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Pope warns of anti-Semitism as he visits Hungary



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Pope Francis greets people in Heroes' Square in Budapest, ahead of Mass, REUTERS

London, Sept. 12 (BBC): Pope Francis has warned the threat of anti-Semitism is "still lurking" in Europe, during a brief trip to Hungary. He was speaking after meeting Hungary's populist and anti-immigrant PM Viktor Orban, with whom he has stark differences on the issue of refugees.

Orban has also been accused of anti-Semitic comments but he has said this is "simply ridiculous". In a Facebook post, the PM said he had "asked Pope Francis not to let Christian Hungary perish".

Pope Francis' meeting with Mr Orban lasted about 40 minutes in the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest. In his address to Christian and Jewish leaders afterwards, Francis warned of "the threat of anti-Semitism still lurking in Europe and elsewhere".

He said: "This is a fuse that must not be allowed to burn. And the best way to defuse it is to work together, positively, and to promote fraternity." Hungary has a large Jewish community - some 100,000 strong.

Orban was criticised for his 2017 election campaign that included posters of Jewish financier George Soros, with the words "Let's not allow Soros to have the last laugh!" He rejected calls from the Jewish community to take them down.

On a visit to London, the PM denied any anti-Semitism, saying that Soros was simply a rival who favoured the migrant movement. Orban and the Pope certainly have divergent views on refugees and migration.

Some of the PM's supporters in Hungary, along with pro-Orban media, have in the past mocked the Pope as "anti-Christian" for his comments on helping refugees.

The Pope has previously criticised political leaders who tried to erect barriers to keep migrants out, and in 2019 donated money to help migrants in Mexico seeking to reach the US border. But some of the worshippers gathering for the Mass in Budapest said they were setting this aside.

Eva Mandoki, 82, told Agence France-Presse: "We are not here for any politics, but to see and hear the Pope, the head of the Church. We can hardly wait to see him."

The Pope is celebrating Mass in Budapest to mark the end of the Eucharistic Congress which has attracted tens of thousands of Christians from around the world over the past week. But his whole Hungarian visit is expected to last only about seven hours before he moves on to Slovakia for three days.

The brevity of his Hungary trip compared to Slovakia has raised speculation about what signals the Pope is trying to send. One pro-Orban TV analyst said: "Pope Francis wants to humiliate Hungary by only staying a few hours."

The Vatican has called it a "spiritual trip" and Orban said comparisons with Slovakia were "misleading". But some sources say the Vatican rejected offers of a longer stay.

This is the Pope's first international trip since surgery this year. In Slovakia, his visit aims to improve Catholic-Jewish relations and he will also meet members of Slovakia's Roma community.

Francis has visited dozens of countries since he became pope in 2013, although his travels have recently been affected by the spread of coronavirus. Earlier this year, he made a historic four-day trip to Iraq.

In July, the 84-year-old spent 10 days in the hospital while he received treatment for a colon problem. He also suffers from a number of other health issues. He lost part of his right lung at the age of 21 and also suffers from a hip problem and sciatica, which causes pain that radiates from the lower back to the legs.