due to Divine Providence. His presence and visit gave strength to those who’ve emigrated. The fact that representatives of the world’s Hungarians – many of whom Archbishop Mindszenty personally met – were here contributes to his honor among those beautified.

Do the Hungarians living in the diaspora observe this tradition? What about in Rome, where you come from?

In Rome we definitely observe it. Since 1999, we have arranged a holy mass in the memory of Mindszenty’s death at his archbishop title temple. In the Santo Stefano Rotondo Basilica, the mass is celebrated in Italian, not Hungarian. For this reason, Italians were able to get to know Archbishop Mindszenty and understand the respect Hungarians have for him.

Archbishop Péter Erdő at Archbishop Mindszenty’s grave after the Holy Mass for his beatification. Photo by Tamás Lénárd.

You’re the leader of a Hungarian pilgrim’s hostel, the Szent István Ház (Saint Stephen House), which is also called “a small Hungarian island.” Was it established for the Hungarians living abroad or specifically for the Hungarian pilgrims arriving in Rome?

Every nation has its center in Rome; the Hungarians’ was pulled down in 1776 and Mindszenty was the one who wanted it to be rebuilt. This was accomplished by 1967. Szent István Ház has become one of the most important institutions due to the world’s Hungarians collecting money to make Mindszenty’s dream a reality. The house has operated and welcomed pilgrims ever since. In the era of communism, guests arrived primarily from the West. Now, however, most come from Hungary. The house is open to everyone. Not just to those who come as pilgrims but to those visiting as tourists who would like to get to know Rome. We also have recurring guests; for example, those who come to participate in a marathon or watch a tennis tournament. It’s a small Hungarian island where we invite and welcome everyone with love.

Saint Stephen House is Rome. Photo by facebook.com/pg/szentistvan.haz

Though soon arriving in Csíksomlyó, Pope Francis has chosen not to celebrate a Holy Mass at the time of the Hungarian Nagybúcsú. Could this have something to do with Hungary’s migration policy? People are quite divided over this.

If Apostle Peter’s successor visits a Marian shrine for the first time after 1000 years, we Catholics have to welcome it. Clearly, this could have been organized differently, but it’s true that Hungarians struggle to be happy with what is and have a tendency to criticize things. I preach to my followers in Rome that every Hungarian shall cast their watchful eyes on Csíksomlyó (a reference to a line from János Batsányi’s poem “Cast Your Watchful Eyes on Paris” – editor). After all, what’s going to happen there is not only important for Transylvania but for all Hungarians. We have to open our hearts and believe that his visit will bear a positive message. I think if Pope Francis had chosen not to come to Transylvania like John Paul II, critics would’ve had a problem with that as well.

An article published in a renowned American Jesuit paper not long ago advised Pope Francis to distance himself from the “right-wing populist forces” during his visit. Do you think he will?

It’s not going to be a political event; he won’t have to talk about politics here. Pope Francis deeply respects Maria. Before every trip, he goes to the Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore and dedicates his pastoral journey to her. This time, he will surely do the same. On top of this, Csíksomlyó is a Marian shrine. This will be exclusively a parochial, religious event and we have to keep in mind that he, as the successor of Peter, will strengthen Hungarians with this trip. After all, it’s his duty.

In regards to migration, Pope Francis has emphasized that “Every stranger that knocks at our door is an opportunity to meet Jesus Christ.” The topic of migration has acted as a major divider in European politics and the Catholic Church. Do the Pope’s views represent those of the Catholic Church?

There are many radically different conceptions regarding the future of Europe. The Catholic church is universal, which means there isn’t one accepted standpoint. This is not a dogma, there are different points of view. I bring this up as an example: Paul VI. and Archbishop Mindszenty’s relationship wasn’t without tension. It’s now clear that they both tried to serve the Church’s freedom in their own way, even if they imagined it differently. Similarly, when it comes to migration there are many different opinions. The pope has one and the Church’s organization has one, and everyone is trying to serve their own mission. They don’t always mesh well, but we have to trust that everything will fall into place one day.

The church has to look at the whole picture and not from the viewpoint of daily political events. Today’s world has a tendency to focus on the here and now, but the life of the church is always far-ranging. This is the only way it manages to evaluate what’s happening in the present.

Photo by Tamás Lénárd/Hungary Today

Do you think Pope Francis will come to the 2020 International Eucharistic Congress held in Budapest? He has yet to give a definitive answer, and many people believe this is down to his desire to distance himself from Hungary’s migration policy.

We can have faith in the coming of the Pope, but should not rest too much hope on it. In the history of the Eucharistic Congresses, the Pope in office hasn’t always attended. So, if he says no, it shouldn’t be given too much weight. If he were to come, that would be outstanding, not only to Budapest but to the world’s Hungarians as well. It’d be a nice occasion to meet the Holy Father; let’s hope it happens.

What is the responsibility of the organizers? Could and should the event be used for evangelization?

According to statistics, most vocations to the priesthood have occurred during global events. I hope that the International Eucharistic Congress will use the opportunity to reach the Hungarian youth. I can see they’re trying to communicate their message via social media and blogs, which is a good thing. Hungarians are in need of priests and ministers and if this event can give it momentum it would be a huge help to the Hungarian Catholic Church. It’s my duty to inform more and more people about the sacrifice Jesus Christ made. It’s an extremely important mission, and I hope this event touches the souls of many.

A few weeks ago, Sri Lanka experienced the biggest terrorist attack against the Christian community in decades. Should we be afraid that something similar might happen in Europe? Are Christians in Europe prepared for this?

We know Tertullian’s saying from the early history of the Christian Church: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” If we accept the fact that Christianity is the most persecuted faith in today’s world, we have to have hope that this saying still holds true today. Around the first century, Ignatius of Antioch was tossed to lions. Back then, no one knew that Constantine’s Edict would happen 200 years later. The church is in God’s hands. Even if we don’t see it, we have to know that the future is in God’s hands too.

Many saw the fire at Notre Dame as a similar sign. However, others dismissed it by saying that several cathedrals have caught fire over the centuries… I think it can be interpreted as a sign. The people’s alliance after the fire shows that Christianity is important to Europeans. For the church, it’s not cardinal whether it has a future or not. It’s more important to make people aware of its objective in the situation.

And what is its objective?

To propagate the salvation that Christ has given us. As long as people continue to believe in other religions the value of this mission will increase. The good news is that European Christianity – which has endured for more than 2000 years – will continue to be passed on to new generations.

Translation by Péter Cseresnyés/Hungary Today 
Featured photo by Tamás Lénárd/Hungary Today