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Roots and bridges. The Pope in Hungary


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Ramiro Pellitero

Professor at School of Theology

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 and allow them to live with us. A summary of the Pope's messages in Hungary.

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

Europe, bridges and saints

It all began at meeting with the authorities (cfr. speechThe Pope was inspired by the city of Budapest, characterized by its history, its bridges and its saints, which is part of the roots of this land and its people.

At purpose of Europe's recent history, the Pope noted: "In the post-war period Europe represented, together with the United Nations, the great hope, with the common goal that a closer bond between nations would prevent further conflicts"

He regretted that this was not the case: "In general, it seems that the enthusiasm for building a peaceful and stable community of nations had dissolved in the minds of the people, delimiting zones, accentuating differences, nationalisms roaring 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 reached after the horrors of war and regressing to a kind of warlike childishness".

But Europe must regain its role in the current historical moment: "Europe is fundamental. Because Europe, thanks to its history, represents the report of humanity [...]. It is essential to rediscover the European soul: the enthusiasm and the dream of the founding fathers", 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 efforts to create peace". This, no doubt, had to do not only with roots, but also with bridges.

Preserving identity without retreating

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

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

Thirdly, Budapest is a city of saints. Saints such as St. Stephen - the first king of Hungary - and St. Elizabeth, as well as Mary, Queen of Hungary, taught with their lives that "Christian values cannot be witnessed through rigidity and closed-mindedness, because the truth of Christ entails meekness, 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 own 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 attend to the needy and the poor, "and not to lend oneself to a kind of collaborationism with the logic of power"; "a healthy secularism is good, which does not lapse into generalized secularism" (which rejects religion to fall into the arms of the pseudo-religion of profit); it is good to cultivate "a humanism inspired by the Gospel and directed on two fundamental paths: to recognize ourselves as beloved children of the Father and to love each one as a brother"; it is necessary to face the welcoming of foreigners, in a reasonable and shared way with the other countries of Europe.

Welcoming, advertisement, discernment

He followed this line in his meeting with the clergy (cf. speech in the Co-Cathedral of St. Stephen, 28 April 2023). As the foundation and central root of our life, we have to look to Christ: "We can look at the storms that at times 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 warned them 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 a naïve reading of our own times, which is based on the comfort of conformism and makes us believe that everything is all right after all, that the world has changed and that 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, gives us the grace of discernment to enter our times with an attitude of welcome, but also with a spirit of prophecy"; that is, welcoming 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 engaged in the Church and society, Freiburg of Brisgovia, 25-IX-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 the enthusiastic attention with young people. Not to be afraid of dialogue and advertisement, of evangelization and of the beautiful task of catechesis. To promote the permanent training , fraternity, attention to the needs of the weakest. To flee from rigidity, gossip and ideologies. promote the spirit of family and service, mercy and compassion. 

The language of charity 

As in other pastoral trips, the meeting with the poor and refugees (cfr. speech in the church of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, 29-IV-2023) could not be missing. 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: "that the faith we profess not be a prisoner of a cult far removed from life and not become prey to a kind of 'spiritual egoism', that is, of a spirituality that I construct for myself according to the measure of my inner tranquility and satisfaction". meeting On the other hand, "true faith is that which makes us uncomfortable, which puts us at risk, which makes us go out to the poor and enables us to speak the language of charity with our lives" (cf. 1 Cor 13:1-13). 

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

And yet he warned that, looking at and touching the needy, it is not enough to give bread; it is necessary to nourish the hearts of people with the advertisement and the love of Jesus, which financial aid 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 in 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. A courageous committee : "Do not be afraid to go against the current, to find a time of silence every day to stop and pray", to bring everything that happens to us to prayer with Jesus Although today the 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 does not happen on a screen, life happens in the world! Please, do not virtualize life".

To be "open doors

In addition to the roots, bridges are necessary, as the Pope pointed out from 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. 

Like us, also today: "In every status 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 one another."

The Pope insists on the central message of his pastoral journey: to lean on our roots in order to build bridges, without closing ourselves in. Jesus invites us "to cultivate relationships of fraternity and partnership, without dividing ourselves among ourselves, without considering our community as a reserved environment, without letting ourselves be dragged down by the concern to defend 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. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gadium, 20). 

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

Opposing ideological colonization 

Finally, in his meeting with the world of academia and culture (cf. speech at Péter Pázmány Catholic University, 30-IV-2023), Francis relied on Romano Guardini to distinguish two types of knowledge that should not be opposed: the humanist 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 us think," the Pope proposes to the Hungarian university students, "of the desire to put at the center of everything not the person and his relationships, but the individual centered on his own needs, greedy for gain and voracious to grasp reality. 

Peter's successor does not intend to sow pessimism, but 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 can 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).