On his return flight from his trip to Hungary, the Pope spoke to journalists about his health, the war in Ukraine, Patriarch Kirill and more…
Just one verse each day.
Ukraine, Viktor Orbán, Metropolitan Hilarion, his own health … These are some of the highlights from Pope Francis’ 20-minute press conference, which he held on the flight back from Budapest on April 30, 2023. He was returning to Rome after a three-day apostolic trip to Hungary.
Pope Francis’ health
When asked about his health, Pope Francis recalled his three-day hospitalization last month, right before Easter. “I had […] a severe malaise at the end of the Wednesday audience; I did not feel like having lunch, I laid down a little. I didn’t lose consciousness,” he assured. However, “there was a high fever, and at three o’clock in the afternoon the doctor immediately took me to the hospital: an acute and strong pneumonia, in the lower part of the lungs,” he explained.
“Thank God I can talk about it, because the organism, the body, responded well to the treatment. Thank God,” the Pope said.
“You see it is not the same as two years ago,” the Pope said, speaking about his knee pain. He highlighted that “with the cane, it’s better” and that he should be able to go to Lisbon for the World Youth Day at the beginning of August 2023. “Then there’s the trip to Marseilles, then there’s the trip to Mongolia, and then there’s a last one I can’t remember where… Still the schedule has me moving, let’s see!” the Pontiff said.
Neither of the two destinations mentioned by Francis have been officially confirmed by the Holy See.
On the release of Ukrainian children
The day before his departure to Hungary, Pope Francis had received the Ukrainian Prime Minister at the Vatican. During this private audience, the ambassador asked the Pope for help bringing back Ukrainian children taken to Russia. On the plane, the Pontiff said that the Holy See could try to do something.
“The Holy See acted as a mediator in some of the situations concerning prisoner exchange, and through the Embassy it went well.” The Pontiff stressed that helping the children is “the right thing and we have to help” and that “the Holy See is willing to do it.”
He explained that in this case it could not be a “casus belli” (an act that provokes or is used to justify a war), but a “human case.”
“All human gestures help, whereas gestures of cruelty do not help. We must do all that is humanly possible.”
He also expressed his compassion for the Ukrainian women who arrive “in our countries, in Italy, Spain, Poland, Hungary…” Many of these women are war widows or their husbands are still at the front. Acknowledging that many are being helped, the Pope called not to “lose the enthusiasm” of addressing the current humanitarian situation, because these women may then find themselves “without protection, with the risk of falling into the hands of vultures.”
The Pope’s relationship with Patriarch Kirill and his meeting with Metropolitan Hilarion in Budapest
During his stay in Budapest, Pope Francis had the opportunity to meet with Metropolitan Hilarion, former ‘Minister of Foreign Affairs’ of the Moscow Patriarchate. Hilarion was dismissed last year from this position and appointed Orthodox Metropolitan Archbishop of Budapest and Hungary. The Pope spoke a bit about their meeting at the Nunciature, which was not on the official trip schedule. “Hilarion is a person I respect a lot. We have always had a good relationship. And he had the courtesy to come and visit me,” said the 86-year-old Pontiff, who considers it “necessary to maintain this relationship.”
There have been increased tensions between Rome and Moscow since the war in Ukraine began in February 2022, due to Patriarch Kirill’s religious justification of the conflict. However during the press conference Pope Francis repeated his thoughts on the matter: “We must have an outstretched hand towards everyone, and also receive the hand of others.”
Francis confided that he had spoken to Patriarch Kirill only once since the beginning of the war. The Pontiff recalled that a meeting with him in Jerusalem was scheduled for last summer but had to be suspended. However, Francis said that it “will have to happen.”
Pope Francis’ meeting with Viktor Orbán
During the press conference, the Pope did not dwell on his meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. When asked by a journalist if he had asked the head of government to reopen the borders of the Balkan migration route, the Pope replied that “peace is always made by opening channels.” The Pontiff then called, as he often does, for a European solution to the migratory challenge, pointing out that five European countries are those who particularly suffer from the arrival of migrants — Cyprus, Greece, Malta, Italy, Spain — because they are the countries bordering the Mediterranean.
Asked again about his discussions with Viktor Orbán, the Pope replied: “You can imagine that in this meeting we did not only talk about Little Red Riding Hood, we talked about all these things. We talk about this because everyone is interested in the road to peace. I am willing, I am willing to do whatever needs to be done. Even now there is a mission going on, but it is not public yet, let’s see…. When it is public I will talk about it.”
Returning Canadian artifacts?
A journalist from the Associated Press asked the Pope about the possibility of returning artifacts from the colonial period to Canada, after fragments of the Parthenon were recently gifted back to the Archbishop of Athens. The Pope noted the historical complexity of these situations. “Sometimes wars and colonization lead to these decisions to take the good things of the other. This [returning of things to Athens] was a right gesture, it had to be done. … And if the Egyptians come tomorrow and ask for the obelisk, what are we going to do?” The Pope joked.
He said that “a discernment in each case,” needs to be done. “The return of indigenous things: that’s going on, with Canada, at least we agreed to do that. Now I will ask how it is going. But the experience we had with the indigenous in Canada was very fruitful. Even in the United States the Jesuits are doing something, with that indigenous group inside the United States, the Superior General told me the other day… But back to restitution. To the extent that you can give back — which is a necessary gesture — it is better to do it. Sometimes you cannot, there is no political possibility or real, concrete possibility.”