Cardinal Erdo on the Church in Hungary (Part 2)

Interview With New President of Country’s Episcopal Conference

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BUDAPEST, Hungary, OCT. 7, 2005 ( The primate of Hungary is facing a wide range of challenges to build the Church, more than 15 years after the fall of communism.

The Church’s youngest cardinal, Archbishop Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest, was recently elected president of his country’s episcopal conference.

In this interview with ZENIT, reported by Viktoria Somogyi, the 53-year-old cardinal sketched the present situation of the Church in his country.

Part 1 of this interview appeared Thursday.

Q: Young people in Europe who want to follow a vocation are faced with the obstacles of secularization and the trend away from making responsible and lasting choices, but are helped by the strong presence of new charisms and ecclesial communities. What is the situation like in Hungary in particular?

Cardinal Erdo: Hungary, of course, is also in need of vocations. Perhaps this lack is not as dramatic as in some Western countries, but it is quite acute above all because in the last 50 years religious vocations were not accepted, it was not allowed to live a religious life.

For this reason, whole generations of priests and religious are missing; and although the proportion of seminarians is higher than in German-speaking countries, the proportion between faithful and priests is worse. For example, in our archdiocese, for each priest we have 6,000 faithful, which is far worse than the European average.

In these last years the seminaries have had a certain stability as regards the number of students. There has been an effort, lately, to reform the educational system somewhat to reinforce the vocation of those hesitant young men who enter the seminary without having made a definitive decision. On this point I should say that it is above all a problem of the anthropological foundation for this choice.

Q: Relativism conditions every aspect of personal, social and cultural life. The negative consequences are clearly visible, in a special way in the disintegration of the family, which, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is the “domestic Church,” the first cell of society. Given your pastoral and juridical experience, how can the Church check such a tendency?

Cardinal Erdo: Our humble experience, which derives from the “profound Communism” of the ’50s and ’60s, shows that — although the great institutional solutions at times might seem spectacular and decisive — true strength is found in far more modest communities, such as the parish community, the community of several families with many children who help one another mutually.

This existential help is of course also financial, but above all personal and direct, as in the case of personal assistance to young mothers who have small children and are not able to leave the apartments in which they live.

This “direct help” is really precious. Also the Church — despite the difficulties and the complicated organization due to so many of society’s needs — has understood perfectly that this type of “direct relations” is stronger because it goes beyond the public circumstances of a state and a society, which change frequently. These models are transmitted psychologically also to future generations.

I can talk about my personal experience. My parents had a large family. At the beginning of the ’50s there were six of us siblings at home, and we were surrounded by about a dozen other Catholic families, and we helped one another mutually. Very often the children of these families have in turn had numerous families, and I have had the job of welcoming some of these grandsons to our seminary.

Q: Hungary is characterized by an historic multi-confessional presence, to the degree that it can be considered as a kaleidoscope of the new Europe. What have been the results of this secular experience in coexistence and the ecumenical and interreligious dialogue?

Cardinal Erdo: First of all, Hungary is a small country, very open to all influences coming from abroad. The country is very exposed to the interplay of the world’s and the continent’s powers.

So let’s have no illusions about being able to take decisive steps, for the whole world, not even in this area. Our experience is therefore limited to our circumstances, which, however, can also express values that are important generally.

Tolerance and especially empathy toward other confessions is something of notable value. In the center of everything must be “historic reconciliation,” because the past has left us profound wounds.

We must speak of it without rancor or prejudices, seeking to tell our history again in a “reconciled” way, self-critical but always truthful and faithful to the historic truth, so that a basis may be found for a common discourse in fruitful collaboration in present-day society.

Of course, Hungary is a place that lends itself much to dialogue, both with Protestants as well as Orthodox, even though being less numerous, and also with Judaism.

Q: According to the principle of subsidiarity, often asserted in the social doctrine of the Church, the main institutions and intermediary bodies must collaborate actively, having as their ultimate end the common good. What are, in this connection, the present relations between the state and Church in Hungary?

Cardinal Erdo: First, all models have value when in the society there is at least a smidgen of correctness. When a state is a state of law then, of course, it is necessary to observe the laws.

This model is a model that has shown its merits in the Western world and we are struggling for this legality of a Western type, for the functioning of this new democracy.

In any case, in every country of our region we see profound problems because we have had to assume in very brief time institutional forms irrespective of our social reality.

Therefore, the juridical and institutional forms are not organic products of our social reality, but “gifts” from the West that we have accepted with joy because we appreciate the general values that are behind these democratic forms.

Of course, a rather long period of suffering is necessary for these forms to be able to reflect a reality that is truly respectful of the person, of justice, etc.

Therefore, yes to subsidiarity but not only a subsidiarity of mere institutional forms, but rather an “organic subsidiarity” in the reality of the society — which is a much longer task, as in the case of the changes in property relations. Of course, Communism had expropriated all the goods of society and, consequently, after Communism a new class was born. But in what way?

This is not at all clear for the majority of the society, to the point that some debate or doubt the legitimacy of large private properties born in the last years. So this is also a moral weight. We must make an effort, on this point, to understand how society can find its balance, both moral as well as institutional.

Perhaps the West’s democratic institutions can help us in this development. But it is even more necessary for us to have Christian generosity and confidence in providence and in divine mercy.

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