Hungary's Catholics Largely Absent From Refugee Drama
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Catholics in Hungary face a challenge. Refugees are flowing into their country and Pope Francis wants all of Europe's Catholics to take them in. But Hungarian Catholics are reluctant to follow the pope. One Hungarian bishop was quoted saying the pope is wrong. Lauren Frayer reports from Budapest.
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: At a Catholic church in a leafy riverside area of Budapest, there is no extra collection for refugees, no canned food drives nor charity bake sale. This church, like many across Hungary is caught in the middle of a debate over how to help refugees - or whether to even help at all. The priest here is Gabor Ecsy.
GABOR ECSY: (Through interpreter) The pope's guidance is for the whole world, but you have to implement it according to local realities. Migrants don't want to live in Hungary, so we have no responsibility to keep them here. Of course we do follow Christ's teachings.
FRAYER: Father Ecsy is also the local director of Caritas, the Catholic charity, which has a tent set up on the Hungary-Serbia border. Caritas volunteers there provided medical care, food and clothing to some of the tens of thousands of migrants and refugees who streamed into Hungary before soldiers closed the border. But Ecsy says he hasn't called on his parishioners to help. It's a sensitive issue, he says.
ECSY: (Through interpreter) There have been cases, a few in number, where refugees refused donations because they came under the sign of the cross.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Allahu akbar.
FRAYER: Hungarian state TV airs months-old footage of Pakistani migrants chanting Allahu akbar - God is great - recorded at a detention facility near Debrecen in eastern Hungary. The right-wing prime minister says Hungary must protect its 1,000-year-old Christian character under threat from Muslim immigration. Parishioner Daniel Nemeti says Muslim migrants have habits inferior to those of Hungarians.
DANIEL NEMETI: I feel very mixed. Of course I think there is no Hungarian who thinks we shouldn't have refugees. But behaviors like not being ready to identify yourself, like leaving a lot of waste after you shows that their socialization is totally different from ours.
FRAYER: He's talking about filthy conditions at Hungary's overflow camps. Human rights groups say the government here failed to provide adequate facilities - food and water, sanitation. But some Hungarians blame the refugees themselves, calling them uncivilized and dirty.
The far-right Jobbik party, the second biggest in Parliament, has introduced a bill calling for asylum-seekers to be quarantined from Hungarians because, it says, they carry dangerous diseases. As the faithful stream out of church, I asked if anyone has donated money. Hungarians have been organizing on social media to buy train tickets for refugees who want to get to Germany.
CILI: (Foreign language spoken).
FRAYER: "No, I try to avoid the train station altogether since those people invaded the place," says a woman named Cili. She says she knows her views are extremist so she didn't want to give her last name. Another man, Akosh Namash, says he's not donating either.
AKOSH NAMASH: I don't think so. Hungarians also would like to work in Germany or in England.
FRAYER: Instead, Hungary's small Baptist community is raising money for refugees. An interfaith group is working in the south. And a local mosque is providing food to migrants at Budapest's train station. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Budapest. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.