Pope's teachings

Roots and bridges. The Pope in Hungary

Roots are the source of life. Bridges are necessary to go beyond ourselves. Without roots we cannot build bridges, but without bridges we cannot extend our life to others or allow them to live with us. A summary of the Pope's messages in Hungary.

Ramiro Pellitero-June 3, 2023-Reading time: 8 minutes
pope hungary

At his general audience on Wednesday, May 3, Pope Francis took stock of his pastoral trip to Hungary, "a courageous people rich in memory".. And he used two images: the roots y the bridges.

Europe, bridges and saints

It all started at the meeting with the authorities (cfr. Speech28-IV-2023), when the Pope drew his inspiration from the city of Budapestcharacterized by its history, its bridges and its saints, which is part of the roots of that land and its people.

Referring to the recent history of Europe, the Pope noted: "In the postwar period Europe represented, together with the United Nations, the great hope, with the common goal that a closer bond between nations would prevent further conflict."

He regretted that this was not the case: "In general, it seems that the enthusiasm for building a peaceful and stable community of nations has been dissolved in people's spirits, delimiting zones, accentuating differences, making nationalism roar again and exasperating judgments and tones towards others. It even seems that politics at the international level had the effect of inflaming tempers rather than solving problems, forgetting the maturity it achieved after the horrors of war and regressing to a kind of warlike infantilism"..

But Europe must regain its role in the current historical moment: "Europe is fundamental. Because it, thanks to its history, represents the memory of humanity [...]. It is essential to rediscover the European soul: the enthusiasm and the dream of the founding fathers."The Pope said that he was not aware of the great statesmen who were De Gasperi, Schuman and Adenauer in their work for unity and peace. The Pope complained, asking himself, now, "where are the peace-creating efforts".. This, no doubt, had to do not only with roots, but also with bridges.

Preserving identity without retreating

Francis proposes that Europe should avoid two extremes: on the one hand, falling prey to the "self-referential populisms" countries; on the other hand, the transformation of the "in a fluid, or gaseous, reality, in a kind of abstract supranationalism, which does not take into account the life of the people".. Here he made a first reference to the "ideological colonizations" -He cited the case of the so-called culture of gender ideology, or the reductionism of freedom -such as the insensate "right to abortion"which is always a tragic defeat. 

The construction of Europe must be "person-centered and village-centered, where there are effective policies for birth and family.". In Hungary, Francis specified, the Christian faith can help the ecumenical work of "pontonero" that facilitates coexistence between different confessions in a constructive spirit. 

Thirdly, Budapest is a city of santos. Saints such as St. Stephen, the first king of Hungary, and St. Elizabeth, as well as Mary, Queen of Hungary, taught by their lives that "Christian values cannot be witnessed by means of rigidity and closed-mindedness, because the truth of Christ entails meekness, it entails gentleness, in the spirit of the Beatitudes."

Therefore - Francis pointed out - true human richness is shaped by the conjunction of a solid identity together with openness to others, as recognized in the Hungarian Constitution, which is committed to respecting both the freedom and culture of other peoples and nations and of national minorities within the country. This is important, he stressed, in the face of "a certain tendency - sometimes justified in the name of one's traditions and even faith - to withdraw into oneself.".

At the same time, the Pope left other criteria - also with Christian roots - for the present moment in Hungary and Europe: it is a duty to assist the needy and the poor, "and not lend itself to a kind of collaborationism with the logics of power."; "a healthy secularism, which does not fall into generalized secularism", is a good thing". (which rejects religion in order to fall into the arms of the pseudo-religion of profit); it is good to cultivate "a humanism inspired by the Gospel and based on two fundamental paths: to recognize ourselves as beloved children of the Father and to love each other as brothers and sisters".The reception of foreigners must be dealt with in a reasonable way and shared with other European countries.

Welcoming, announcement, discernment

He followed this line in his meeting with the clergy (cf. Speech at St. Stephen's Cathedral, 28-IV-2023). As the foundation and central root of our life, we must look to Christ: "We can look at the storms that sometimes batter our world, the rapid and continuous changes in society and the very crisis of faith in the West with a gaze that does not give in to resignation and that does not lose sight of the centrality of Easter: the risen Christ, the center of history, is the future.". Also so as not to fall into the great danger of worldliness. To say that Christ is our future is not to say that the future is Christ.

Francis put them on guard against two interpretations or temptations: "First, a catastrophic reading of present history, which feeds on the defeatism of those who repeat that all is lost, that the values of the past no longer exist, that we do not know where we will end up." Secondly, the risk of "of the naïve reading of the times themselves, which instead is based on the comfort of conformism and makes us believe that after all everything is fine, that the world has changed and we must adapt - without discernment, this is ugly -"

Neither defeatism nor conformism

To avoid these two risks - catastrophic defeatism and worldly conformism, "the Gospel gives us new eyes, it gives us the grace of discernment to enter our time with an attitude of welcome, but also with a spirit of prophecy".We must accept the times in which we live, with their changes and challenges, knowing how to distinguish the signs of the coming of the Lord. 

All this, without becoming worldly, without falling into secularism - living as if God did not exist -, in materialism and hedonism, in a "soft paganism" and anesthetized. And on the other extreme, without closing ourselves, by reaction, in a rigidity of "fighters"; because the realities we live are opportunities to find new ways and languages, new purifications of any worldliness, as Benedict XVI already warned (cfr. Meeting with Catholics involved in the Church and society, Freiburg im Breisgau, September 25, 2011).

What to do then? Here are the Pope's proposals. Encourage Christian witness and listening, even in the midst of difficulties (such as the decrease in vocations and, therefore, the increase in pastoral work). And always on the basis of prayer - which protects the strength of faith - and of enthusiastic contact with young people. Not to be afraid of dialogue and proclamation, evangelization and the beautiful task of catechesis. To promote ongoing formation, fraternity, attention to the needs of the weakest. To flee from rigidity, gossip and ideologies. Promote family spirit and service, mercy and compassion. 

The language of charity 

As in other pastoral trips, the encounter with the poor and refugees (cfr. Speech at the church of St. Elizabeth of Hungary29 APRIL 2023). In this context - and thanking the efforts of the Church in Hungary on so many charitable fronts - Francis spoke forcefully of an impressive challenge, along the lines of what both St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI had already warned of: "that the faith we profess is not a prisoner of a cult far removed from life and does not become prey to a kind of 'spiritual egoism', that is, a spirituality that I build to the measure of my inner tranquility and satisfaction.". Instead, "true faith is that which makes us uncomfortable, which risks, which makes us go out to meet the poor and enables us to speak with our lives the language of charity". (cf. 1 Cor 13:1-13). 

We need, Francis added, to know how to speak "fluently the language of charity, a universal language that everyone hears and understands, even those who are farthest away, even those who do not believe.".

And he also warned that, looking at and touching the needy, it is not enough to give bread; it is necessary to nourish people's hearts with the proclamation and love of Jesus, which helps to recover beauty and dignity.

Do not "virtualize life".

On the same day he met with the young people, and spoke to them with clarity and enthusiasm (cfr. Speech at the Papp László Budapest Sportaréna, 20-IV-2023). He spoke to them about Christ, alive and close, brother and friend, who likes to ask questions and not to give prefabricated answers. He told them that to become great, one must become small by serving others. Courageous advice: "Don't be afraid to go against the current, to find a quiet time every day to stop and pray."Although today's environment pushes us to be efficient like machines," he observed, "we are not machines. At the same time, it is true that we often run out of gas, and that is why we need to collect ourselves in silence. But "not to stay glued to the cell phone and social networks."; because "life is real, not virtual; it doesn't happen on a screen, life happens in the world! Please don't virtualize life.".

To be "open doors

In addition to the roots, bridges are necessary, as the Pope pointed out in his first speech. He maintained this backdrop in his homily on Sunday, April 30, in Budapest, where Christians of different confessions, rites and countries were present, working together to build bridges of harmony and unity. 

Francis presented the figure of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who came so that the sheep might have life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10). First he calls them, then he leads them out. 

Just like us, also today: "In every situation of life, in what we carry in our hearts, in our wanderings, in our fears, in the sense of defeat that sometimes assails us, in the prison of sadness that threatens to imprison us, He calls us.". "He comes as a good Shepherd and calls us by name, to tell us how valuable we are in his eyes, to heal our wounds and take upon himself our weaknesses, to gather us into his flock and make us family with the Father and with each other.".

The Pope insists on the central message of his pastoral trip: to support each other in the roots for bridge the gapwithout shutting ourselves in. Jesus invites us "to cultivate relationships of fraternity and collaboration, without dividing ourselves among ourselves, without considering our community as a reserved environment, without letting ourselves be dragged by the concern of defending each one's own space, but opening ourselves to mutual love.".

Jesus, after calling them, brings out his sheep (cf. Jn 10:3). Therefore," Francis proposes, "we must open our sad and harmful "closed doors": our selfishness and individualism, our indifference to those who need us; our closedness, even as ecclesial communities somewhat closed to God's forgiveness (cf. Evangelii gadium, 20). 

The Pope invites us, instead, to "to be like Jesus, an open door, a door that never closes in anyone's face, a door that allows you to enter to experience the beauty of the Lord's love and forgiveness.". Thus we will be "'facilitators' of God's grace, experts in closeness, ready to offer life.".

Opposing ideological colonization 

Finally, in his encounter with the world of academia and culture (cfr. Speech at the Péter Pázmány Catholic University, 30-IV-2023), Francis relied on Romano Guardini to distinguish two types of knowledge that should not be opposed: the humanistic and the technological. 

The former is in itself humble and places itself at the service of people and created nature. The second tends to analyze life in order to transform it, but, if it prevails in an inadequate way, can life remain alive? 

"Let's think -Pope proposes to Hungarian university students. in the desire to put at the center of everything not the person and his relationships, but the individual centered on his own needs, greedy to win and voracious to grasp reality."

The successor of Peter does not intend to sow pessimism, but rather to help us reflect on the "arrogance of being and having", "which Homer already saw as threatening at the dawn of European culture and which the technocratic paradigm exasperates, with a certain use of algorithms that may represent a further risk of destabilization of the human.".

Francis alludes once again to the need to oppose the "ideological colonization" of a world dominated by technology, of a dehumanized humanism. A world that falls into the temptation of imposing consensus against people themselves (hence the discarding of the weak, the sick, the elderly, etc.), in the name of universal peace. 

In this environment, the university has the responsibility to promote open thinking, culture and transcendent values, along with the knowledge of human limits. For wisdom is not achieved with a freedom forced and imposed from outside. Nor with a freedom enslaved by consumption. The way is of the truth that liberates (cf. Jn 8:32).

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