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Pope John Paul II and the Hungarians

Ábrahám Vass 2020.05.18.

One of the most respected personalities of the 20th century, Pope John Paul II, was born 100 years ago. He was the first Pope from the region, and is still widely respected in Hungary.

Pope John Paul II always had a special place in the hearts of Hungarians: in addition to the famed Polish-Hungarian friendship, he also came from behind the Iron Curtain. He is widely regarded as a catalyst and spiritual inspiration of the regime changes in the region, a role that supposedly led to his failed assassination attempt in 1981. He also had a firm stance on a number of controversial issues: globalization, capitalism, the Iraqi wars, capital punishment, and apartheid in South Africa, among other things.

Ahead of his inauguration, Karol Wojtyła had reportedly been to Hungary at least twice, first as a backpacking tourist in Máriapócs, then later when he visited the Polish workers of the Sugar Refining Mill in Kaba.

As Pope John Paul II, he was the one to canonize Hedwig, the daughter of Louis the Great, and Kinga, the daughter of King Béla IV. In addition, he beatified King Charles of Hungary (Charles I of Austria). Interestingly, he got his name Karol (Charles) after Hungary’s last ruling monarch, thanks to his father’s admiration of him.

During his papacy, he paid two official visits to Hungary: first in 1991, he visited (and, of course, held Holy Mass) in Esztergom, Máriapócs, Pécs, Budapest, Szombathely, and Debrecen. The decision to invite the Pope had been made back in 1988, Hungary becoming the second country behind the Iron Curtain to do so after Poland. As a matter of fact, this was the very first time in history that Hungary had the chance to host Saint Peter’s successor. Then, five years later, he additionally visited Pannonhalma and Győr. Reportedly, he had also known former president Árpád Göncz from the post-world-war period.

John Paul II’s statue in Győr. Image by Csaba Krizsán/MTI

The iconic Pope who significantly improved the Catholic Church’s relations with other religions, and traveled to a total of 129 countries during his pontificate, was eventually canonized on April 27, 2014, only nine years after his death, with the participation of countless Hungarian church dignitaries.

featured image via Fortepan /Jezsuita Levéltár