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Pope Francis’ trip to Hungary is first papal visit in 25 years

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Pope Francis is set to arrive in Hungary this Sunday – the first papal trip to the country since Pope John Paul II in 1996.

Francis will celebrate the Holy Mass for the closing of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress, a one-week event held every four years that brings together Catholics from around the world.

The Mass is expected to draw as many as 100,000 people to Hungary”s capital, despite concerns over a new surge in COVID-19 cases.

Organisers of the congress have announced that events will be exempt from restrictions on mass gatherings and that neither vaccination certificates, masks nor social distancing will be needed.

Before delivering the closing Mass, the Pope will meet briefly with President Janos Ader and right-wing populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Known for his hardline stance against immigration, Orban has frequently depicted his government as a defender of “Christian civilisation” in Europe and a bulwark against migration from Muslim-majority countries.

Some of Orban’s policies are at odds with views espoused by Pope Francis.

In 2015, Orban rejected proposals to settle refugees from the Middle East and Africa arriving in Europe during that year’s migration crisis, and his government erected a fence along its southern border to keep asylum-seekers out.

By contrast, Francis urged Europe’s Catholics at the time to welcome refugees, and in a more recent statement, said the approach to migrants should be to “welcome, protect, promote and integrate.”

Orban has also been under fire for recent policies seen as targeting the rights of LGBT people, something on which Pope Francis has expressed more moderate views.

Speaking to AP, Csaba Hegedus, a member of Hungary’s LGBT community, said that he believed “that the visit of Pope Francis could have a positive impact on Hungarian society and on the mutual acceptance of each other.” He hopes “that it will help the acceptance of minorities, especially the LGBT community, by the majority society, as Pope Francis himself is also very accepting.”

After concluding his visit to Hungary, Pope Francis will travel to Slovakia before returning to Rome on September 15.

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