A huge empty and sonorous room dressed in cold marble, seven chairs arranged with respect to sanitary distances: the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest became, on September 12, 2021, a theater behind closed doors between Pope Francis and Viktor Orban.
During this 40-minute face-to-face meeting, the Hungarian Prime Minister accompanied Janos Ader, the President of the Republic, and the Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén.
“Present at the meeting with the Holy Father were His Eminence Cardinal Parolin, Secretary of State, and His Excellency Archbishop Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States,”: a way of securing an interview that should not allow any false steps.
Many things separated the two main actors at the meeting: on the one hand, an Argentinian pontiff who has made the reception of migrants and cultural or religious pluralism his credo; on the other, a Hungarian chief executive who was ostracized from Europe for daring to brandish Christianity as a standard, and to advocate the defense of his country's cultural and religious identity.
This tension is all the more palpable as Pope Francis had clearly refused to give his visit to Hungary the character of a state visit. This trip “will be a spiritual pilgrimage. Do not mix elements that could denature it. The central aspect of the Eucharistic pilgrimage will characterize the whole visit,” carefully specified Matteo Bruni, spokesperson for the press room of the Holy See
Not resentful of what some consider a diplomatic affront, Viktor Orban informed the press that he had offered Peter's successor a copy of a letter from the 13th century, in which the Hungarian King Béla IV demanded the aid of Pope Innocent IV to resist the incursions of the Mongol hordes which threatened to invade Christian Hungary.
But diplomacy often has the last word: “the meeting ...took place according to the planned program, in a cordial atmosphere,” communicated the Vatican, adding that “among the various topics discussed were the role of the Church in the country, the commitment to the protection of the environment, the protection and promotion of the family.”
Then everyone went his own way: the Pope to celebrate Mass in front of 100,000 faithful, and took the opportunity to tell those who listened to him “not to reduce Christianity to the defense of our image,” but to make it a “liberating decentering.”
The official response was quick, as the Hungarian chief executive explained on Facebook: “I asked the Pope not to let Christian Hungary be lost.”