Christmas reflections

For the past several months, despite continuing to edit this journal, I try to keep to the principle of moderation when it comes to Hungarian politics and political news emanating from Budapest. I do that by actively tuning out for at least part of each weekend. For one, I am reading many more books than before (primarily literary fiction) and I have started writing book reviews on a regular basis on my personal website. Additionally, I genuinely appreciate having the ability to get into my Jetta and drive around rural areas of eastern Ontario. Rural life is easily within reach from Ottawa and it can be such a welcome break from the city.

This past Saturday, I drove around the Pakenham area, just west of Ottawa, in Lanark County. The township of Pakenham, now formally part of Mississippi Mills, can be reached via a single lane, 7.6 metre wide stone bridge dating back to 1901. It was built by Scottish masons and is the only such bridge, boasting five arches across the roaring Mississippi River, in all of North America. It takes a polite Canadian to cross it safely: one must be circumspect before accessing the bridge, be on the look out for on-coming vehicles and yield to the vehicle coming your way.

Once you’ve crossed the bridge, you will find yourself on Pakenham’s main street. Above this modest strip, perched on a hill and accessible via a steep road, sits St. Peter Celestine Church–one of the most architecturally interesting and impressive churches I have seen in rural Canada. Built in 1892, the exterior takes inspiration from the 17th century stone churches of southern France (and rural Quebec), while the grand interior is a nod to Italianate architecture–quite unusual in Canada. Fascinatingly, the bell tower stands at a 45 degree angle from the rest of the church.

I happened to arrive a few minutes before the start of Mass on Saturday evening (which when celebrated after five o’clock in Catholic liturgical tradition, counts as Sunday Mass). As a sign of Canada’s diversity, the parish priest is a mild-mannered gentleman of Polish origins. Matthew Chojna arrived in Canada with his parents as a child, though perhaps then he still went by Mateusz. Undoubtedly, Fr. Chojna has had to expend much energy and effort in assisting English Canadians in pronouncing properly his surname. Perhaps that’s why the church sign and bulletin spells it phonetically as “Hoy-na.” He celebrated Mass, attended by around twenty-five locals and one “interloper” from Ottawa, and spoke completely unaccented English (if there is, indeed, such as thing). The first pews were empty, as the congregation occupied the back rows, as good Catholics from time immemorial are inclined to do everywhere. It was in the main during his homily that Fr. Matthew Chojna, speaking eloquently, focused heavily on Mary. His homily and, it would appear, his theology was quite Marian (Virgin Mary-centric), even from the perspective of the readings of the Fourth Sunday of Advent, which naturally focus on Mary. I can’t pinpoint precisely why, but Marian devotion is somewhat foreign to me. Perhaps it has to do with the Protestant/Jewish heritage on my father’s side of the family or simply because Hungarian society and culture is far less Catholic and much more secular than what one might find in either Polish or traditional Catholic circles. At first, Fr. Matthew sailed on the waters of the mystical–establishing a dichotomy between Eve, from the Garden of Eden, who turned her back on the Creator, thus sealing the fate of Creation, and Mary who dedicated her life to Him. As Fr. Matthew’s ship arrived on the shores of more tactile ideas, I realized that his homily, at its core, was about unconditional love. That is certainly an apt message, especially at Christmas.

The following day, this Sunday morning, my membership at St. Joseph’s Parish in Ottawa meant that I attended Mass there too. St. Joseph’s is quite a large and very active community, and what one would call a “lay-led” urban parish, in the downtown core. On this fourth Sunday of Advent the pews and aisles were busy with the bustle of children, young families and volunteers participating in every aspect of the community’s life–both the faith-based components, as well as the social. As Mass ended, the choir and congregation sang the energetic Irish folk song “Canticle of the Turning.”

The Canticle of the Turning speaks of the revolutionary nature of the Christian message, when that message is loyal to the life and teachings of Christ, as we understand those to be based on historical and religious sources. Given the persistent nature of mass protests in Hungary this December against the so-called “slave law,” which renders employees more vulnerable to the whims of employers than ever before and also against the oppressive nature of the Orbán regime grosso modo, these lyrics from the Canticle seem especially relevant:

From the halls of power to the fortress tower,
not a stone will be left on stone.
Let the king beware for your justice tears
every tyrant from his throne.
The hungry poor shall weep no more,
for the food they can never earn;
These are tables spread, ev’ry mouth be fed,
for the world is about to turn.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all readers of the Hungarian Free Press! Let the coming months usher in more justice for Hungarian society.


  1. Thank you, and a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you!

  2. Avatar StrandedinSopron says:

    “…..or simply because Hungarian society and culture is far less Catholic and much more secular than what one might find in Polish circles.”

    This is an interesting fact. Despite the constant proclamations of Hungary being a “Christian” country, the proof of the pudding (ie the % of those who actually attend church on any Sunday morning is pitiful) states otherwise.

    For sure, it remains *trendi* amongst certain elements of the Hungarian middle and upper-class to get married in church but that, in most cases, is a fashion and not a deeclaration of undying faith.

    I do wonder what a modern-day Jesus would make of Orban’s attitude towards the disadvantaged of society (never mind his other sins) but in the present climate, if Christ tried a 2018 Sermon on the Mount up at Normafa or wherever, he would probably be denounced in as a Soros Foot Soldier out to destroy er…*Christian* Hungary.

    Before there are any claims of blasphemy over the last statement, I was (as I am most weeks) at church yesterday and was delighted to hear as I do every week the unadulterated Gospel from the pulpit, free of any political leanings, right or left. Just a pity there weren’t more actual believers there to hear it….

    A happy Christmas and New Year to all writers, readers and commentators on here.

    • Avatar Hungarian Free Press says:

      A study by St. Mary’s University, exploring religiosity among Europeans between 16 and 29 years of age, should cause those in the Hungarian government or its circles who incessantly speak of Christian Hungary to pause. Hungarian youth are among the most non-religious and post-Christian in all of the European Union. Hungarian youth are less Christian than the French, Belgians, Germans, Danish and Austrians:

      Of course, if Hungarians who speak of Christian Hungary reflect honestly, they will not be surprised by these figures, because chances are, they too do not attend church and perhaps do not even believe in God. Many years ago, while Orbán was still in opposition and the Socialists-Free Democrats in power, even he noted in an interview that most Hungarians no longer have a religious faith.

      All that said, I think that at least in some quarters of Hungarian society compassion, as expressed by Christ, still exists. Merry Christmas to you too, StrandedinSopron!

  3. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

  4. It is great to see that one’s faith in human nature never need to falter. I was wondering what derogatory comments the article and the commentators will reveal. “Hungary is not Christian enough” congratulation. The holidays will give you time to think up some more nasty thing to say about Hungary. I am looking forward or may be not reading them in the New Year.

    • mburka
      I’m looking forward to the time when the nasty mafia of liars, embezzlers and thugs, which masquerades as governing party in Hungary, is ousted and served justice.
      This mafia and their deplorable minions are trying to drape themselves in “Christian” with limited success, soiling the religion like everything else they touch. Not that I care about religion, but it’s a pity to see the total perversion of the New Testament concepts; of Jesus chased away the money lenders, what would have he done with the Orban thieves and robbers?

  5. Pingback: A Hungarian Catholic priest who lives with the homeless

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