Pope Francis, during a short visit to Hungary, warned that the danger of anti-Semitism “still lurks” in Europe.
The pope’s warning came during an interview after his meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a populist and anti-immigrant, with whom he differed sharply and clearly on the issue of refugees.
Orban is accused of taking anti-Semitic positions, but has described the accusations as “ridiculous”.
In a Facebook post, the prime minister said he had “asked Pope Francis not to let Christian Hungary weaken and perish”.
The meeting, which brought the Pope together with the Prime Minister at the Museum of Fine Arts in the Hungarian capital Budapest, lasted about 40 minutes.
In his address, delivered to Christian and Jewish leaders after the meeting, the Pope warned of “the danger of anti-Semitism that still lurks in Europe and elsewhere”.
“This is a fuse that should not be lit. The best way to defuse this fuse is to work together in a positive way and strengthen brotherhood,” he said.
There is a large Jewish community in Hungary, numbering about 100,000 people.
Orban was criticized for his 2017 election campaign that featured posters of Jewish financier George Soros reading “Let’s not let Soros finally laugh!” He rejected calls from the Jewish community to take down these posters.
On a previous visit to London, he denied any anti-Semitism, saying Soros was simply a rival who supported the immigrant movement.
Orban and the Pope certainly have divergent views on refugees and immigration.
Some of Hungary’s prime minister’s supporters, along with his media, have in the past ridiculed the pope as “anti-Christian” for his comments about helping refugees.
At a mass later on Sunday, Pope Francis alluded to the issue, saying: “The cross, planted in the ground, not only invites us to take root, but raises its arms and extends it to all.”
“The cross urges us to keep our roots steady, but without being defensive… I hope you will be: firm and open, rooted and considerate of others,” he added.
The Pope held a mass to mark the end of the Eucharistic Conference, which attracted tens of thousands of Christians from all over the world over the past week.
“We are not here for any politics, but to see and hear the Pope, the head of the church. We are all eager to see him,” one of the chapels, Eva Manduki, 82, told AFP.
Later, the Pope is expected to visit Slovakia for three days.
The shortness of the Pope’s visit to Hungary compared to his visit to Slovakia has fueled speculation about the signals the Pope is trying to send.
“Pope Francis wants to humiliate Hungary by staying only a few hours,” a pro-Orban analyst said in a televised interview.
The Vatican described the visit as a “spiritual journey” and Orban said comparisons of our visit with a visit to Slovakia were “misleading”. But some sources say that the Vatican rejected Hungarian offers to extend the stay.
This is the Pope’s first international trip since his operation this year.
The Pope’s visit to Slovakia aims to improve Catholic-Jewish relations, and he is also scheduled to meet with members of the Roma community in Slovakia.
Pope Francis has visited dozens of countries since he was baptized at the Vatican in 2013, although his trips were recently affected by the spread of the Corona virus.
Earlier this year, he made a historic four-day trip to Iraq.
In July of last year, the 84-year-old pope spent 10 days in hospital while receiving treatment for a colon problem.
The Pope also suffers from a number of other health problems. He lost part of his right lung at the age of 21, and he also suffers from a thigh problem and complains of sciatica, which causes him to have pains that spread from the lower back to the legs.