Return Flight From Hungary. Photo: Vatican Media

Will Art Pieces Be Returned to Countries That Request Them from the Vatican? Pope Replies and Reveals That a Ukraine-Russia Peace Mission Is Underway

Francis also answered if he will intercede for Russia to return Ukrainian children taken to that country by force, about his health and if he will go to the World Youth Day in Portugal.

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(ZENIT News / Rome, 04.30.2023).- As usual, on the return flight from Budapest to Rome, on Sunday afternoon, April 30, 2023, Pope Francis replied to the questions of journalists that accompanied him on the plane.

The first question, from a Hungarian journalist, focused on his experience of the meetings in Hungary. The Holy Father mentioned first the history of his relationship with the Hungarian community, which goes back to the ‘60s when many Catholics were persecuted at the height of the Communist regime: “I was very affected by the pain of their being refugees  and unable to return home,” said the Pope. And to the journalist’s question if his impression had changed and also how they communicated, the Pontiff said he had not changed. About the language he answered: “Hungarian is not spoken  outside of Hungary. Only in Paradise, because they say it takes an eternity to learn it (laughs) . . .  so they speak in German or English. 

Regarding his meeting with Prime Minister Orban and the Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion (former number two of the Russian Church), a journalist of an Italian agency asked him if he had requested Orban to reopen the borders of the Balkans route that, supposedly, Orban had closed. And in regard to Hilarion she was incisive: “Can Hilarion and Orban himself become channels of openness to Moscow to speed up a peace process for Ukraine, or make possible a meeting between you and President Putin?”

Pope Francis said that peace is made by opening channels. Then he pondered the fact that five countries have taken charge of receiving migrants but not the whole of Europe; hence, it seems more of a problem of Cyprus, Greece, Malta, Italy and Spain, so that the problem of those countries is understandable. In regard to Hilarion, Pope Francis said:

“Hilarion is someone I respect a lot, and we’ve always had a good relationship. He had the kindness to come and see me, then he went to Mass and I also saw him here in the Airport. Hilarion is an intelligent person with whom one can talk, and these relations must be kept up, because if we speak of ecumenism  — I like this, I don’t like that — we must have the hand extended with the whole world, including receiving [their] hand. I have talked only once with Patriarch Kirill since the start of the war, 40 minutes to get close, then through Anthony, who has now replaced Hilarion, who comes to see me: he is a Bishop who was a parish priest in Rome and knows well the environment and I am always in connection with Kirill through him.”

The journalist wondered if Hilarion and Orban could accelerate the peace process and about this the Pope was short and ironic, answering that it’s not about a “Little Red Riding Hood tale.” However, the insistence of AGI Agency’s journalist deserved an exclusive that the Pope expressed thus: “I’m ready to do everything that has to be done. Moreover, there is now a mission underway, but it’s still not public. We’ll see how . . . When it’s public, I’ll say it.”

The topic of health surfaced in relation to the Pope’s trip to Portugal for the World Youth Day. In this regard, a Portuguese journalist asked the question to which the Pope answered: “I spoke with Monsignor Américo (Américo Manuel Alves Aguiar, Auxiliary Bishop of Lisbon and President of the 2023 WYD, ndr), who came to see how things are: I will go, I will go. I hope to do so, you can see that it’s not the same as two years ago, with the walking stick. Now it’s better, for the time being the trip is not cancelled. Then there is the trip to Marseilles, and then the trip to Mongolia, and then the last, which I don’t remember where . . .  the program still keeps me moving.”

By AP he was asked  — with absolutely nothing to do with the Apostolic Journey — about the fragments of the Athens Parthenon kept in the Vatican Museums, which the Pope returned to Greece. The Holy Father was asked about the return of pieces kept in the Museums  and which were brought there during the colonial period. He was asked if he was also willing to make other restitutions, thinking of the peoples and indigenous groups of Canada that have requested the return of objects of the Vatican Collection, as part of the process of reparation for the damages suffered during the colonial period,” in the words of the journalist asking the question.

To this, the Pontiff replied:

However, there is a whole history , that sometimes wars and colonization lead to take the decision to take what is good from others. This was a just gesture and they ask for the obelisk. What will we do? But, in any case, discernment is necessary there. And then, the restitution of indigenous things of Canada is underway, at least we have agreed to do so. I will now ask how that’s going. But the experience with the aborigines in Canada has been very fruitful. In the United States also the Jesuits are doing something with that group of Indians in the United States. The general told me that the other day. But let’s return to the [question of]restitution. In the measure in which it can be restored, which is necessary, which is a gesture, it’s . . . best to do so. Sometimes it can’t be done; there is no political, real or concrete possibility. But to the degree that it can be returned, please, do so, it’s good for all. Don’t get used to putting your hand in others’ pocket.”   

Finally, a Spanish journalist asked him about himself, what the Ukrainian Prime Minister asked him in a recent visit, if he would intercede for Ukrainian children, taken by force to Russia, to be returned to their country. The Pope answered: “I think so because the Holy See, through the Embassy, has acted as intermediary in some situations of exchange of prisoners, and it went well. I think this can also go well. It’s important. The Holy See is ready to do so because it’s right, it’s a just thing and we must help, so that this isn’t a casus bellii, but a human case. It’s a problem of humanity rather than spoils of war or a war transfer. All human gestures help, but cruel gestures don’t help. We must do everything humanly possible.”

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Jorge Enrique Mújica

Licenciado en filosofía por el Ateneo Pontificio Regina Apostolorum, de Roma, y “veterano” colaborador de medios impresos y digitales sobre argumentos religiosos y de comunicación. En la cuenta de Twitter:, habla de Dios e internet y Church and media: evangelidigitalización."

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