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Pope Francis has appointed a new apostolic nuncio to Hungary: Archbishop Michael Wallace Banach, who until now has been Apostolic Nuncio to several West African countries. His appointment comes in a context of rapprochement between Pope Francis and the Hungarian government, which has been involved in welcoming Ukrainian refugees since the beginning of the Russian offensive in Ukraine on February 24.
Archbishop Michael Wallace Banach is an American archbishop who will turn 60 this year. Ordained a priest in 1988 for the Diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts, he joined the diplomatic service of the Holy See in 1992.
From 2007 to 2013, he served as the Holy See’s permanent observer to international organizations based in Vienna, including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Ordained an archbishop in 2013, he then became the papal representative to several states in Oceania (Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands) and then in Africa from 2016 (Senegal, Mauritania, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau).
As part of this quadruple mission in these very different cultural and religious countries, he was notably involved in the diplomatic rapprochement between the Holy See and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, which established in 2017 a full-fledged apostolic nunciature. Previously he had only the title of “apostolic delegate” in this country that has only a few thousand Catholics, mostly expatriates and migrants.
Hungary, A possible destination for the pope in 2023
After his installation as nuncio in Hungary, Archbishop Banach could become involved in the preparation of a visit by Pope Francis to the country, potentially envisaged for 2023. The pope’s short stop in Budapest in September 2021 during the International Eucharistic Congress was not considered an official visit to Hungary, but Pope Francis promised to return to the Central European country of nearly 10 million people for a longer period.
Hungary is marked by a robust Catholicism — between 50-60% of the population is Catholic — and remains relatively untouched by the vocational crisis and secularization that mark most other European countries.
In addition to his September 2021 stop in Budapest, the pope also praised the popular piety of Catholics of Hungarian culture during a June 1, 2019, Mass celebrated in Sumuleu-Ciuc, a pilgrimage site of the Hungarian minority in Romania.
Given Bishop Banach’s six years of diplomatic representation at the IAEA and OSCE, his knowledge of European security issues will certainly be useful in this country bordering Ukraine, one which has maintained contacts with Russia while hosting many Ukrainian refugees. Against this background of war, there has been some rapprochement between the Hungarian government and the Holy See, as was evident during Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s visit to the Vatican on April 21, 2022.
The previous Apostolic Nuncio in Budapest, Archbishop Michael Blume, also of American nationality, retired on December 31, 2021, after reaching the age of 75.