“What we do clearly goes against today’s liberal PC agenda” – Tristan Azbej, head of the State Secretariat for the Aid of Persecuted Christians told S4C. We chatted with him about the first ever chapel to be built in a government building in Hungary, about the importance of prayer in his work and other issues concerning his mission to help persecuted Christians around the world.

“What we do clearly goes against today’s liberal PC agenda” –  Tristan Azbej, head of the State Secretariat for the Aid of Persecuted Christians told S4C. We chatted with him about the first ever chapel to be built in a government building in Hungary, about the importance of prayer in his work and other issues concerning his mission to help persecuted Christians around the world.

In the in-depth interview Mr Azbej, a family man, father of two children with a third on the way, talked about how he thought that somehow he was destined to this mission given his personal history. His family has Armenian roots, although they have been in Hungary for more than four hundred years.

“Armenia was the first nation in the world to become Christians in the 4th century, and since then they have been continuously persecuted for their faith” – he said.

At the beginning of his political career, he worked in the Middle-East. He served at the Hungarian embassy to Israel for four years, where he had a chance to experience how religious minorities live in this region. “I could get to know the Christian minorities in Israel; in Palestine, I was able to gain first-hand experience of their lives and their difficulties in the Middle-East.”

Since Mr Azbej was appointed to be head of the State Secretariat, he learned  that the hand of  God shines through our weaknesses and our very limited capacities. There are more than 200 million Christians persecuted all around the world; powerful regimes and violent terrorist organisations oppress countless Christians.

The work the Secretariat does look difficult, or at times almost impossible, nevertheless, Mr Azbej emphasises that his work is never hopeless.

“My colleagues and I, many times say that we have to provoke miracles. How? Well, we need to use all the talents we received from God, and we need to employ them to the full. Our experience is that these communities which we work for can be saved with the help of God if we do our duty and  if we dedicate ourselves to the mission a hundred per cent.

“And – though I know I will cause some eyebrows to be raised by my Western colleagues with this upcoming remark, for not being secular enough –

I believe in the power of prayer because I experienced it first hand.”

By saying that the State Secretary made it clear that the rumours about a chapel soon to be opened under the roof of the Secretariat are not too far fetched.

“Yes, there is going to be a chapel here.”

Daily prayer for everyone?

“No, of course not”, said Mr Azbej laughingly. “This is going to be a real place of cult, an ecumenical chapel with at least one daily Mass or service. Many Catholic priests and Christian ministers signed up all ready to come and celebrate here, offering the holiest sacrifice for the liberation of our suffering brothers and sisters. We also would like to give a chance to all our colleagues who are believers to get in and say a prayer during their – many times truly devastating – work.

Also, a good number of Church leaders come to see us from persecuted communities, so it will be just great to turn to our Lord together with them in our Chapel.”

So prayer and hard work go hand in hand in the life of the State Secretariat and its programme agency- Hungary Helps. The latter has loudly acclaimed successes, and thanks to its work thousands of Christians returned home after ISIS burnt down their houses, churches and schools. Hungary Helps rebuilt hundreds of houses; the most well-known action was done in Tel-Askuf, Iraq, where a whole city was rebuilt by Hungary Helps. But they also work in Syria, Lebanon and in some African countries as well. Many millions of dollars have been spent, mostly provided by the State Secretariat.

Lately, there are more and more people who want to help; some give donations while others offer voluntary work for the agency.

“It really happened that people knocked at our doors bringing in ten or twenty dollar donations to help the persecuted Christians. Like the widow’s mite in the Gospel, it really occurred and happened  often.

Also, many people told us they wanted to come and help in the rebuilding of those destroyed Middle-East towns. So we are to establish a bank account through which people can assign their donations to different projects. Also, we will soon start organising volunteer work.  In the first phase, we would like to join our forces with church organisations that are already there, and have the necessary human infrastructure and organisation to be able to receive young volunteers in a safe and nurturing environment.”

He said they needed help because time was not on the helpers’ side:

“Our support is the last resort for many communities. They are hungry for help and our responsibility is huge. We need to be fast because in some regions if help does not come on time the communities give up and move on; they go elsewhere and never go back home. It is a compelling situation for us.”

Responding to a question about next year’s priorities he repeated that it is of utmost importance to “give fast help to the communities that previously were driven out of their homes, especially the ones in Northern Iraq.”

“There is a general priority too, which is to move away from multilateral aid agreements to bilateral aid actions. We are tired of paying in a large sum of yearly fees to international organisations that decide themselves where and how to allocate these donations; furthermore, they have very poor transparency if any. We decided to take this matter into our own hands, so we now give to those in need directly, and this works pretty well.”

As a third priority Mr Azbej mentioned the importance of strict follow up on previously accomplished projects, topping them up with more aid whenever it is needed, “otherwise the changes will not be sustainable,” he said.

“And last but not least – Africa. We did a lot there already, in different regions. This year we will focus on sub-Saharan Africa. We also realised that we made very few contacts with the Evangelical Christian communities in Africa, so this year our objective is to build a stronger relationship with them, trying to help their operations more than in previous years.”

The Hungary Helps programme has become a sort of hallmark initiative, as more and more countries try to follow suit; the first two were Poland and the United States.

We made an agreement with USAID, which is not just a beautiful sheet of paper with nice signatures written at the bottom of some pious text. We have concrete projects in mind already and this is the year for joint action.”

The State Secretariat for the aid of Persecuted Christians as such is probably one of the most successful political innovations of Hungary. Although it is highly acclaimed in countries like the United States and Poland, and also by aid organisations of global importance like Aid to the Church in Need, European politicians show it much less respect.

According to Mr Azbej, this has a political reason.

“What we do goes against the liberal, PC agenda. For most Europeans, it is a scandal when we state something that is more than obvious: that we have Christian roots, that our culture is Christian. When I meet Christian Democratic politicians in other European countries, I can see they have their hands tied. They will not stand up for Hungary in discussions about identity policy or other sensitive topics because they are afraid of the media, the hysterical reactions of the elite opinion makers.  In this country, the ruling party has a two-thirds majority for the third consecutive time, so we are backed by huge credibility. They aren’t. For that reason, they are very cautious. And, although many times they agree with us, they keep silent, or even publicly  go against us, in a voting process for instance.”

“This is why many Christian Democratic politicians voted against Hungary on the occasion of the Sargentini report. After the session and behind closed doors they congratulated us and expressed their envy that we dare to do what they cannot even dream about.

We can stand up for Christian values; meanwhile, they cannot because they fear the media and the PC agenda, along with the  anti-Christian forces that are often so strong in Western Europe.”

Gergely Vágvölgyi, Balázs Puskás

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