“Saint Thomas of Canterbury serves as a role model for us in more ways than one. For us, he is not just a saint, but a courageous man who stood up for the truth and Christianity at the cost of his own exemplary life and continues to connect two nations with illustrious histories.”
Let me start by thanking you for the invitation, for I feel that events like this are disappearing fast from our lives; they are now too few and far between. Also on the brink of disappearance is the remembrance of great figures of the past, along with the need to learn from the example they set by the way they lived. I wish, therefore, for all of us to hold this gathering in very high regard.
Saint Thomas of Canterbury serves as a role model for us in more ways than one. For us, he is not just a saint, but a courageous man who stood up for the truth and Christianity at the cost of his own exemplary life and continues to connect two nations with illustrious histories.
I believe that, in the tumultuous times we live in, when Christianity and the very idea of nationhood are under fierce assault, we desperately need great examples like his. I also affirm that the material well-being of a country is paramount, but if we accept a spiritual vacuum and forfeit our Christianity, we will certainly consign the nation, the country, to oblivion sooner or later. I think that we Europeans live in a culture furnished according to the teachings of Christ, in a community of nations bound together by Christian values that have stood the test of times. It is nevertheless necessary that we Christians continue to engage in discussion and debate concerning the future of Christianity and Christian communities around the world.
For us Hungarians, Christianity means more than the sum of dogma and theology. It implies a social ethos that has, for more than one thousand years, defined the notions of human dignity, family, nation, and the respective positions of the state and the churches.
In the political sense, our government is a popular government that rests and governs on the core values of Christian democracy, on behalf of all Hungarian citizens regardless of actual religion or denomination. We have built a Christian democracy fit for the 21st century, which guarantees human dignity, liberty and security while safeguarding the equality of men and women, protecting the traditional family model, keeping anti-Semitism at bay, defending our Christian culture, and allowing our nation to survive and grow.
Hungary, at the heart of Europe, has been sustained for more than a millennium by this very Christian identity. Over a thousand years ago, our first king, Stephen, proffered the country to the Virgin Mary, and was conferred sainthood for the virtues he demonstrated throughout his life as a devout Christian. For centuries, we fought along our southern borders protecting a Christian Europe. Then, in the 20th century, we had to withstand the persecution of Christians under the Communist dictatorship.
The numbers alone speak eloquently. Hungary has given the Catholic Church twenty-four saints, along with twenty-five beatified Hungarians, all pointing the way to the righteous path. Recent examples of the ten Hungarians beatified since 1997 include Blessed Sára Salkaházi, Blessed László Batthyány-Strattmann and, most recently, Blessed János Brenner (1 May 2018).
We are proud of our Christian heritage, our history, our traditions, and we are committed to handing all of this down to the next generation. We continue to harbour a vision of a Hungary and a Europe that recognise the essential, fundamental nature of Christianity and the family. We see Europe as a community of nations that shirk exclusion while sticking to its core values. We believe that – knowingly or unwittingly, unconfessedly or avowedly, we Europeans inhabit a culture furnished according to the teaching of Christ. The countries of Europe are bound together by historic Christian values, and this applies equally to our fellow men and women of other beliefs or of no religious conviction at all.
Yet we are witnessing a fierce ideological debate in Europe today, triggered by the fact that many of the Continent’s leaders have forgotten about the cohesive force, the sheer vital need of Christianity, and its original function as a vehicle of values. This neglect is perhaps most eloquently demonstrated by the Lisbon Treaty, the document widely regarded as the Constitution of the European Union, which fails to even mention the words God, Christian or Christianity. The oversight is no coincidence, of course. I will go further and remind you that, in 2011, when Hungary’s National Assembly adopted the country’s new Fundamental Law, placing an emphasis on Christianity, the most frenzied attacks came from our partners in the European project. In my experience, many today affirm that the time has come to lead Europe over to a new era that is post-Christian and post-national. In short, Europe has begun to relinquish its own original identity, interests and values, thereby forfeiting the future of European citizens.
We tend to think differently about the Christian foundations of Europe, the role of nations and national cultures, the essence and calling of the family, and we hold diametrically opposed views about mass migration. This is why we feel over and over again that time is out of joint, that our daily petty selfishness and helplessness prevents us from stemming processes that wreak havoc on our environment and will ultimately endanger our very lives. If we truly desire unity in diversity, then we cannot recognise our differences as justifying the stigmatisation and exclusion of any country from participating in mutual decision-making.
I am confident that everyone with common sense and eyes open to the world should realise that Christianity has become the most threatened religion in our day and age. Attending various international forums we still find that, whenever it comes to persecution, we are likely to focus on the need to promote freedom of religion. True enough, persecution rooted in differences of faith remains a regrettably prevalent problem throughout the world. Yet I am convinced that, as Christian citizens of Europe, we must pay special attention to the persecution of Christians and speak out on their behalf. These days, a broad-based discourse about this often seems a formidable task amidst the constraints of political correctness. But facts are facts, and we must say them out loud! It is indeed sad to note that Christians form the most threatened of all religious communities in the world today. It is only with the utmost trepidation that we acknowledge the fact that 80 per cent of all people persecuted and murdered on account of their faith are Christians. The latest research findings, by Open Doors, a foundation serving persecuted Christians worldwide, prove that Christians remain the single largest religious group suffering persecution in at least 50 countries around the globe, totalling some 215 million individuals. This means that one out of 12 Christians are exposed to daily abuse, sexual violence and direct threat to life. Each month on average, 66 Christian churches are subject to assaults, 104 Christian believers kidnapped, and 255 Christians killed. Obviously, these numbers indicate an immense problem. In the 21st century it is unacceptable for anyone to have to endure persecution on account of religious differences. We must do everything in our power to put an end to this.
I believe we have all the reason in the world to regard innocent Christians murdered today as martyrs in their own right, the martyr saints of the modern era. We can no longer afford to pass over this outrage in silence. We Christians have our work cut out for us. If we fail to articulate our problems and devote sufficient attention to dealing with them, who can we trust to do it for us? We must declare outright that as Christian citizens of Europe we owe responsibility to all Christians in the world, that we regard it as our duty to promote their well-being.
We must once and for all disable all extremist organisations that seek to enforce their own radical ideologies by persecuting people due to their ethnic or religious identity. The extremist plan is blatantly obvious: it is to expel all Christians from the Middle East, as if they never existed. This makes it all the more urgent to keep this vital issue on the agenda, and to make it a point to eschew double standards in winning recognition of persecution when it targets Christian communities. Indeed, sometimes one gets the feeling that the torch-bearers and champions of tolerance and minority rights consider the hatred of Christians to be the last acceptable form of discrimination. It is this entirely unacceptable hypocrisy that we must speak out against. Hungary seeks to use all possible forums to stress the responsibility of the international community to ensure that, once peace is secured in the Middle East, all Christians can return to their place of residence and continue to live there without having to worry about their safety and security. As a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, we actively urge holding accountable all perpetrators who violate international law. We must send the firmest possible message that no crime against humanity will go unpunished, regardless of any political, religious or ethnic motivation.
While many governments have to this day confined their efforts at easing the suffering of victims in the Middle East to words, the government of Hungary has followed a different path, by trying to help directly in the countries affected. It decided to set a proactive example by creating an administrative agency expressly dedicated to providing persecuted communities with the type of help they themselves deem most useful. It launched the Hungary Helps programme to assist the return of normalcy in the daily lives of minorities and communities in their homeland. Between 2016 and 2018 we spent 6.7 billion forints in aid for persecuted Christians. We consider this a real step toward a real-world solution – unlike the blind support of migration. Although the Hungary Helps programme is clearly intended for Christians in the first place, it does offer solutions for needy communities in the developing world and the crisis zones, irrespective of religion and ethnicity.
In Hungary, we have set up a scholarship programme for Christian youths suffering discrimination and persecution, who in their home country often find themselves barred from higher education. Obtaining a professional degree in Hungary, they will return home to serve as pillars of their communities. In the 2017–2018 academic years, we spent more than one million dollars (300 million forints) on hosting students from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Israel, Palestine and Nigeria. In 2018, the second year of the programme, we had no fewer than 2,500 applicants, of whom we extended financial support to around 200 youths.
Needless to say, we are aware of the fact that a small country the size of Hungary does not have the slightest chance of solving the crisis on the whole, but we do the best we can to help those in need while providing other countries and international organisations with a model and method to follow. We are of the conviction that Christianity is not a thing of the past (as many these days would have it) but a vital, possibly the single most important source of support and nourishment we can fall back on as we follow our path into the future. This is precisely why I find it essential to say out loud that Christianity and nationhood are alive and well, and that we intend to keep them that way.
We often come across attempts to relegate the views of the church on public affairs to places of worship and other institutions run by the church. I think this is the wrong way of looking at the question. It is true that the number one task of the church is to tend to the soul by demonstrating the path to salvation, but it can play an equally important role in building the community and thus the nation. The nightmare of a United States of Europe without nations can only be tackled if we have strong nations to fall back on. In closing, let us remember in gratitude Saint Thomas of Canterbury, the martyr who lived and died by these very same principles, setting for us an example we should all aspire to emulate.
Translation by Péter Balikó Lengyel