Hungary helping embattled Christian communities in Mid-East, Africa

Special to

By John J. Metzler

The Christmas Season is upon us. Seasonal cheer is everywhere. Christmas trees, wreaths and pine bunting abound. Lights and displays on stores and homes glisten reflecting the Advent joy as our weary world celebrates its second Covid Christmas.

While there’s certainly cause for celebration and family gatherings, let’s pause and take a somber look at the birthplace of Christianity; the Middle East where ancient but embattled Christian minorities are facing decline amid the backdrop of terrorism, socio-economic stagnation, and in some cases enduring civil conflict.

Since 2010, Syria’s Christian population ‘drastically decreased from 4 million to about 700,000.’

One small star glistens in the turbulent Middle East. A small Central European country, Hungary has chosen a special mission to help embattled Christians in places such as Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.

The Hungarian Mission to the UN sponsored a high-level seminar, “Supporting Religious minorities and Persecuted Christians” citing, “The recent and growing number of attacks against religious minorities by violent extremists and terrorist groups is an alarming trend around the world.” A briefing note adds, “Hungary has therefore stepped in to fill the gap and defined it among its key national and foreign policy priorities to take action against the spread of intolerance and persecution based on religion or belief.”

Dr. Ferenc Dancs, Deputy State Secretary for Migration Challenges, stated “Hungary is deeply committed to upholding freedom of conscience and religion and is an active advocate for persecuted Christians.”  He added, “The Hungarian humanitarian policy organization Hungary  Helps, pays special attention to Christian and other minorities persecuted on the basis of their religion.”

Given that Christians are particularly targeted for persecution and discriminated against globally, the Hungary Helps program has so far spent $50 million in humanitarian aid to assist them, mostly in the Middle East and Africa. The group focuses on rebuilding churches, schools, and hospitals.

Dr. Dancs told me, “Hungary Helps offers aid directly to Bishops as they know the best for their communities and where to spend the funds.  The money does not go into trust funds.”

“We choose to support Christians due to our own history and our Christian culture reflected on Hungarian history of 1,100 years. These civilizations are the most ancient and we provide our assistance to the Middle East.” Even during the hard pressed Covid period, the Budapest government gave $480 million in aid in 2020; a considerable increase from $140 million in 2010.  Assistance is slated for forty-seven countries.

Dr. Dancs stresses, “Instead of encouraging Christians to leave their home countries we believe that such assistance makes it possible for them to stay.”  Such sentiments were rooted in the massive 2015 migration crisis where more than a million Syrian and Iraqi migrants transited through tiny Hungary en route to Germany and Sweden.

“We face a very serious massive illegal migration in the modern age unfortunately in Europe which grows anti-Semitism,” he added.

Rev. Roger Landry of the Holy See UN Mission outlined the wider issues of Christian persecution in the Middle East. He underscored the extraordinary trip of Pope Francis to Iraq in March in which the Pontiff visited destroyed but rejuvenating Christian communities in the embattled country. The Pope visited ancient churches in Mosel which were destroyed during occupation of the ISIS so-called caliphate and affirmed that “fraternity is more durable than fratricide.”

According to the advocacy group Aid to the Church in need, Christian persecution is rapidly rising globally; 75% of all religiously motivated violence and oppression is suffered by Christians.  The group adds, “Radical extremist Islam is responsible for the persecution of Christians in twenty-two of the worst offending countries.”

“The size of the Christian Community in northern Iraq could drop to just 23,000 by 2024; just 20 percent of the population on the Nineveh Plains before the Islamic State group attacked in 2014,” according to a report from Aid to the Church in Need. The report adds, “This would move the Christian community from the category of ‘vulnerable’ to the critical category of ‘endangered with extinction.’ ”

Edward Clancy Director of Outreach for Aid to the Church in Need, spoke of Christians facing persecution in Iraq, Syria and Nigeria. Currently in conflict ridden Syria the group has set up the Hope center in Damascus and Homs to try to build new lives shattered in the wake of war.

Since 2010, Syria’s Christian population “drastically decreased from 4 million to about 700,000.”  Christian families are still leaving. He spoke of “Raising the voice of the disadvantaged.”  Do we hear them during this Christmas Season?

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]