Holding on in Hungary

In a village in rural Hungary, Greek Catholics hold on to their traditions even as the world changes around them

by Jacqueline Ruyak
photographs by Balazs Gardi

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Wherever he goes in the Hungarian village of Nyírascád, Father György Mező is greeted with the traditional “Dícsőség Jézus Krísztusnak,” or “Glory to Jesus Christ.” Most of the residents are Greek Catholics, and Father Mező has headed the village’s Greek Catholic parish, Protection of the Virgin Mary, for 15 years. Life is not easy in this village in northeastern Hungary, near the Romanian border. The birthrate is down. Couples used to have five or more children, but providing for a family that size has not been possible for the last 50 years or so. Even now, in this post-Communist era of the European Union, forestry, the main occupation of most villagers, is not the industry it once was. Most couples have one child these days. And jobs are scarce too. Many villagers work in nearby cities or, if they are well educated, they go to Budapest.

But as the world changes around them, the villagers of Nyírascád hold on to their traditions, which is why Father Mező is held in such high regard.

“People have preserved the traditional rites, both liturgical and legal,” said Gyula Katona, Nyírascád’s mayor since 1973. He said the village was an exception to most of Hungary, where Communist rule and the enticements of the modern, secular world had combined to dilute the faith. Even under Communist rule, “catechism remained in the schools because the villagers wanted it there.”

“Processions were held each year, at Easter and on the feastday of the church,” he continued. “In other villages they held processions juston the church grounds, but here they paraded through the streets. From GoodFriday to Easter morning, the holy tomb is always guarded by young men, as istraditional. We could do all this because tradition is very strong here.”

Father Mező was my guide on my recent visit to Nyírascád. A convivial man in his 60’s, he, like most Greek Catholic priests, is married. At the rectory, his wife, Erzsébet, had prepared a lunch of vegetable soup, fried fish, potatoes and parsley, cabbage salad, biscuits, rolls, fruit and homemade apple juice. Mrs. Mező runs the rectory when Father Mező is out on his parish visits. A former teacher, she also leads the singing during the daily liturgy.

Among other things, we talked of their upcoming trip to the United States, to visit their daughter in Los Angeles. Father Mező was born in Máriapócs, a town famous for its icon of Mary, but his mother was born in the United States. His paternal grandfather was among the first Greek Catholics in Cleveland, and Father Mező also had an uncle, a Basilian monk, who often went to the United States for retreats. The couple was looking forward to the trip, but still had not received the necessary visas. “Two of my grandfathers helped build America,” Father Mező said with a twinkle. “But I’m still having a hard time getting a visa.”

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Tags: Communism/Communist Hungary Central Europe Hungarian Greek Catholic