[Readers, I didn’t want to end this day on a bilious note (see previous entry), so I’ve gone into my subscription-only Substack newsletter archive for a post from earlier this week reporting good news about great work being done to make the world a better place. If you want to subscribe to my newsletter, in which I focus on good news, or at least news that makes life worthwhile, click here. No gloom, no doom over there. Shocking, ain’t it? — RD]
On Tuesday in Budapest, I paid a visit to Tristan Azbej, Hungary’s State Secretary for the Aid of Persecuted Christians and for the Hungary Helps Program at the Prime Minister’s Office. Can you believe that Hungary has an entire ministry dedicated to helping persecuted Christians? It’s the only one like it in the world. This is an initiative of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is a Calvinist. Azbej is a Catholic, and so is his friend Bertalan Kiss, who met me at the gate of the ministry. Kiss is the government’s Senior Political Advisor on Church Relations.
The first thing the men did was take me to the basement of the secretariat, to see the austere chapel, built in what had been a storage room. Here it is:
The plainness of the chapel belies its complex design. Azbej and Kiss showed me how it was designed to accommodate the liturgical needs of any visiting cleric (they often get them from the Middle East, which has various Catholic rites), including Orthodox and Protestant ones. To the left of the altar is a shelf with various liturgical books in different languages. In the cabinet below are vestments from several different rites. There are relics of different saints there, including St. Charbel, the Maronite Catholic, and a Hungarian who was murdered by the Communists.
Azbej told me they have regular mass in the chapel for those in the secretariat who want to come. He and Kiss begin each day’s work singing lauds there. He said that the work his staff does with victims of genocide causes some to have to descend to the basement chapel to pray for strength.
What a remarkable space — and in a government building, too. But they are definitely doing the Lord’s work there. Azbej took me into his office upstairs. He has mementoes all over from the places he’s been taking aid from Hungary to hurting Christians and others — for example, Yazidis persecuted by ISIS, Rohingya Muslims persecuted by Myanman, and Sephardic Jews suffering in Yemen. Said Azbej, “Helping only Christians wouldn’t be very Christian.”
I asked Azbej which was his most valuable memento. He pointed to this photo from a Catholic church in Iraq, on the Nineveh Plain. ISIS destroyed the church when they invaded, and desecrated Christian graves. After ISIS was driven out, Hungary rebuilt the church, and poured aid into the village to get it back on its feet. The grateful people of the town renamed their village to include “Hungary” in its name (I can’t remember precisely, but I think Azbej told us that the people added the phrase “daughter of Hungary” to the name of their town).
This picture was of the first baptisms that took place in the town, in their rebuilt church. Thirteen souls became Christians that day, thanks in part to the generosity of the people of Hungary:
As we talked in his office, Azbej told me that the persecution of Christians worldwide is the worst human rights crisis of our time, “and the most concealed.”
More than a third of a billion people around the world — Christians — are persecuted, Azbej said, but their plight is barely mentioned in United Nations, European Union, and human rights NGO circles.
“The reason for that is mostly political. First of all, the Muslim majority countries, they don’t necessarily persecute Christians, but they are interested in hiding the fact that Christians are persecuted,” Azbej said. “Second, the Western liberal governments and politicians want to conceal this fact, simply because it doesn’t fit their narrative. In their narrative, Christianity is the oppressor, is the persecuting ideology that they say— falsely, I think — is persecuting sexual minorities. They are only interested in that.”
Azbej said he and his staff have to deal with this denial every day in the diplomatic world. This is why his Hungary Helps program not only has to deliver aid to persecuted Christians, but has to advocate for them too.
“I’ll give you an example,” he said. “Nigeria currently is where the most severe Christian persecution takes place. Last year there were close to 3,000 reported cases of jihadists murdering Christians for their beliefs. Whenever I talk with Western diplomats and politicians about this, they try to convince me that it has nothing to do with persecution.”
Azbej recalled a conversation with a high-ranking Western diplomat.
“When I explained about the genocide committed by Boko Haram against Nigerian Christians, he told me it wasn’t religious persecution. This was near the beginning of my appointment, so I was really shocked. Do you know what he told me the cause was? Climate change. He said it was farmer-herder conflict caused by climate change.
“I explained the reports and the testimonies we received on the ground,” Azbej continued. “It is true that herders are attacking farmers, but the herders are all jihadists who get weapons and funding from al Qaeda. We had numerous testimonies of them overrunning villages and burning Christians inside their churches. We had a report where they burned alive 150 Christian martyrs inside their church, then they razed the church to the ground and built a mosque instead. But the Western diplomat kept insisting it was climate change.”
Azbej said his secretariat logically belongs in the foreign ministry, but instead he reports personally to PM Orban, because the issue of persecuted Christians is a priority for him. Whenever the secretariat receives representatives from persecuted Christian churches, Azbej takes them over to meet Orban. (A couple of years ago I was present in a meeting with Orban at the Buda Castle in which a bishop from a Middle Eastern church thanked Orban with great emotion for all that Hungary had done for his people).
“We don’t look at this work as a government policy,” Azbej said. “We look at this as something from above.”