Hungarian Catholic priest calls anti-immigration campaign “poisonous”

József Urbán is one of a very small handful of Roman Catholic clergy in Hungary who is willing to think outside the simplistic political and cultural parameters that define and curtail Christianity in much of Hungarian society. Born in 1964, Fr. Urbán is a Piarist priest and director of the order’s secondary school in Budapest. Historically, the Piarists (or, in long form, the Order of Poor Clerics Regular of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools) have focused their outreach on providing children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds with free education.

Fr. Urbán wrote a scathing blog post about the Orbán government’s openly xenophobic anti-immigration campaign, which includes both a billboard advertising blitz, as well as a questionnaire, in which citizens are asked a series of heavily suggestive questions, all of which play on populist fears of the “other,” the nameless, faceless strangers at the gate. In 2014, immigrants comprised only 2% of Hungary’s total population and only 14,000 people from countries outside the European Union were issued Hungarian work permits. The proportion of immigrants may be higher now, following a spike in refugee claimants and immigrants in the first half of 2015. Here’s some of what Fr. Urbán had to say, in my English translation:

“The immigration questionnaire speaks to the worst in me. I am faced with my own limitations when I read it. It brings out the worst from within me. Every question suggests an unequivocal answer. It calls forth my fears and my discriminatory instincts…The questionnaire tells me: ‘This is who you are.’ But it also suggests: ‘This all that you are. You can’t be anything more than this.’ But I would like not to be this. How can I be someone else? That question, that option is not available. This questionnaire is not just stupid. It is something more; it’s paralyzing, poisonous and embittering. It floods me with my own bitterness.”

Fr. Urbán then imagines a dialogue with Jesus, based on Christ’s teaching to his disciplines, in which he told them not to be afraid.

“I am scared of strangers. I am scared of immigrants. I am scared of Muslims. It’s hard for me to be Christian in these circumstances and its difficult for me to live the Gospel message. I don’t know how to be poor. I don’t dare give what is mine and from who I am. I can’t be welcoming. I am frightened, that if they come here from Africa, Asia and the Middle East, we’ll be lost. I want to go on the defensive. I am preparing for battle. I feel under attack. I would like to fight back. I’m afraid.”

József Urbán. Photo: Tamás Thaler / Magyar Kurir.

József Urbán. Photo: Tamás Thaler / Magyar Kurir.

In this imagined dialogue, Fr. Urbán sees Christ’s response to his words sounding something like this:

“Do you care to see me in them? How about starting off with getting to know them? Do you know who these people are?  Are you familiar with their situation? Do you know Islam? If you would study a bit, you might regain your confidence and something good might come of all this. Did you ever consider that they could learn from you as well? You have something to give them: not just from your possessions, but from the good that is within you. (…) Are you interested in encountering me, through your encounters with them?”

Following this dialogue, Fr. Urbán brings himself and readers of his blog to the following conclusion about the immigrants and refugees who make their way from their homes in Syria, Afghanistan and the south Balkans to the hoped for safety and relative stability of Hungary:

“Those who go on this journey are not faceless beings. They are human beings. They are Jesus’s brothers and sisters and they are my brothers and sisters. And this is why it is important for me to encounter them.”

The Catholic Church in Hungary could use many more Fr. Urbáns. Perhaps if this degree of honest reflection, self-reflection and openness to change and dialogue were more common, I would not feel the need, even as a Catholic, to boycott the Hungarian Catholic church, both in Hungary and in the diaspora. Perhaps if one Piarist priest’s perspectives, as expressed in his blog, were more common, the Church might actually help push the envelope in a society that could use many more people who question, challenge and swim against the tide.

11 Comments

  1. Charlie London says:

    I have been very critical if the RC Church on here, Christopher!

    However József Urbán has been refreshingly brave in his blog – I hope he has been preaching the same message from the pulpit.

    Whenever I have seen congregations emerging from church and even videos of sermons in Hungary – which I can’t understand, I am amazed at the wealth on display. Not just of the worshippers but the scale of opulence of the buildings themselves.

    I have concluded that this is predominantly the Fidesz party at prayer.

    I was brought up in a church school and as an identical twin was in the Church’s ‘A’ team of ‘servers’ – we had to be Acolytes carrying two candles in the procession – when I only wanted to be the Thurifer. Much more glamorous!

    This was high church -Anglican, not Roman Catholic.

    I have since seen the light and am agnostic – as I don’t believe the bible.

    So I have enough knowledge of it to know that what’s happening in Hungary is completely at odds with its teachings.

    Not just not walking past on the other side of the road regarding strangers – and immigrants in great need.

    But not helping the poor; not persecuting the Roma; allowing only certain other religions to flourish and receive funding; allowing the RC Church to be the repository of the tax donation regardless of that person’s hard earned money being nominated for that destination; and the education syllabus in schools.

    Allowing the church near Freedom Square to rehabilitate Horthy in his glass box – presumably as protection from red paint and eggs – is particularly shameful. (This may not be the RCs but it’s the church nevertheless.)

    I could go on – more than I have.

    But the Hungarian church has been too silent recently when it should have been speaking out – and putting Orban’s hat on straight.

    I believe that this is because it is too close to government – and in their pay. Thirty shekels of gold.

    And it is too quiet on the treatment of other religions.

    There should be hundreds of József Urbán’s – but we only have one.

    Disestablishment would separate church and state and allow it more independence.

    Then there’s their role during WW2 – but that’s for another blog.

    • Christopher Adam says:

      You’re right, Charlie. The Church has been, in very large part, silent even while Fidesz introduced legislation that went against the very fiber of Christ’s teachings (such as the criminalization of homelessness). And beyond that, the Church showed little to no solidarity with small denominations, when the government went after them, and de-registered them as churches. I know that József Urbán’s words surprised some on the right. The Heti Válasz weekly published snippets of it, and you could tell that the author of that post was intrigued, but also taken aback.

      There is perhaps a handful of Urbáns…many, many more are needed.

      • such as the criminalization of homelessness

        …. which is a big fat lie. Not the homelessness itself was criminalized, but the behavior that caused obstacles, disgust and rejection by the ordinary and law-abiding majority.

  2. Charlie London says:

    As a postscript I am very concerned about alleged fraud and misuse of EU money.

    There have been too many rumours of the following ‘trick’:

    A church needs funds to refurbish a church building.

    It applies for, say, 80m forints of EU funding.

    The government gives the church 50m and trousers the other 30m.

    It is told that’s all they can have but must display a notice board stating that it received 80m of EU funding to restore the building.

    (One of the conditions of receiving EU money is that a notice has to be erected giving funding details – even the size and positioning and for how long is defined and is mandatory.)

    Nice little earner – and if true is testament to the Church’s integrity in Hungary.

  3. It’s been a long time I mentioned in some comments of mine that the only cure for Hungary and the Hungarians is well formulated antidote.
    The whole nation is poisoned to death. That’s why all the crimes of Orban and the Fidesz dies away and goes down the drain in no time without consequences. For no sober words and warning would cure the poisoned ones. It needs more. It calls for a specific antidote. Meanwhile, the last billboard war and the significant donations for it might as well be a sign of something that they are willing to take the antidote or reach out for it. And they will be able to see through the tricks and can tell poison and medication apart.

    http://www.pangeatoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/hungary4-670×580.jpg

    József Urbán, HFP, and many other online sites, activists, and posters are working hard trying to find a word that can be the antidote. I hope someone will succeed.

  4. Pierre Divenyi says:

    I was a student in the Budapest Piarists’ Gimnazium in the 50s for 2 years, and whatever I know today I attribute to their meticulous and loving teaching. I am very proud of Father Urban being proud, being willing to say what every Christian — Hungarian or not — should say and should have said for a long time. Just as in America, so-called (and well-payd) Christian churches fail, have failed for a long time, to ask the question “What would Jesus do on my place?” There are immigration debates in almost all countries of the northern hemisphere and the churches are AWOL in the debate. Someone looking from out-of-space could easily tell: the immigrants are the chicken come home to roost: for centuries rich nations have used poor nations by drawing out their resources with no real compensation, thereby creating a half-globe of poverty. And now those poor people have two choices: die at home or attempt to cross borders into the rich hemisphere. And the churches of the rich just stand by not uttering a word. Except a small number of Father Urbans. God bless them!

  5. Pingback: Boycotts and government PR: The debate on Hungarian state-sponsored klezmer concerts in North America

  6. „ for centuries rich nations have used poor nations by drawing out their resources with no real compensation, thereby creating a half-globe of poverty.”

    I see things differently what might be helpful to interpret Urban’s and others’ words differently. In a right way. Not the rich countries exploited poor nations. The elite has been exploiting and using the whole world for thousands of years. Those poorer countries could live a bearable life even being poor. But they don’t let them. Warmongering, spreading plagues, diseases, they go for blood. They make them run and destabilize the
    hole world. Yes, a tremendous efforts has been put on it for decades to totally annihilate not only the poor countries but the whole middle class in all the developed countries, too.

    Not only for preventing them to take control over he politicians but to keep them as moron slaves under Novus Ordo Seclorum. Illuminati and the Cabal. They started a war in the Middle East to destabilize it and all Europe with the flood of refugees. They started the French revolution, WWI, WWII, they built the Soviet union and they brought it down and now they working on starting WWIII. They hide Tesla’s invention of free electricity, the water fueled engine, the cancer cure, both were discovered 30 years ago. And many more. Now they are going for the full destabilization of the developed world. Novus Ordo Seclorum. No elected government, central power. Orban’s dirty work is very helpful for them.

    If they were simply refugees of poverty as you state even the chief imbecile Orban could understand the situation, but this is not the case and while the mad man is trying to get another bribe for opening the door he mishandles the whole situation and is just fueling the flames helping the destabilization project even more. He is a brute. He’s full of it. A miserable puppet. He can’t even understand what he is doing. And Urban speaks out well, and I don’t ask any more whom he is addressing, I am asking who will listen to him. Therefore thanks for Chris for these piece. Orban once mentioned the New World Order. He didn’t know what he was speaking about.

    Here, open secret: http://irregulartimes.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/dollarilluminati.png

    The 13 layers of bricks in the pyramid, the 13 Illuminati bloodline: Astor, Bundy, Collins, DuPont, Freeman, Kennedy, Lee, Onassis, Reynolds, Rockefeller, Rothschild, Russel, Van Duyn.

  7. Fix: ” destabilize the whole world. “

  8. Only for presentation, Orban making this racist xenophobe billboard even had a cheek to copy the appearance – color and letters – of the European Human Rights.

    http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/images/news/201502/n_78798_1.jpg

    • Pierre Divenyi says:

      Yes, you are right Richard. Orban is a scumball. And, of course (does not every Hungarian the brain to understand it?), all those posters are for strictly internal consumption. If he were serious in what he is posturing about, he would post all those xenophobic messages in languages those poor immigrants-to-be would be able to read. What he is doing is simply a state-financed early (never early enough, and he knows it) reelection campaign disguised as “messages to the invaders”.

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