There was a very poignant moment in Glencomeragh House, Co Waterford, when Ms Katalin Novak, the Hungarian Minister for Family, presented the Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, Most Reverend Alphonsus Cullinan, with a book about Our Lady of Gyor (also known as Our Lady of Consolations) at Glencomeragh House, Co Waterford.
The book reveals a deep-rooted connection between Hungary and Ireland that goes back through the centuries. During the 17th Century, when Cromwell and his army invaded Ireland, Bishop Walter Lynch of Clonfert was imprisoned on an island. He was able to take with him an image of the Blessed Mother that had hung in the Cathedral of Clonfert for many years.
He later escaped and travelled first to Portugal and then to Gyor, Hungary. The local Bishop made him his auxiliary, and upon his death, Bishop Lynch bequeathed the image to the Cathedral in Gyor.
On Saint Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1697, as thousands of people packed the Cathedral at Gyor, the image began to weep tears of blood. Several priests tried to wipe away the tears but they continued for about three hours. Later they took the image off the wall to examine it but could find no natural explanation.
Certainly, Ireland and Hungary have suffered persecution over the years, and the image of the Blessed Mother with the child Jesus lying on a pillow is a bond between the two countries.
Ms Novak was invited to Ireland to talk about her country’s Pro-Family policies, which has been turning the tide against the culture of death over the past ten years. The ruling Fidesz party which boasts a two-thirds majority, has introduced several financial incentives encouraging young people to have large families.
The Hungarian Minister explained the background to their party’s progress: “In 2010, we inherited a country that was on the brink of collapse politically, economically and morally. Eight years of liberal, socialist governance (2002-2010) destroyed Hungarians’ belief in the future. This period of Hungarian history was characterised by increasing taxes, austerity packages and dismantling the family support system. The fertility rate, number of marriages were at their lowest in our nation’s history. Meanwhile: Hungary’s population had been decreasing since 1981”
She then went on to explain how her government have been working to restore their nation’s future:
“We announced a family-friendly turnaround with the aim of fixing Hungarians’ trust in the future by putting families at the core again. We have been building a family-friendly country that meets the long-term needs of families. The very aim is to reverse the negative demographic tendencies by enabling Hungarians to have children. “
The Minister outlined the main principles:
- Linking family benefits to work and encouraging responsible childbearing;
- Reviewing every bill from the perspective of families;
- National consultations asking Hungarian citizens about how they imagine their future and propose laws according to it.
- Building trust in the family benefit system: never repeal family policy measures, but introducing new ones or extending existing ones.”
One of the key measures employed by the Hungarians was the Baby Expecting Subsidy: every married couple where the wife is aged 18-40 will be eligible for an interest-free, general purpose loan of €30,736, which can buy you a family home in Hungary. If at least one child is born during the first five years, it remains interest-free and repayment suspended for three years. After the second child, the repayment will be suspended for another three years, and 30% of the loan will be written off. Following the third child, the remaining debt will be cancelled.
Other measures include a progressive tax system where the more children you have the less personal income tax you pay (average income families with three children do not pay any personal income taxes). Women with four children are exempt from paying income tax altogether.
Then, Ms Novak went on to outline the results they have already seen from their pioneering approach: “Without the pro-family policies, 88,000 fewer children would have been born, the number of divorces are down by 29%; fertility rates are up by more than 20%, number of abortions dropped by more than a third.”
Ms Novak told the audience at Glencomeragh that 79% of the Hungarians share the view that they should preserve their Christian heritage, which means that a large majority supports policies that are rooted in Christian culture. The seven-point Family Protection Action Plan and the Hungarian Family Act are based on our Christian worldview and the traditional definition of the family.”
Bishop Cullinan in thanking the minister stated that he was “intrigued” when he heard her describing herself as a pro-family politician.
“What a breath of fresh air. Surely, every politician should be pro-family. Sadly, many are focused on the individual. This is the way of modern thinking and so much of modern economics it seems to me. We see the promotion of the rights of the individual over family. In Hungary, in contrast, you are promoting the priority and importance of families. Not family as against individual but knowing that the individual flourishes only within a family.”
Bishop Cullinan presented Ms Novak with a Celtic Cross made by Waterford Crystal before drawing the well-attended meeting to a close.