By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
BUDAPEST, Hungary (CNS) — The vestibule of the Church of St. Elizabeth of Hungary was decorated with children’s drawings for Pope Francis — many of them depicting him with a Ukrainian flag, praying for peace.
There also were several that showed the pope wearing his zucchetto and a soccer jersey with the colors of Argentina’s flag, but that was beside the point April 29 as Pope Francis met in the Budapest church with Roma, refugees, the poor and the many Catholics from all over Hungary who assist them.
Before arriving at the church, he visited a Catholic institute for children with limited vision, mobility issues and other special needs.
The meeting at the Blessed László Batthyány-Strattmann Institute mostly involved music and prayer — no speeches were planned. The director of the institute, though, recited the familiar “Prayer of St. Francis,” which includes the series of petitions: “Where there is hatred let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith. …”
Thanking him for choosing that prayer, the pope described it as “pure Gospel” because it looks at reality, sees what is missing and asks God to give the believer the strength to make a difference.
While the pope was at the institute, some 600 people were waiting for him inside the Church of St. Elizabeth, named for the 13th-century Hungarian princess who used all her money to build a hospital where she herself cared for the sick and poor.
Among those waiting was Olesia Misiats, a Ukrainian nurse and mother of three, who fled Kyiv 14 months ago when Russia started bombing her country. She went to Holland first, but said it was too expensive, so now she is in Budapest.
Her oldest daughter is now in Poland with her husband, who is Polish. Mila was born six months ago in Budapest, and “my daughter Anna, who is 6, is studying in kindergarten and already speaks Hungarian,” Misiats said. “We feel safe here. Many people help us.”
Oleg Yakovlev told Pope Francis about the help he and his wife Lyudmila and their five children — Daniel, Maria, Alexandra, Iliya and Elizaveta — received when they fled the war in Ukraine. And he thanked the pope for his constant prayers for peace in Ukraine and “for standing up for the victims of the war.”
The variety of needs people have and the way Catholics in Hungary are meeting them is an example of a living faith, Pope Francis said.
“We need a church that is fluent in the language of charity, that universal language which everyone can hear and understand, even those farthest from us, even those who are not believers,” the pope said.
Csaba Kovesi and his 15-year-old daughter Napsugár were talking about a similar idea before the pope arrived. The 50-year-old Roma man has carried a crucifix around Hungary and to other parts of Europe for 20 years, praying for peace between the Roma communities and their neighbors, he said.
“It’s just love that it gives me,” said Napsugár when asked about her dad’s project. “We try to give love to everyone. When you believe in God, you have found the way to be happy.”
“It is not enough to provide bread to fill stomachs; we need to fill people’s hearts,” the pope said in his speech. “Charity is much more than material and social assistance. It has to do with the whole person; it strives to put people back on their feet with the love of Jesus: a love that helps them to recover their beauty and their dignity.”
“Engaging in charity means having the courage to look into the other person’s eyes — it’s not charity when you look the other way. To engage in charity, you must have the courage to touch the person,” the pope said, departing from his prepared text.
Building a real relationship with the poor, he added, “makes you realize how much you are in need, in need of the gaze and the touch of the Lord.”
The theme of the morning turned back to peace when the pope went across the street to the Eastern Catholic’s Protection of the Mother of God Church. About 500 people gathered there chanted an “ektenia” or litany of peace for the pope.
And, returning to the nunciature where he is staying, Pope Francis spent about 20 minutes meeting with Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion of Budapest and Hungary, formerly head of external relations for the Moscow Patriarchate.
The Vatican press office said the meeting was “cordial” but provided no other details.