“Today our government is crafting the legal system to fit its own inhumane worldview. For this reason the Church that follows the example of Christ must use compassion to rise to the challenge.” – Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy, Democratic Forum (DK) politician
The following is a translation of the open letter written by Hungarian opposition politician Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy to Cardinal Dr. Péter Erdő, Primate of Hungary, in response to the failure of the Hungarian Catholic Church to provide sanctuary for, or speak out on behalf of, the tens of thousands of asylum seekers passing through Hungary.
Dr. Péter Erdő
Cardinal, Primate of the Church of Hungary, His Eminence
His Eminence, the Esteemed Cardinal!
His Holiness the Pope will say a prayer on Sunday at St. Peter’s Square for the 71 refugees found dead along the Austrian highway. The Pope has raised his for voice for the refugees many times. Earlier for example he made a comparison to the rejection of refugees to war, saying, “it is violent, it is murder”. In June, he addressed those who close their borders to refugees, calling on them to beg the Lord’s forgiveness. Last year, in his speech during a plenary session of the European Parliament, he called attention to the plight of the many Africans that perished while crossing the Mediterranean a tragedy, and said it was unacceptable that the Mediterranean has become a graveyard. His Holiness continues to follow the teachings of Jesus, in which the Savior sides with the welcoming traditions of the Jews, the tradition that encouraged the people of Israel to welcome to the Moabitess Ruth, the tradition that allowed for Ruth to become the grandmother of King David.
Even our neighbor is following the example of the Church’s leader. Cardinal Schönborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, announced recently that his archdiocese would provide asylum for one thousand asylum refugees, and he has also called on Austria’s other archdioceses to do the same. The Burgenland diocese had earlier announced it would provide asylum to two hundred refugees. In Serbia, the bishop Nagybecskerek, Bishop László Német, spoke to his followers of the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt and called upon them to help the refugees in whichever way they could.
This raises numerous questions for me as a Hungarian Catholic. This isn’t the first time I have felt confusion and despair and have had to ask “What does my beloved Catholic Church represent? What are the Church’s leaders representing?”
Families and children are arriving in Hungary. They are hungry, they are thirsty, they are sick, and have traveled many thousands of kilometers to escape the hell of war. “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me, but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:37).
However, our country – which adopted Christianity a millennium ago and has a government that claims to be a Christian government – is doing the exact opposite. It does not welcome a single refugee, but instead builds a barbed wire fence and blocks the path of refugees with armed soldiers. I consider your words during your August 20th sermon a respectable starting point, but your actions have not followed your words. Our Catholic Church, our Prelate, and our Hungarian Catholic Conference of Bishops must take a clear and strong position in order to get the teachings of Jesus into the heads of people. It isn’t enough anymore to offer quiet assistance. There needs to be serious leadership that helps the majority of society see that the church is not incompetent in this time of crisis, but instead helps those who are in trouble, encourages those with good intentions, and condemns those who incite hatred.
In my opinion, the Cardinal’s Thursday statements only contribute to the uncertainty of the situation. The legal uncertainty related to the treatment of refugees is how the Church’s leadership is trying to explain its hesitance and inaction. I firmly believe that if a worldly power deliberately abandons universal values and willingly gives up adherence to morals – as the Orbán government has – then it is the responsibility of our Church to take on the risk of incurring the displeasure of secular authorities. Today our government is changing the laws to fit its own inhumane worldview. For this reason the Church that follows the example of Christ must naturally use compassion to rise to the challenge.
It was not us, believers and humane non-believers, nor our neighbor young and old who fled their homes in fear of their lives that provoked the government, but the other way around: it is the politicians who wield the staff of government that have done this against innocent people.
Jesus was not a provocateur, but if Jesus had to choose between God and someone who humiliated the essence of God in others, Jesus would stand with God without any hesitation. We should do the same and it is your example I would follow. Let us not try to justify our hesitation and inaction because of laws that go against the fundamental values and the Gospel.
Therefore, I must respectfully ask whether, with respect to politics, it is not the purpose of the Church to measure the actions of the government against the teachings of Jesus? To hold accountable those government leaders who claim to be followers of Jesus? To use every tool at their disposal in accordance with the Savior’s teachings to help those who are desperately in need?
It is with great respect that I ask His Eminency, and through him all our priests, to finally raise their voices. Perhaps it is your moral arguments that would have a greater impact on the government’s politicians because it is harder for a government that claims to be a Christian government to go against the moral teachings of the Church — certainly harder than it is for the government to go against the opposition, the international community’s concerns, or the desperate calls for aid made by our country’s civilians.
Budapest, September 4, 2015
With great respect,
Member of the Democratic Coalition presidium