Last Sunday, Pope Francis visited Budapest, the capital of Hungary for the International Eucharistic Congress. There he met Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Pope Francis urged Hungary to open its borders to “migrants” from Islamic countries. In the closing mass, Pope urged the Hungarian people to be “grounded and open, rooted and considerate” in welcoming those of other faiths.
Hungary’s Prime Minister Orban responded by giving the Pope what CNN News called “a loaded gift”. It was a copy of a letter that King Béla IV wrote for Pope Innocent IV in 1250. In that letter, the Hungarian King warned of the looming threat of the Tatar invasion and urged the Pope to lead a united Christian Europe to stop them. The Tatars were a group of powerful Turkish tribes in what is now known as Ukraine, who had embraced Islam and were allies of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. The Hungarian King was ignored. Thirty five years later, Hungary fought alone and stopped the invasion with great bloodshed.
Years later, the Catholic Church did respond. In 1453 the Islamic Ottoman Turks conquered the Eastern Roman Empire capital of Constantinople. In 1570, they invaded the Mediterranean Island of Cyprus. The Turkish invasion fleet also threatened every Christian town and ship in or near the Mediterranean Sea. In 1571, Pope Pius V organized the first Holy League (Liga Santa) to defend Cyprus. It included Spain and most of Italy. The Christian forces did not assemble in time to save Cyprus. Most of its Christian defenders were killed. However, on October 7, 1571, the Holy League fleet of some 300 ships, and 50,000 infantry destroyed the Ottoman Turkish fleet near the Greek port of Lepanto. That was the first time Christians had won a major victory against the Ottoman Turks. The Hungarian government is participating in an international conference this week to remind us of the importance of that battle 450 years ago.
Years later, in 1683, Pope Innocent XI played an important part of organizing and paying for a second Holy League to defend Poland, Austria and much of Central Europe against a land invasion by the Mohammadan Ottoman Turks. That force defeated and destroyed a massive Turkish invasion forced outside Vienna Austria on September 12, 1683.
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