Letter from Hungary

By Shirley Farlinger

Don't go to Hungary for the sunshine-- not in winter, anyway. The acid rain dribbles out of gray skies and coats the black asphalt sidewalks with ice. Like the opening scene of an anti-Communist film.

Do go to Hungary to see how one small country, not much larger than New Brunswick, manages to stay in bed with the Russian bear without being completely crushed.

I went to Hungary for a theology seminar. That 140 Christians from forty countries could discuss everything from apartheid to prostitution to the misuse of the Bible for five days and grow in friendship says something about the reconciling spirit of Christ.

The joint convenors, Bishop Dr. Karoly Toth of the Hungarian Reformed Church and Mr. Stephen Tunnicliffe of the British Council of Churches, welcomed us. Twelve other Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox churches supported the event.

"Words, words, words," declared Barbara Eggleston, in exasperation, about the opening worship and speeches. So, in direct British fashion, she recruited a group of us to design the daily worship in such a way that the five-language simultaneous translation would be unnecessary, prayer would be spontaneous in all languages, or silent, and the music would be singable.

I asked her, a Roman Catholic, how this -- especially the serving of Holy Communion-- was possible. It won't really be Holy Communion-- just sharing of the bread, she said; we do this all the time in the peace movement. The worship included slides of guerrilla warfare; large chunks of bread for First World, and tiny pieces for Third World communicants; and paper footprints to write down your own next step for peace. Then we met in groups to discuss "the enemy."

In my group were Rev. John Lamola of South Africa and Sister Mary Soledad Perpionan, of the Philippines. For John, the enemy is the white Afrikaaner who may jail him when he returns to Johannesburg, just for being at this conference. "To tell me to sing and be friends with my enemy is not helpful," says John. "There is no peace in my heart. In both our white and black schools, children are taught that blacks cannot think. Therefore, when ANC leaders speak, they must have gotten their ideas from Communists. But there is hope," he said. "Both whites and blacks have formed an anti-conscription movement because the army is an instrument of racism."

"Militarism is the enemy for us," says Sister Sol of CAMP (Campaign Against Military Prostitution). "We are told that if we are not in favor of the U.S., then the USSR will come in. We need to be sovereign and get rid of the bases. The idea is that U.S. servicemen must be serviced sexually to 'keep the men sane.' The results are thousands of 'children of dust,' rejected by both parents, and the highest morbidity rate for sexually transmitted diseases," she said. To Sol, then, the enemy is the Penthouse sexploitation of women which also fuels sex tourism in Asia.

hat to do? We must confront evil and take risks. Liquidate propaganda through personal contacts and literature. Fasting lessens our greed. Pray: It's a political act. Sol suggested obeying Deuteronomy 15:1-11 and having a Jubilee Year every forty-nine years, to lift debts from the poor.

Some evenings we seek out Hungarian restaurants where gypsy violins play the sad songs of a country conquered by Germans, Turks, Austrians, Germans again, and now Russians. Hungarians must serve in the Warsaw Pact armies and must take Russian in school from the age of nine throughout university. "They teach it, but we don't learn it," says one young Hungarian.

Checking out two of my own concerns, I can find no violence on TV and very few war toys in the stores. However, some violent American films are showing.

One decadent evening we enjoy wine and caviar at a Puccini opera. The 1884 building glows with gold leaf designs, and we sweep down the marble staircases like rich Hapsburgs. Few of the patrons are dressed to match the opulent setting, but opera tickets are cheap and the house is full. Socialism isn't all bad.

A tough question came at the end of the conference: Why does the Russian Orthodox Church always agree with its government? Archbishop Kyrill, (who when his black flowing beard turns white will make the best St. Nicholas-- except the Laplanders irradiated by Chernobyl will not lend him their reindeer) replied. The new spirit of glasnost, he claimed, has roots in the attempts of the Christian churches to influence the government. Only eight percent of the Russian people are party members. (Gorbachev's mother, a devout member of his church, insisted that her son Mikhail be baptized.) The church, he said, receives government support for celebrating this year, the 1000th anniversary of Christianity in Russia. Slava Bogn (Glory to God).

However, I have to mention 65-year-old Bulanyi, the peace activist deprived of his passport and hiding in Budapest, where some of our group visited him; Dr. Mubarek Awad, unable to come because of house arrest in Jerusalem; and Rev. Elias Chacour, who did come from Galilee, pleading for the Palestinians who were at that moment being shot in his homelessland.

We wrote a letter to Reagan and Gorbachev, "We affirm the step you have taken in signing the INF Treaty if it leads to many other steps toward eliminating all nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction." Such a small step.

Peace Magazine Feb-Mar 1988

Peace Magazine Feb-Mar 1988, page 7. Some rights reserved.

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