“Did you know that going to the various programmes of the conference in Szatmárnémeti, we take around 16,000 steps a day?” asks Csaba Török. He is the Director of the Prohászka Catholic High School in Budakeszi. “And how much is 16,000 steps in metres?” I ask. “It is about 10 kilometres, like the distance to the border,” answers Mr Török, who is also the organiser and leader of the five students and two teachers representing the Székesfehérvár Diocese. This is the district the Budakeszi high school belongs to, and this is the school that represents Hungary at this National Catholic Youth Meeting.

After the blessing as the daily Mass comes to an end, about 20-30 concelebrant priests are walking out of the cathedral, behind them the Bishop of Satu Mare. When he reaches our little delegation, he steps over to us, blesses us, offers his hand and asks, “Are you the ones from Székesfehérvár?” I nod, the Bishop moves on and we start after him.

# Bishop Schönberg meets members of the Hungarian youth delegation

It is difficult to get out of the cathedral because the 200-300 Hungarian-speaking participants who come every day for the Hungarian Mass all want to take pictures with their old and new friends.

Finally, we manage to catch up with His Excellency. Smiling, friendly, he turns to the children and introduces himself: Jenő Schönberg. A few minutes earlier he looked unapproachable at the altar, and now he is talking to them. Even in his name there is the history of this place, this meeting: Jenő (Hungarian), Schönberg (German), Szatmárnémeti (Satu Mare, Romanian). The children are delighted to shake hands with a bishop who is the organiser of this assembly. I hear someone in the group uttering, “I will not wash my hand now for weeks.”

At this National Youth meeting, 12 dioceses from Romania and two from Passau and Székesfehérvár were invited. How do these three places connect? I ask the bishop.

“They link in many ways,“ he replies. “First, I would like to know if you have already been in the Bishops’ Palace?” It is very hot outside, and due to a nearby building site it is dusty and noisy. We follow the bishop into the palace, where it is cooler and quieter. As we walk up to the first floor, Bishop Schönberg stops outside the private chapel and starts explaining.

Bishop Schönberg

“This meeting is a family reunion. We intend to bring together every three years the Hungarian Royal Family: St István, Blessed Gisella and St Imre. Let us start with Passau, that is where Blessed Gisella was buried.

“Székesfehérvár was the town where many Hungarian kings were crowned and buried. Some theories state that István could not have been crowned in Székesfehérvár because the Coronation Basilica was only completed 18 years after the coronation. The place of his crowning might be questionable but it is certain that István was buried here. After he died, due to the throne feuds, many things became unclear in Hungary.

“King István was canonised and became St István in 1083 by Pope Gregory VII at the request of King St László. His crypt in the Basilica of Székesfehérvár was re-opened and his corpse exhumed. But there was no right arm to the body! The Holy Right-Hand relic has a peculiar history. It was moved many times to many different places, even to different countries. King László investigated; went to see Abbot Mercurius, who oversaw the Treasury where the body was kept. Mercurius confessed to the king that it was he who hacked off the right hand. St István’s hand, the right one, the king took the oath and did blessings with.

“This happened in 1061 when the pagans revolted and threatened the basilica and the young Christian community. The priests decided to remove the corpse of St István from its privileged sarcophagus and hid it under the floor slabs of the basilica [in Székesfehérvár]. King St László accepted the abbot’s explanation and preventive measures and ordered him to build a monastery in a town renamed after the Holy Right, Szent Jobb in Hungarian [Siniob in Romanian as it now belongs to Romania]. Other points for Szatmárnémeti are that it was Gisella’s favourite hunting ground. It is also vital that the relationship between the Bishops of Passau, Székesfehérvár and Szatmárnémeti is cordial”.

At this point of the history lesson, Bishop Schönberg stops, opens the door to his private chapel and says: “And the altar you see there is the one where Petőfi married Julia Szendrey. The altar was not here then but at Erdőd, that is also near to us here in Szatmárnémeti. This is yet another thrilling story because the papers recording the marriage, and Petőfi’s reversal and even the copies disappeared in the 1980s, with many other documents that the Securitate took away for ‘research’.”

# In front of this altar Petőfi got married

About 1300 participants attended the Catholic Youth meeting in Szatmárnémeti. More than 60 volunteers helped to serve the meals and answered the questions of the partakers, aged 15-35. Most of the volunteers were bilingual.

The motto of this meeting was a quote from St. Luke 1:30, "The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God‘."

Throughout the atmosphere was cheerful. Stimulating lectures were offered, some in Romanian and some in Hungarian. Talks were given about confession, prayer, charity, the war against Christian families and the challenges the virtual world presents by the influence of electronically transmitted ideas. As one lecturer said: “This is the Alpha Generation that learns to use the electronic devices earlier than they learn to walk. While before children learnt from their parents, now they are in daily contact with people who are not real but images they create about themselves. There is an online and an off-line life.”

The Mass on Sunday concluding the meeting was celebrated by the Pope’s representative, Nuncio Miguel Maury Buendia. How did the Hungarian and Romanian children understand the nuncio’s sermon delivered in Italian? As Bishop Schönberg said, “The language of the Mass and the sermon and our meeting is the language of love.”

Szatmárnémeti – for four days this normally sleepy town became noisy with singing and laughter of young Catholics. The first and the last evenings had pop concerts to delight the young (and not so young) when the groups Phönix played new hits, and Republic some of their old ones.

Delegates of the Prohászka High School took an afternoon trip to Nagykároly (Carei) to the Károlyi Castle. Érdmintszent is where the Hungarian poet Endre Ady was born. To acknowledge his achievement in literature, the place now is called Ady Endre. Less than 100 people live in the village, but 200-300 visitors come to see the Ady Museum each day.

# Ady's birthplace

Just a few days in Szatmárnémeti and these young Hungarians learnt so much about Hungarian culture and history. For the duration of the Youth Meeting, those 16,000 steps – the distance to Hungary – became much shorter. At times the border almost disappeared.

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