Budapest International Eucharistic Congress to feature Mass setting in Romani language

A view of St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest, Hungary A view of St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest, Hungary. | Alexey Elfimov via Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0).

The International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest will feature a Mass setting in Lovari, a language spoken by the Romani people in Hungary.

The new Mass setting, known as “Le Devleske,” will be heard at a Mass celebrated on Sept. 9 at the Hungexpo Budapest Congress and Exhibition Center, the main congress venue.

The Mass setting, created by young composer Patrik Gergő Oláh, will receive its world premiere days earlier at St. Stephen’s Basilica, the co-cathedral of the Catholic archdiocese of Esztergom-Budapest.

The events will mark a significant moment for the traditionally nomadic Romani people, who are Hungary’s largest minority group.

The 52nd International Eucharistic Congress will open on Sept. 5 with a 1,000-strong choir and a “vast” number of First Communions.

The congress was originally scheduled to take place in 2020 but was postponed to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The event’s program lists cardinals from five continents as leaders of the congress’ morning prayers, catechesis, testimonies, and workshops.

Listed speakers include Burmese Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, retired Vatican Cardinal Robert Sarah, Iraqi Cardinal Louis Raphaël Sako, Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Nigerian Cardinal John Onaiyekan, and Canadian Cardinal Gérald Lacroix.

The event will culminate on Sept. 12 with a closing Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in Budapest’s Heroes’ Square.

Estimates of the number of Romani people in Hungary, a country with a population of almost 10 million, vary widely. A 2011 census recorded more than 315,000 members of the community, but Romani organizations believe the true figure is higher.

The Romani, also known as the Roma, have roots in northern India. They are believed to have arrived in Hungary around the 14th century. At times, they thrived, but in the 20th century, they suffered persecution, including during the Second World War when Nazis murdered an estimated 28,000 Hungarian Romani people.

Lovari, also known as Lovara Romani, is the main form of the Romani language spoken in Hungary. It is also spoken in other countries including Austria, Germany, Poland, and Croatia.

The Bible was only fully translated into Lovari a few years ago.

A Mass setting in Lovari was first proposed by Cardinal Péter Erdő, the archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest and Primate of Hungary.

According to the official website of the International Eucharistic Congress, Erdő raised the idea with the violinist György Lakatos.

Lakatos recalled: “Cardinal, Primate Péter Erdő, whom I’m in contact with since his inauguration, and who has already invited me for many, many ecclesiastical and secular events to perform, said to me: ‘Some parts of the Bible have already been translated into Lovari language. In preparation for the International Eucharistic Congress, I would like to have these texts set into music as well.’”

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Erdő emphasized that the music should contain traditional elements of Romani music -- often called Gypsy music -- as well as Hungarian music.

Lakatos asked 23-year-old Patrik Gergő Oláh, a student at Budapest’s Liszt Music Academy, to compose the Lovari-language Mass setting.

The world premiere, at 7:30 p.m. local time on Sept. 1 at St. Stephen’s Basilica, will be conducted by Ertüngealp Alpaslan. It will feature the Grazioso Chamber Orchestra of the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra and the Downtown Franciscan Cantorate, as well as the soloists Nikoletta Szőke and Nikolasz Takács.

The same musicians will play at the Mass during the International Eucharistic Congress on Sept. 9, which will be celebrated by Archbishop Alfredo José Espinoza Mateus, the archbishop of Quito, Ecuador.

In addition to Lovari, the Mass will also feature English, French, Latin, Hungarian, German, Italian, and Spanish.

A description of the Mass on the official congress website says: “The main parts of the Holy Mass, which are also sung by the people, can now be heard in authentic musical form in a special composition written for the occasion, for the first time ever in a live liturgical setting.”

“Music is a true bridge between an individual and another individual, regardless of origin, proclaiming mankind’s historical, spiritual and inner identity.”

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“This music belongs not only to the Roma minority, but to all people who know how much the European minorities have gone through in the course of history, together with their fellow human beings, with whom they now forge a strong community.”

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