Vatican City, Oct 28, 2023 / 06:59 am (CNA).
A Byzantine Catholic monk who serves as the bishop of the Hungarian Greek Catholic Church has, perhaps improbably, emerged as one of the most colorful figures participating in the Vatican’s monthlong Synod on Synodality.
The world outside the Synod got a glimpse of Metropolitan Fülöp Kocsis, leader of the Hungarian Greek Catholic Church, thanks to a video posted on X earlier this month that quickly went viral.
Dressed in a traditional long dark cassock and wearing a monk’s hat called a “kamilavka,” the bearded Kocsis, age 60, is seen speeding past tourists across the cobblestoned piazza to come to a stop before a Swiss Guardsman standing watch at the Synod Hall.
— Christopher White (@cwwhiteNCR) October 11, 2023
It’s clear from the video that this was not Kocsis’ first time on a scooter, nor is it his first Vatican synod.
He’s attended three synods since 2015, when Pope Francis elevated the Eparchy of Hajdúdorog to a metropolitan see, and Kocsis was named its first metropolitan bishop. The Hungarian Greek Catholic Church is an Eastern Catholic church in full communion with the Holy See.
At the 2015 Synod on the Family, his first, he cut a similarly striking figure, when he traveled to the synod each day by bicycle, dressed in the style of a traditional Byzantine monk. Having founded a monastery before being plucked for a leadership role in his Church, Kocsis remains a monk, and — according to his communications director — he gives away all of his possessions and lives in a room that is practically bare.
In an interview with CNA in Rome this week, Kocsis explained that in Hungary, he often travels by e-scooter, usually when he visits the capital city of Budapest. In the smaller town in Eastern Hungary where he serves as bishop, he said, he’s more likely to be seen on his motorcycle, a gift from the priests in his Church.
Metropolitan Fülöp Kocsis, who leads the Hungarian Greek Catholic Church, uses his motorcycle as a tool for evangelization. Credit: Hajdúdorogi Főegyházmegye
“Perhaps it’s because I’m getting older. I used to take the bicycle, but now I’m riding the scooter, which is lazier, but I like it,” he said, explaining that he was running late on his way to the synod and was thrilled to find one on the street.
The very next day, Kocsis was “trending” again — this time, in a photo of the Hungarian prelate posing with Pope Francis, who was wearing a trucker hat, holding a t-shirt bearing the words “Jesus makes be brave and strong,” and smiling somewhat sheepishly.
Kocsis has met Pope Francis on several occasions, most recently during the apostolic journey to Hungary in April. He told CNA he arranged the photo opportunity at the Synod to help out some young Hungarian Greek Catholics: The hat and t-shirt are part of a Christian fashion line called SWOTA (Streetwear of the Apostles).
The cap Kocsis gave the pope is emblazoned with the letters “ICXC NIKA,” which means “Jesus Christ Conquers” in Greek, and is a “trademark” of the Eastern Churches, his communications office said.
And according to Kocsis, the pope got a kick out of it.
“He’s very open, and he loved it. I asked him if I could put the cap on him, and he said ‘Oh, yes, of course,’” he said, adding that the pope “likes his jokes.”
“Some people were very, very angry at me because they thought it wasn’t appropriate to give a cap to the Holy Father,” Kocsis said.
“I did it because I am trying to reach people who are far from the Church, but might enjoy seeing the pope and how he loves to joke,” he said.
The Hungarian bishop said he is always looking for ways to evangelize. Hungary, Kocsis told CNA, has not escaped the secularization that has swept across the West, and he says he is making “every effort” to ensure that what has happened to other churches does not happen to the Hungarian Greek Catholic Church.
Despite being a priest and a monk, Kocsis is savvy when it comes to social media.
“That’s where the young people are, and that’s where we have to be,” he told CNA.
Hungarian Greek Catholics, who follow the Byzantine liturgical rite, today number about 300,000 in a country with a population of 9.7 million. According to Kocsis, while they aren’t flocking to his Church in great numbers, many young people find his Church’s adherence to tradition attractive because they see that it is “authentic.”
Metropolitan Fülöp Kocsis founded a monastery before being plucked to lead Hungarian Greek Catholic Church. Credit: Magyar Kurír
“Our church is a traditional church. We have the traditional vestments, traditional celebrations. It’s very strict, it’s long, and there’s singing. And you might think that would not be something young people would like. But we’re seeing that they are interested in this, in spite of all of the difficulties.”
“There’s a debate inside our Church: ‘What is the best way to reach young people? To get rid of our strict traditions or to keep them and present them to them in a modern way?“ he told CNA.
The viral videos and photos, he explained, are a tool to do just that.
“I believe that being strict, and adhering to tradition can reach the people of today, but we have to find the right method. So, I ride a motorcycle and scooter and we try to have a presence in the digital world,” he said.
“It’s very important that the Church has to be demanding. And that has been a question in the Synod as well. The pope has said we have to be open, to enlarge the tent, so no one feels outside of the Church. But on the other hand, Christ demands a lot of us. That’s the topic of the Synod: ‘How can harmonize this?’”
As the Synod draws to a close, Kocsis said he is looking forward to getting back to Hungary — and to practicing the synodal method, which he describes as “at attitude of listening” to others.
“If we could spread this attitude in the church it could really help believers become more open to others and to God,” he said.