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The Historic Visit by Her Excellency President Katalin Novák of Hungary
Benedictine College made history on Sept. 26, welcoming the first ever visiting head of state to its campus in Atchison, Kan. Her Excellency President Katalin Novák of Hungary held an audience with a group of students and discussed her positions on protecting life, supporting the family, and freedom. During her visit, she also heard the Raven Regiment Marching Band perform the national anthems of Hungary and the United States, took a brief campus tour, and received a commemorative football jersey from representatives of the Raven football team.
“This is truly a momentous and historic occasion,” said Benedictine College President Stephen D. Minnis. “Never before in our history have we had the head of state of a sovereign nation visit our campus. And we are so glad that we have President Novák of Hungary as the first.”
President Novák is the first female president and the youngest president in Hungarian history. She was elected through a parliamentary ballot and took office in May 2022. She is an economist by profession but has served in the government for much of her career, including as Secretary of State for Family and Youth Affairs and then as Minister for Families. She brought an impassioned plea for the protection of families and of democracy to the Benedictine campus. She first addressed the protection of life and families.
“I am a wife, married for 20 years just this year to the same person, and I am a mother, a mother of three children, so that means I had the privilege of giving birth three times which I would never give up for anything,” she said. “I also had the chance to stay at home with the children, which I would never ever give up for anything, either.”
She used herself as an example of the decisions, difficulties and sacrifices that need to be made through life. Decisions about getting married and having children or postponing these things to pursue a career or do other things. She described the case of waiting to have children because you have a good job, then you get a promotion and hold off more, then something else happens and you wait again.
“It’s little by little that you postpone this decision (to have children) and then you realize that it’s gone,” she said. “And you can’t go back and make those decisions again. I would like to believe my example helps people not give up on having a family and children.”
To help people who choose to get married and have children earlier in life, the nation of Hungary makes a lot of family support available. According to President Novák, 6.2% of the Hungarian GDP is dedicated to family support, compared to 2% in most countries. Some advantages offered to families include:
In addition, the rights of the fetus are constitutionally protected from the moment of conception and women considering abortions are encouraged to think about adoption, for which there is ample state support. The Hungarian constitution also recognizes marriage as the union of one man and one woman established by voluntary decision and protects the family as the basis of the survival of the nation.
Referring to the culture that is growing from these steps, President Novák said the results are obvious:
“That’s really completely the opposite of what is happening in the rest of the world, I’d say, so we are going against the mainstream in many things,” she said. “But these are positive outcomes, and we might not be there yet, but we are on a good path.”
She went on to talk about freedom and the power of prayer.
“Real freedom, to me, is that you know you are not the creator, you are part of the creation,” she said. “You are just a creature yourself and that makes you free. You know that you have limits. You love your limits, you respect your limits, and you accept your limits.”
She also said we should take comfort knowing that we are not alone. She said God is with us, and other people are with us. She emphasized that each person is an individual but has more than an individual purpose. Each person is responsible to God and to the community and must respect God and the other members of the community.
President Novák said she is a firm believer in God and prayer and regularly prays about her job as president and about decisions she must make. She said she knows God is with her in the office and takes confidence in knowing she is not alone.
“I’m convinced that if our diplomatic calls and our meetings started with a prayer, then we wouldn’t be in such a difficult situation,” she said. “Maybe that would be a solution for many, many issues.”
“I would like to tell you that you are so lucky, because you have very strong roots,” she said. “You really have a chance to think freely, to live freely, and to speak freely.”
President Minnis presented President Novák with the St. John Paul II Distinguished Speaker Award.
“Inspired by the life and leadership of St. John Paul II, this award recognizes speakers who share his Christ-centered vision for human life,” said President Minnis. “It is my honor to present this award to Her Excellency President Katalin Novák of Hungary.”
The award touched the Hungarian president since she was very familiar with the late pope from his origins in Poland and that country’s struggles under Soviet control. She quoted him in her farewell.
“St. John Paul II said do not be afraid, so that will be my message to you as well. Don’t ever be afraid.”