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Pope Francis celebrates mass at International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest

Pope Francis celebrates mass at International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest

POPE FRANCIS visited Budapest on Sunday to celebrate a mass in Heroes’ Square which closed the week-long 52nd International Eucharistic Congress (IEC). It was the first time that a Pope has attended an IEC for 20 years. As well as its spiritual significance, the event proved noteworthy for signs of diplomatic tension with Hungary’s far-Right Fidesz government.
The IEC occurs every four years. It comprises a week of liturgies, talks, and cultural events designed to foster devotion to Christ’s presence in the eucharist and reflect on its significance for Christian life. This year’s congress was postponed from last September, owing to the pandemic.

About 50,000 people from 100 countries registered to attend the congress, and approximately twice that number filled Heroes’ Square on Sunday. Crowds spilled out into Andrássy Avenue, the grand boulevard that dominates central Pest.

Mass was in Latin using the Novus Ordo rite; the Old Testament reading and epistle were in English and Spanish; and the Gospel was chanted in Hungarian. Announcements were made in Italian.

A key point of the Pope’s programme was a celebration according to the Roman Catholic Church’s Byzantine Rite — the Patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, His Beatitude Youssef Absi, presided at the divine liturgy in St Stephen’s Basilica on Wednesday of last week.

A linked theological symposium in nearby Esztergom reflected on the eucharist as succour for Christians facing persecution. The theme was exemplified by the presence of Cardinal Charles Bo, the Archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar, where the Church operates under difficult conditions after last year’s military coup. In his address, Cardinal Bo emphasised the eucharist’s relationship with justice. He called for a “global eucharist of common resources, economic and ecological justice — a world in which God’s justice triumphs”, the Austrian publication KathPress reported.

Despite restrictions on admitting non-RCs to communion, the IEC and the papal mass were notable for their inclusivity, both ecumenical and interfaith. At public events preceding the IEC, both Reformed and Lutheran bishops were invited to articulate the eucharist’s significance in their Churches. Rabbinical scholars also contributed reflections on the meaning of bread in Jewish ritual tradition.

Pope Francis met Hungary’s Protestant and Jewish leaders before mass. The Revd Frank Hegedüs, of St Margaret’s Anglican Chaplaincy, Budapest, was also briefly presented to the Pope. During the service, ecumenical and interfaith representatives sat directly opposite the Pope. The Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew of Constantinople, was beside the altar.

Pope Francis’s rapport with other faith leaders contrasted with signs during the visit of his strained relations with the Hungarian government.

The Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, in power since 2010, has cast himself as “Defender of Christian Europe” against perceived challenges from Muslim migration “and LGBT ideology” (Comment, 30 July). He has also presided over a deterioration in the rule of law and press freedom, according to monitoring reports by NGOs and the European Commission. On 7 August, his government legally proscribed the display or sale of material “promoting homosexuality” within 200 metres of churches.

Pope Francis has urged governments towards compassionate responses to those fleeing violence in global trouble spots, and encouraged RC clergy to display greater pastoral sensitivity towards LGBT people.

Both leaders sent signals during the visit. At a short meeting before the mass, Mr Orbán (a Calvinist) presented the Pope with a facsimile of a 1243 letter from the Hungarian King Bela IV, asking Pope Innocent IV for help in resisting the Mongol invasion of Europe. Mr Orbán added a personal plea to the Pope not “to let Christian Hungary perish”. At mass (preaching on Mark 8.28), the Pope referred to the “false messianism” of worldly power which seeks “to silence our opponents”.

After seven hours in Budapest, the Pope continued to the capital of Slovakia, Bratislava, to commence a three-day official state visit.
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