Dear Brothers and Sisters!
Twenty-four years – less than a lifetime. This is all the time that was given to one of the most famous Hungarian saints, Saint Elisabeth of Hungary, the role model of those young people, mothers and widows who are ready to help. But the earthly manifestation of active love lived a full life. In the short time she had here on Earth, she was a joyful child, a loving wife and mother, a grieving widow, but above all, she helped people in need. She was someone who did the right thing with conviction and total dedication. Her sanctity of life was perfectly obvious to her contemporaries, which made it possible to canonize her only three years after her death.
The annual celebration of Saint Elisabeth of Hungary is a good opportunity to shift our focus from our own everyday problems and open our hearts to those who are less fortunate than us. The daughter of King Andrew II knew well the warning of Saint James, the Apostle: “a person is justified through actions and not through faith alone.” (James 2:24).
The life of Saint Elizabeth was a testimony in itself. A testimony to Christ, a testimony to infinite love. She used all her wealth to support the poor and those in need. For centuries, her miracles and legends have been a guiding light of Christianity and humanity for everyone around the world. In a touching moment of her life, she once removed the crown from her head in front of the Virgin Mary in the church and lay face down to the ground, because she felt that she could not wear a more ornate crown than the one of her heavenly Mother. From this small act, we can see that the support she provided was not merely an end in itself, but a proclamation of the Kingdom of God in action.
Pope Benedict XVI writes about the Church’s charitable activity in his encyclical Deus caritas est: “The Church's deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable. For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being” (Deus caritas est, 25).
This is the spirit that we try to put into practice in the charitable activities of our Church. Let’s not forget that the service of Christ’s followers towards those in need won the admiration of the heathens from the very beginning, and drew their attention to the Christian community. Throughout our two thousand years of history, members of the Church in every historical age have sought to help those in need with love to prove that they belong to Christ.
The staff and volunteers of Catholic Caritas work to ensure that the active love expressed in the life of Saint Elizabeth continues to be part of the daily life of our Church. Following her example, Catholic Caritas also embraces the idea of Pope Francis, which he conveyed to the participants of the World Food Forum on 19 October this year: “our first concern must focus on the human being as such, considered integrally and taking into account his or her real needs, in particular of those who lack the basic sustenance for survival.” Since February, we have met a new group of people in need. Our country is trying to help in any way it can to support the interests of those most in need and promote peace. The staff of Catholic Caritas, in accordance with the intention of the Hungarian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, are constantly present at the Hungarian-Ukrainian border, delivering aid to Transcarpathia and the war zones. They provide complex assistance to those who want to settle in our country: in addition to urgent aid, they offer help with rent support, legal advice or counselling about finding a job or school, but most importantly, they reach out to those in need with personal presence, humanity and Christian love.
As Christian people, we are particularly horrified by war. We believe that mutual respect and understanding can promote peace. The Second Vatican Council began exactly sixty years ago, in the autumn of 1962, and one of its central ideas was peace. According to the Council Fathers, peace is “the fruit of that right ordering of things with which the divine founder has invested human society and which must be actualized by man thirsting for an ever more perfect reign of justice” (message of Pope John Paul II for the 35th World Day of Peace; 1 January 2002).
But we do not even need to search outside our own country to find people in difficult situations. In Hungary, we are also facing the drastic increase of energy and food prices, and many families, communities, schools and businesses must overcome serious difficulties due to increased costs in everyday life. Following the example of Saint Elizabeth, we encourage everyone to be useful instruments in God’s hands in the difficult times ahead, to notice those in need around us and to participate in the practice of Christian charity as we can. This is what Pope Francis urged his followers to do on 27 September, in a social media post dedicated to the words of Saint Vincent de Paul: “I pray that the Church, and each of us, may be granted the grace to discover the Lord Jesus in our brothers or sisters who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, lacking clothing and dignity, sick and imprisoned.”
We ask our faithful to support the charitable and social service of our Church showing God’s caring and merciful love on Sunday, 20 November with their donations to the collection baskets.
Budapest, 5 November 2022
the Hungarian Catholic Bishops’ Conference
To be read on 13 November 2022, at every Holy Mass of the XXXIII Sunday in ordinary time.