Something’s Stirring on Anti-Christian Persecution

(Image courtesy of #StandTogether)
(Image courtesy of #StandTogether)

“Christians [in the Middle East] are hit by war, and because they are Christians,” said Bence Rétvári, Hungary’s Vice Minister for Human Capacities. “We’re like a brother who sees that his sister’s house is on fire, and we need to go put out the fire and then help rebuild the house.”

Once in a while, perhaps, transformative social movements are born fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus. More often, however, they come together bit by bit, without any central planning, as one small piece intersects with another until critical mass is achieved.

Rome during the past week saw a couple such pieces emerge in the budding push to do something about anti-Christian persecution around the world.

For one thing, a delegation of Hungarian diplomats and politicians was in town for meetings with Vatican officials, including their Deputy State Secretary for Assisting Persecuted Christians – making Hungary to date the only country in the world to have a position in their foreign ministry specifically devoted to anti-Christian persecution. The new effort was announced in September, and the Hungarians wanted to drum up Vatican support.

The group was led by Bence Rétvári, Hungary’s Vice Minister for Human Capacities, and had meetings with Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States; Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches; and Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, former Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva.

Crux spoke to Rétvári on Wednesday, and I asked him to explain why Hungary is doing something no other state in the world is doing.

“We can put that question the other way around,” he said. “Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world, so why are there no other governments that want to help them?”

“Christians [in the Middle East] are discriminated against doubly, first because they are hit by the war, and second because they are Christians,” Rétvári said.

“Religious freedom as guaranteed in international treaties is not always respected, and in some cases people face death for refusing to abandon their religion. There are communities that have existed for more than 2,000 years that are facing extinction.

“We’re like a brother who sees that his sister’s house is on fire,” he said, “and we need to go put out the fire and then help rebuild the house.”

Rétvári said the initiative has three immediate priorities:

  • To use Hungary’s status as a member state of international bodies such as the United Nations, the European Union and the International Criminal Court to pursue criminal indictments of perpetrators of anti-Christian violence and acts of genocide.
  • To raise awareness about the global dimensions of anti-Christian persecution.
  • To build projects such as hospitals and schools in the regions affected by the violence.

Hungary also plans to host an annual international conference, he said, and to issue annual reports on anti-Christian hostility.

Rétvári acknowledged that he feels a personal stake in the issue.

“As a Christian, I think everyone is touched by seeing other Christians in trouble,” he said. “In the Western world, we Christians have become too comfortable. We often can’t even find the time to go to Mass on Sunday, but there are others who risk their lives for their religion.”

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John Allen Jr.

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