The Hungarian government has established a new office on the persecution of Christians to address both persecutions of Christians in the Middle East and the subtle forms of discrimination some Christians face in Europe.
Zoltan Balog, the Hungarian Minister for Human Capacities, explained the new office. His ministry oversees the newly established sub-secretariat on the persecution of Christians.
“Today, Christianity has become the most persecuted religion, where out of five people killed out of religious reasons, four of them are Christians,” Balog told CNA. “In 81 countries around the world Christians are persecuted and 200 million Christians live in areas where they are discriminated against. Millions of Christian lives are threatened by followers of radical religious ideologies.”
This is the reason why the Hungarian government considers the establishment of the specialized government office to be of the “utmost importance” to help persecuted Christians, to raise international awareness of their “untenable situation”, and to coordinate humanitarian actions.
The new office’s exact mission has not yet been established. It has primarily a humanitarian focus, but it will also examine the state of Christianity in Europe.
“Our interest not only lies in the Middle East but in forms of discrimination and persecution of Christians all over the world,” Balog said. “It is therefore to be expected that we will keep a vigilant eye on the more subtle forms of persecutions within European borders.”
A November 2014 report by the international pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need found “worrying” and “worsening” religious freedom conditions in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and the Netherlands. These threats mainly come from radical feminists and LGBT activists that aim to compel Christian participation in abortion or to silence Christians on matters of sexual morality. Some policies have affected Christians’ ability to raise their children in the faith, while there have also been rising attacks on Christian places of worship in some European countries.
The Hungarian government is the first country to establish a special government department on persecution of Christians. The new department has a 3 million euro budget. Overseeing the department is Tamás Török, who until recently was Hungary’s deputy ambassador to Italy.
The decision came after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban along with Balog took part in the annual meeting for Catholic legislators in Frascati, Italy. The group was founded by Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna in 2015.
Orban and Balog, who are respectively a Protestant layman and a Calvinist pastor, were the only non-Catholic members of the group, whom Pope Francis received in a private audience.
Balog said that he and Orban met with Christian leaders from the Middle East in Rome at the end of August.
Among the participants of the meeting were Syriac Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan of Antioch, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Rai of Antioch, Melkite Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart of Aleppo, Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of the Syriac Orthodox Church, and Bishop Anba Gabriel of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
“The primary topic of the meeting was the persecution of Christians, since Christians living the Middle Eastern region are the most vulnerable in the world,” Balog said. “Viktor Orbán declared at the meeting that Hungary will take action against the persecution of Christians and stands ready to support these communities whose very existence is threatened.”
Balog said Hungary “hasn’t been idle” in speaking in international forums against contemporary persecutions of Christians. The country “to the best of its abilities” has helped Middle Eastern Christian communities morally and financially “so that they may persevere in their homelands.”
Balog listed some Hungarian government initiatives for persecuted Christians. There is the allocation of over 300,000 euros through the Hungarian Catholic Bishops’ Conference to support students in the Middle East and to construct schools in Erbil. The funding provided by the government helps fund the annual education of approximately 400 refugee children in the Middle East. The coverage, together with the Catholic Church, of the annual education costs for the children of almost 740 families belonging to Christian or other persecuted religious or ethnic minority living in the refugee camps in Jordan, northern Iraq, and Lebanon.
He added that the government “will do everything in our power to improve the circumstances of Christians living in the Middle Eastern region.”
“The establishment of this new government office, whose very nature is to deal with this matter, is another manifestation of our dedication to this issue.”
Balog also said that this new focus will help control the major immigration flows out of the Middle East into Europe.
“We feel that improving the situation in the troubled countries might make it possible for persecuted minorities to stay at home or close to home.”