The migrants issue, which has never quite been resolved, has cropped up again with Pope Francis urging Hungary on Sunday to “extend its arms towards everyone”. Last weekend he advanced an oblique critique of Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orban’s anti-migrant policies at the start of his four-day visit to Central Europe, indeed his first visit overseas ever since he underwent intestinal surgery in July. Hungary’s policy in the wake of the migrant crisis stands out in sharp contrast to the praxis of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. It is testament to the strength of the Pope’s influence that he drew a crowd of 100,000 to the Mass where he made the emotive appeal.
While Germany has been remarkably accommodating, Hungary, at another remove, has been impervious to the plight of the migrants from North Africa and the Arab region as they were buffeted from shore to shore, including Bangladesh, in search of shelter and rehabilitation. Orban’s policy towards refugees is in sharp contrast to the Pope’s appeal for welcome and integration of those seeking better lives in Europe. While Hungary’s Prime Minister advanced no commitment, he did make a pregnant observation on Facebook ~ “I asked Pope Francis not to let Christian Hungary perish.” Implicit is the fear that “Christian Hungary will perish” with the influx of migrants from the non-Christian bloc, most particularly the Islamic countries.
All too often has Orban defended the Hungarian government as a defender of Christian civilization in Europe. Nay more, he sees it a bulwark against migration from what he calls “Muslim majority countries”. Pope Francis, on the other hand, has expressed solidarity and even criticised what he called “national populism” advanced by the government in Budapest. Small wonder that he has urged governments to “welcome and integrate” as many migrants as they can. His statement on the migrants calls for urgent reflection, and not merely by Hungary.
According to the Vatican, the meeting was held in a “cordial atmosphere” and continued for as long as 40 minutes” ~ longer than expected. Among the bevy of 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. The Pope was generally riveted to the “nowhere men”, as the migrants have often been referred to.
And those countries that have been averse to accepting migrants must of necessity respond positively. Hundreds of thousands of migrants are involved. The message of the Pontiff, pointedly advanced in Budapest, is relevant to different countries of the world. It was indubitably a robust presentation by the 84-year-old pontiff whose mind remains sharp even if he did use a golf cart to perambulate saying “I’m not 15 anymore”.