Pope Francis will receive Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at the Vatican on April 21, 2022, the Holy See Press Office announced on April 20. The issue of the war in Ukraine – which shares a border with Hungary – and the reception of Ukrainian refugees – around 800,000 refugees are present in Hungary – will likely be front and center in this meeting.
Viktor Orbán’s reception at the Vatican follows that of Andrzej Duda, President of Poland, on April 1, during which the issue of Ukrainian refugees was widely discussed. Unlike Poland, Orbán’s Hungary seems to be taking a position close to that of the Vatican towards Russia. Against the defenders of a hard line against the Kremlin – the position which has been strongly animated by Warsaw – the pontiff and the Hungarian Prime Minister seem to want to keep channels open with Moscow in order to preserve the possibility of a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
This rapprochement between Hungary and the Holy See may seem surprising, as Viktor Orbán has often been presented as an adversary of Pope Francis in recent years, particularly on the issue of migrants. It may also be in line with the prospect of a trip to Hungary, announced by Pope Francis in 2021 and expected to take place in 2023.
Viktor Orbán was recently reconfirmed as head of the Hungarian government after his party won 54.1% of the vote in parliamentary elections on April 3. In office since 2010 – with a previous term between 1998 and 2002 – he begins his fifth term as Prime Minister of his country this spring. His trip to the Vatican is the first of his new term.
This is the fourth time that the Hungarian Prime Minister will meet with Pope Francis. Last September, during the pontiff’s visit to Budapest for the International Eucharistic Congress, the two men spent about forty minutes in a meeting organized at the airport in the presence of the then president Janos Ader.
The two leaders have shared two other meetings in the context of European delegations (one in 2016 and the second in 2017). Viktor Orbán was also received by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 and by his predecessor John Paul II in 2000.