Pope Francis will visit Hungary in April and meet far-right Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the Vatican said Monday, with the Ukraine war and migrants expected to dominate talks.
Pope Francis, who regularly champions the rights of refugees, will sit down in Budapest with Orban, who portrays himself as the defender of a Christian Europe against migrants.
During his April 28 to 30 trip, the pope will also meet with poor people as well as youths and refugees, according to a program released by the Vatican.
The Argentine pontiff has “had this project in his heart for a long time,” Hungary’s ambassador to the Holy See, Eduard Habsburg, told AFP.
Orban’s spokesman Zoltan Kovacs tweeted that Francis would be “a messenger of peace, which is so much needed for nations of Central and Eastern Europe.”
It will be the 86-year-old pope’s second visit to the predominantly Catholic country in two years.
Francis made a one-day visit to the country in September 2021, spending just seven hours in the country to preside over a mass and meet privately with Orban.
The pope then received Orban for the first time at the Vatican a few months later, in April 2022.
During the private audience, he thanked the Hungarian leader for the protection his country had offered to refugees fleeing the war in neighbouring Ukraine, the Vatican later said.
Some 34,248 Ukrainians have so far been granted refugee status in Hungary.
The two men have conflicting views on a range of issues. Pope Francis is a defender of European integration and the protection of minorities, while Orban champions nationalism and a deeply conservative Catholicism.
Orban has also come under fire in the past for his policies against non-European refugees, while pro-Orban media outlets in Hungary have slammed the pope’s views on immigration as “cretinous” and “senile.”
But Vatican watchers say Pope Francis may be hoping that Orban, who nurtured close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin before the war in Ukraine, could help the pope in his quest to play peace broker in the year-long conflict.
Hungary has trod an ambiguous path on the war, with Orban condemning Russian aggression while refusing to criticise Russian President Vladimir Putin by name.
Pope Francis has vowed to do “everything possible” to try to end the war, but his attempts to position the Vatican as a possible mediator appear so far to have fallen flat.
April’s visit “has a strategic purpose in relation to Russia’s war in Ukraine, given Hungarian PM Victor Orban’s long standing relationship with the Kremlin,” British religion reporter Christopher Lamb tweeted.
During his visit — the pope’s 41st trip abroad since his election in 2013 — he will visit children and address diplomatic corps.
He will also meet with bishops, priests and pastoral works. More than half of Hungarians are Christian, and at least 37 percent of the population identifies as Catholic.