Acknowledging Mary as the “mother of all nations, but especially of us,” Cardinal Péter Erdö of Esztergom-Budapest joined Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl in blessing and dedicating the new Chapel of Our Lady of Hungary at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Aug. 29.
In his homily at the Mass that preceded the chapel’s dedication, Cardinal Erdö prayed that Our Lady as the patroness of Hungary, joined by the Hungarian saints, would intercede on behalf of Hungarians living in America and all over the world, and also intercede on behalf of the United States and its people.
“Our languages, traditions and community lives may be very different, but our Catholic faith is the same all over the world. The Church wants to speak to everyone so as to find the best way to one’s heart,” the Hungarian cardinal said in his homily, encouraging people to find hope and meaning in their lives by meeting Jesus and forming a personal relationship with him. The cardinal concluded his homily by saying, “May God give us that this chapel strengthened the community of faith and love between us.”
The 1,000 pilgrims attending the Mass and dedication included a delegation from Hungary, and Hungarians from across the United States and Canada. Cardinal Wuerl, who as archbishop of Washington serves as the chairman of the National Shrine’s Board of Trustees, was the principal celebrant of the Mass. The concelebrants included Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganó, the apostolic nuncio to the United States and personal representative of Pope Francis; Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde; and Bishop Kurt R. Burnette of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic, New Jersey.
After Communion, Msgr. Walter Rossi, the basilica’s rector, expressed gratitude for the assistance provided by the Hungarian government to ensure that the chapel was built. “This is the 81st chapel to be added to the shrine, and only the second to be financially supported by a country,” he said. (The government of Austria provided funding for the shrine’s Chapel of Our Lady of Mariazell, which was dedicated in 1992.)
In addition to the support from the government of Hungary and donations from Hungarians of American descent, the new Our Lady of Hungary Chapel was built with the support of the Hungarian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, which is led by Cardinal Erdö.
In 2006 – the 50th anniversary the Hungarian revolution – the prelate petitioned that a chapel be established in the National Shrine to honor Our Lady of Hungary and St. Stephen, the first Christian king of Hungary. The chapel was completed this spring.
The dedication of the Chapel of Our Lady of Hungary, which is located in the basilica’s Crypt level, began with a procession starting in the Great Upper Church, where the Mass was held. A first-class relic of St. Stephen – a gift of Cardinal Erdö and the Archdiocese of Esztergom-Budapest – was brought to the chapel and placed in a reliquary there.
The chapel features a large mosaic of Our Lady of Hungary, surrounded by Hungarian saints Emeric, Gerard, Ladislaus, Elizabeth, Gizela and Margaret. The altar, made of Hungarian Tardos marble, is modeled on the design of the altar at the Basilica of St. Stephen in Hungary. Marble reliefs depict the baptism of St. Stephen and his coronation as king of Hungary on Christmas Day, 1000, and St. Stephen giving his crown to the Blessed Virgin Mary on the day of his death in 1038. St. Stephen unified Hungary into a single kingdom and established Christianity as its religion.
Hungarian marble and stone were used to construct the walls, floor and altar of the chapel, which were fabricated in Hungary.
Hungarian Scouts, including boys and girls and young adults, handed out programs and helped serve as ushers for the Mass and ceremony. The Mass, with readings in English and Hungarian, opened with a prelude that included the Ave Maria by the famous Hungarian composer Franz Liszt, and music from other noted Hungarian composers, including Zoltán Kodály, was sung throughout the liturgy.
After Communion, Dr. Réka Szemerkényi – the ambassador of Hungary to the United States – noted how Hungarian refugees fleeing Communist oppression in their country found hope in the United States, and relied on their faith as they built new lives in this country. “Generations of Hungarians arrived in the United States with suitcases in their hands, and felt it was their first priority to build churches,” she said.
The new chapel, she said, is a source of great joy for Hungarians. “A chapel is not about the past. It is about our present values, and hope for the future,” the ambassador said.
Dr. László Kövér, the speaker of the Hungarian National Assembly, also spoke after Communion, noting, “We believe faith and morality will always remain the foundation of the future of mankind… This chapel will without doubt be a spiritual home for Hungarians and Hungarian Americans.”
Cardinal Wuerl in his closing remarks at the Mass said, “The chapel will be a visible, physical reminder to all of us of the bonds we share that unite us in faith and history.”
After the chapel was dedicated, the pilgrims lining up to see it included Maria Kauremszky, who lives in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and is a member of Our Lady of Hungary Church in Welland, Ontario. Following the 1956 revolution in Hungary, she and her parents and four siblings escaped to Canada, when she was 12, with “what we had on our backs. It was difficult,” she said, adding, “We always had our faith. That’s the foundation of our lives.”
Robert Popper, who fled from Hungary as a young man in 1950 and is now retired and living in Washington, said with his Catholic faith, “I never felt alone.”
The gift bearers at the Mass included five young adults of Hungarian descent wearing native costumes. Sylvia Földes-Berman, 19, wore a deep green vest and skirt with ornate, hand-sewn embroidery, and her sister Andrea Berman,17, wore a matching red outfit. Both are members of St. Stephen Hungarian Roman Catholic Church in Passaic, New Jersey. When asked about Hungarians’ devotion to Our Lady, the older sister said, “She’s our mother, socially and religiously.”