(Budapest) Pope Francis, a tireless advocate of “openness to others”, pleaded on Saturday to “eradicate the evils of indifference” during a meeting with refugees, on the second day of his visit to an anti-migrant Hungary .

Some 600 refugees – mostly from Ukraine – and poor people gathered at the neo-Gothic Church of St. Elizabeth, built in the late 19th century in the heart of the capital. A thousand worshipers also attended the event on the forecourt.

After hearing various testimonies, the pope thanked the Hungarians, in particular the religious associations, for their welcome towards the Ukrainians, without mentioning those of other countries.

On the one hand, the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban likes to praise the hospitality offered to those who come from neighboring Ukraine at war, the central theme of this second papal visit in less than two years to the central European country.

On the other, it has erected fences at its borders, detained refugees in now closed “transit zones” and restricted the filing of asylum applications at embassies abroad.

In a veiled allusion to this policy, the 86-year-old Argentinian Jesuit, in fragile health, had set the tone as soon as he arrived on Friday, warning against “closures” and the tendency “to retreat”.

In front of the closed gates of the church, under a grayish sky, Elena, a 43-year-old Ukrainian dancer, came “to see the pope who is a great defender of peace”.

“We haven’t had any problems here, but we want to get back quickly and don’t really fit in,” she told AFP.

Since February 2022, more than two million Ukrainians have set foot on Hungarian soil, but only 35,000 have claimed the “temporary protection” status set up by the European Union (EU), according to data from the High Commission. of the UN to Refugees (UNHCR).

In fact, the ambiguous position of Viktor Orban with regard to the conflict hardly encourages them to linger in Hungary.

By refusing to send arms to Kyiv and maintaining close ties with the Kremlin, Viktor Orban is going against the current of the policy displayed by the European Union and NATO.

In the afternoon, the sovereign pontiff, who arrived by golf cart in the largest indoor sports arena in the city, was welcomed as a rock star by 11,000 young people gathered in a festive atmosphere. On stage, he was offered a Rubik’s cube, a famous puzzle of Hungarian invention.

“We are too quick to close in on ourselves and not help those fleeing conflict or just the poorest,” said Maria Varga, a 22-year-old student. “I wish more Hungarians who call themselves Christians would follow the teachings of the pope.”

From migrants to LGBT rights, the Hungarian Catholic Church is on the front line in defending the “Christian civilization” brandished by Mr. Orban, often against the pope’s more open attitude.

Francis is “a liberal pope, everyone knows that, and Hungary is a very conservative country, but he is the head of our Church and we respect him,” 18-year-old Tamas Banhidi told AFP.

Earlier Saturday, the pope spoke for about 20 minutes with Metropolitan Hilarion, former head of external relations for the Russian Orthodox Church.

Reluctant to invade Ukraine, he was ousted by Patriarch Kirill, a close supporter of Vladimir Putin, as the conflict froze relations between the Church of Moscow and the Holy See.

Despite persistent knee pain forcing him to move around in a wheelchair, the smiling pope appears in fairly good shape during this 41st international trip, a month after his hospitalization.

On Sunday morning, he will preside at 9:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m. Eastern time) at an outdoor mass behind Parliament in the center of the capital, where thousands of worshipers are expected.