Pope meets Ukrainian refugees during visit to Hungary
By Philip Pullella and Krisztina Than
BUDAPEST (Reuters) -Pope Francis met Ukrainian refugees on the second day of his visit to Hungary on Saturday, telling them a different future was possible as they described the hardships they have faced since the war began.
Francis met about 600 refugees, poor and homeless people in a visit to a Budapest church a day after warning of the dangers in Europe and telling the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban that accepting migrants along with the rest of the continent would be a true sign of Christianity.
Francis was serenaded by a singing band of Hungarian Roma wearing flower-patterned clothing and seemed to enjoy the music as they hovered around him while he sat in his wheelchair.
Earlier, he listened as one refugee, Oleg Yakovlev, told him how he and his wife, Lyudmila, and their five children had to leave their home city of Dnipro a year ago after Russian bombings.
"We were welcomed here and we have found a new home (but) many have suffered and suffer still because of the war," Yakovlev told the pope, describing the family's long trip to safety in Hungary.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, millions of refugees have fled through Central Europe, including Hungary, and moved to other countries. About 35,000 have applied for temporary protection status in Hungary.
Francis, echoing his speech on Friday, said expressing compassion for those suffering from poverty and tragedy is an integral part of being a Christian, even if those in need are non-believers.
"Even amid pain and suffering, once we have received the balm of love, we find the courage needed to keep moving forward: we find the strength to believe that all is not lost, and that a different future is possible," he said.
In the afternoon, Francis addressed 12,000 young people at a sports arena, smiling as he was presented with one of modern Hungary's most famous inventions - a Rubik's cube.
In a move significant for inter-religious dialogue, the pope also met with Metropolitan (bishop) Hilarion, representative of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) in Budapest, who was effectively ousted from the number two post at ROC headquarters in Moscow last year following internal differences on Ukraine.
ROC Patriarch Kirill is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and fully backs the war as a bulwark against a West he describes as decadent.
The European Union tried to put Kirill on its sanctions list last year but member states failed to find unanimity on the issue as Hungary opposed his inclusion.
Relations between the Vatican and the ROC have been frosty since Francis said last year that Kirill should not be "Putin's altar boy".
(Reporting by Philip PullellaAdditional reporting by Krisztina Than and Boldiszar GyoriEditing by Clelia Oziel and Helen Popper)