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Pope Francis calls for openness to migrants as he meets one of Europe’s most anti-immigration leaders

Bratislava, Slovakia – Pope Francis carefully rebuked the anti-migrant policies of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on the first day of a papal visit to central Europe. Speaking at an open-air mass in Budapest on Sunday, the pontiff called on Hungarians to “reach out to everyone,” in a veiled reference to the nationalist government’s closed-door immigration policy .

The mass, organized in front of tens of thousands of people on the Place des Héros in the capital, took place a few moments after a one-hour meeting between François and the Prime Minister. The two men are fierce opponents on the subject of immigration.

Pope Francis is a staunch advocate for refugees, once even bring 12 Syrians home in Rome after a trip to Greece in 2016. Prime Minister Orban, meanwhile, has build a fence in Hungary to prevent migrants from entering.

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At Sunday’s meeting, according to official media, Orban even presented the Pope with a provocative gift: a copy of a letter from a thirteenth-century Hungarian king to then-Pope Innocent IV, asking for help from Rome to defeat an attack from foreign invaders. – an apparent reference to migrants in the 21st century.

Soon after, Orban took to Facebook and posted: “I asked Pope Francis not to let Christian Hungary perish.

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Then, after spending barely seven hours in Hungary, the Pope left. This was seen as an affront, given that he is spending three days in neighboring Slovakia.

But Francis’s message of openness to foreigners continued on Monday in the Slovak capital of Bratislava.

In a meeting with the country’s political and civic leaders, he urged Slovaks to take special care of the vulnerable and said no one should be stigmatized or discriminated against.

Pope Francis calls for openness to migrants as he meets one of Europe’s most anti-immigration leaders
Pope Francis salutes as he exits St. Martin’s Cathedral in Bratislava, Slovakia, September 13, 2021.

Petr David Josek / AP

“Our Christian way of looking at others refuses to see them as a burden or a problem, but rather as brothers and sisters to help and protect,” he said. “Even though battles for supremacy are fought on several fronts, may this country reaffirm its message of integration and peace.”

Despite a busy schedule during his visit to both countries, the 84-year-old pontiff was energetic. This is his first trip since recovering from colon surgery this summer.