Pope Francis calls for openness to migrants when he meets one of Europe’s most anti-immigration leaders

Bratislava, Slovakia – Pope Francis carefully reprimanded the immigration policy of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on the first day of a papal visit to Central Europe. During an outdoor mass in Budapest on Sunday, the pope urged the Hungarians to “extend their arms to all”, in a covert reference to the nationalist government’s closed door policy on immigration.

The fair, which was held in front of tens of thousands of people in the capital’s hero square, came moments after an hour-long meeting between Francis and the prime minister. The two men are fierce opponents when it comes to immigration.

Pope Francis is one pronounced master of refugees, once even to take 12 Syrians home to Rome from a trip to Greece in 2016. Prime Minister Orban, on the other hand, has praised built a fence in Hungary to keep migrants out.

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At the meeting on Sunday, according to state media, Orban even handed the pope a provocative gift: a copy of a letter from a 13th-century Hungarian king to the then pope Innocent IV asking for Rome’s help in defeating an attack by foreign invaders – an obvious reference to migrants in the 2000s.

Shortly afterwards, Orban took to Facebook and wrote: “I asked Pope Francis not to let Christian Hungary perish.”

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After spending barely seven hours in Hungary, the pope left. It was perceived as something, given that he spends three days in neighboring Slovakia.

But Francis’ message of openness to outsiders continued in the Slovak capital Bratislava on Monday.

At a meeting with the country’s political and civic leaders, he called on Slovaks to take special care of the vulnerable and said that no one should be stigmatized or subjected to discrimination.

Pope Slovakia
Pope Francis waves as he leaves Saint Martin’s Cathedral, in Bratislava, Slovakia, September 13, 2021.

Petr David Josek / AP

“Our Christian way of looking at others refuses to see them as a burden or a problem, but rather as brothers and sisters to be helped and protected,” he said. “Although struggles for superiority are being waged on various fronts, this country can reaffirm its message of integration and peace.”

Despite a demanding schedule for his visit to the two countries, the 84-year-old pope has seemed energetic. This is his first trip since he recovered from colon surgery this summer.


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