Hungarian Civil Legion of Honour, 2016

The Ars Humanica Hungarica Circle, made up of academics, religious leaders, artists and patrons of the arts, awarded the Hungarian Civil Legion of Honour for the fifth time on 7 February 2016, to those deemed worthy of it, in a ceremonial setting in the grand hall of the Petőfi Museum of Literature in the centre of Budapest.

This was a meeting of Hungarian civil society: a civil society that is aware that the framework of Hungarian civil life and social coexistence is starting to creak at the seams or to fall apart altogether. But this same Hungarian civil society has also recognized that it is not only its material underpinnings that are falling apart, but rather, more importantly, its human content. This is why Hungarian civil society recognizes the pressing need to publicize and celebrate those angels of today, who, by standing up to this decline, to this destruction – by overcoming their fears – have given humanity a voice.

In his introduction, poet Gábor Görgey expressed his hope that, amidst the dirt all around us, a revival of the value of proper morality will be the foundation for the Hungary we all believe can be built.

In his speech, poet Zoltán Sumonyi remembered Lajos Batthyány, the martyred prime minister of the first independent Hungarian government, drawing an interesting parallel between Batthyány and the recently deceased Árpád Göncz, former president of Hungary: they were both born on 10 February and both died on 6 October.

The audience of about a hundred was treated to a very interesting talk from literary historian Béla Pomogáts on the dichotomous features of the civic state determined by philosophical norms: on the ostensibly invented and yet quite real contradictions presented by forms of behaviour, like liberty and responsibility, erudition and original thought, personal independence and obligation. Rather than cancel each other out, these should reinforce one another, as these are values which complement each other, and should coexist in human thought, just as espoused by the great figures in Hungarian history.

One of the awards was given to Father Imre Morvay (Pio), abbot of the Brothers Hospitallers of Saint John of God in Pécs, for his activities to improve society by alleviating the poverty that afflicts an increasing number of people in Hungary. Bishop Miklós Beer, bishop of the diocese of Vác, gave the laudation, emphasizing that we are at the crossroads between two thematic holy years: we have left the Year of Consecrated Life and have entered the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. At this crossroads we bow our heads before the acts of our fellow father Pio, who has applied a simple solution to putting mercy into practice: help should be given to those born in the wrong place and at the wrong time.

In his response, Father Pio quoted Mother Teresa: “If you can’t help everyone, help those who are near you.”

The other award was accepted by Mária Sándor, the ‘nun in black’, to acknowledge her persistent and successful struggle to defend the interests of those working in and those being treated by the Hungarian health system. Her laudation was given by Péter Jákó, chief doctor at the Hungarian National Sports Medical Institute, who emphasized the importance of the work of nurses, and applauded the civil courage which overcomes fear for one’s existence and livelihood.

In her response, Mária Sándor paid tribute to the vital work of the community of colleagues who have supported her, many of whom were present at the ceremony.

The two recipients of the Legion of Honour were each given a painting by the young artist couple, Nóra Soós and Márton Győri.

The ceremonial occasion concluded with a colourful programme of music performed by Ildikó Iván, singer at the Hungarian National Opera (flute, vocals) and her student Borbála Szuromi (violin, vocals), accompanied by Zsolt Tassonyi on the piano.