In December, two heinous terror attacks took place within a few days of each other. A jihadist drove a truck into the Christmas market in Berlin and a Coptic Christian church was blown up in Cairo, Egypt, during service. The perpetrators, in both cases, sought to harm the “infidel” Christians and attack Christian celebrations and symbols.
The attacks were acts of radical Islamic terror, ISIS claiming responsibility in both cases. Authorities reported that several other attempts were foiled in other European countries.
While we struggle to deal with this horrific violence here in Europe, the fear of this kind of terror has become part of daily life for many Christians in the Middle East and Northern Africa. Christians living in unstable Muslim countries are today’s martyrs, the largest community persecuted for religious reasons, and the most European decision-makers are turning a blind eye to them. Last year, the European Parliament reached a very important political consensus by condemning the atrocities of radical Islamists against Christians in the world, defining it as an ongoing genocide in the Middle East. The European People’s Party Group was a driving force behind this joint resolution. We do not hear however the outcry and appropriate condemnation of many European governments and leaders when confronted with the plight of these two thousand year-old communities.
The Hungarian government, on the other hand, is taking action. Following Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s meeting with Pope Francis and Christian patriarchs from the Middle East and Egypt, the government has established a new department with a mandate to help today’s most persecuted minority, the Christians of the Middle East and Northern Africa. Through this agency, the government provides aid and assistance to the effected communities, like the project it supported to establish a Christian school in Erbil, in northern Iraq. This department is also responsible for raising awareness of the issue in international bodies and making sure the voice of persecuted Christians is heard. Last week, we were happy to host in Budapest the very first joint workshop of international think tanks and humanitarian organizations on strengthened efforts for the aid of Middle East Christians, as a result of cooperation between the government and my EP office.
The level of Christian persecution in the world today is greater than in the times of Roman Emperor Nero. Four out of every five religiously persecuted people are Christian, Bence Rétvári, Hungarian secretary of state, said at our recent conference. State Secretary Rétvári praised the all-party joint declaration of the Hungarian Parliament, which condemns the persecution of Christians and the activities of the Islamic State and calls on the International Criminal Court to initiate proceedings pertaining to the crime of genocide.
At the event, I reminded our international partners and friends that total destruction is a realistic scenario for ancient Christian communities. But with constant coordination with the affected local communities, Europe is able to assist them in retaining their existence in their homes. In this way, we will have the capacity to contribute to a new Christian perspective in the Middle East.
Today, however, the group that still faces the most show trials, death sentences or financial punishment based solely on their religion, as I wrote in a recent blog post, are the Christians of the Middle East and North Africa. Their suffering and pain must be heard throughout the European Union. Not only because these Christians are our brothers and sisters, but also because even non-Christian Europeans should believe and fight for freedom of religion around the world.
However, Europe is not unified when it comes to combatting the persecution of Christian, and this is why the Orbán Government decided to establish a separate deputy state secretariat for prevention of the persecution of Christians.
Someone has to begin this process. If we do not, these Christian communities might become extinct in their ancestral land. For instance, if hundreds of thousands of Christians do not return to Iraq within the upcoming year, it may mean the end of Christianity in the country.
Christians in the Middle East and Northern Africa are in their 11th hour. The Hungarian government has begun to take action but Europe must do more. We must help our brothers and sisters not just because they are Christians but because they are a persecuted community on the verge of being wiped from the map.