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The Hungarian government devotes a specific part of its aid budget to helping Christians

Melanie McDonagh - The Tablet - Mon, Dec 9th 2019

The Hungarian government devotes a specific part of its aid budget to helping ChristiansWe all know that Christians are the single most persecuted religious group, no? If we don’t, we should. But it’s not a circumstance that seems to register with most Western countries when it comes to overseas aid. In the Syrian conflict, for instance, aid was channelled into the refugee camps, where Christians found themselves intimidated by the Islamists who controlled them; they preferred to take refuge with local Christian communities, and so received next to no help from international donors.

But for the last two years, the Hungarian government – yep, under the controversial Viktor Orbán – has sought to remedy matters by devoting a specific part of its overseas aid budget – known as Hungary Helps – to help Christians. Tristan Azbej, the state secretary with responsibility for the programme, was in London last week to meet British ministers and I spoke to him at the Hungarian embassy. “If we were only to give help to Christians to the exclusion of other groups, we would actually be un-Christian,” he said. “Besides, if aid were given to Christians and not to their neighbours, they would find themselves stigmatised. So we give aid to Christians in such a way as to help their neighbours of other religions.”

If there is funding for a Christian hospital, for instance, it must provide care for patients of all background. The initiative has already borne fruit: Azbej said that Hungary Helps has given £1.6 million to help reconstruct Tel Askuf, a town in the Nineveh Plain destroyed by IS; and has enabled 1,000 Chaldean Christian families to return home. It has also helped with the rebuilding of infrastructure in Sindjar, the Yazidi region where the genocide of Yazidis took place in 2014.

This approach is focused on keeping communities in their homes and helping them to return there, not on encouraging migration. When it provides scholarships from Syria or Iraq to Hungarian universities, it is on condition that the beneficiaries return home with their qualifications; compare and contrast with the British approach. O si sic omnes.

At the end of November, the Hungarian government is to host a big conference in Budapest on the persecution of Christians, which promises to be really interesting. Among the Eastern clerics and leading politicians, the speakers will include Steve Bannon, former Trump strategist and a Marmite figure if ever there was one, though, by all accounts, a good speaker. It’ll be fascinating to see how it turns out.

the ONE thing that the pundits picked up from the Amazon synod was the proposal that the Church ordain married men from indigenous communities. But before advocates of married clergy here get too excited, perhaps we should consider what’s involved. The proposal is to ordain married men, not to allow the already ordained to marry, just as was the case in the early Church.

It’s a distinction that Western Catholics tend to glide over, but which is scrupulously observed in, for instance, Eastern Churches, such as the Maronite. (A Maronite friend from Lebanon recalls seeing young seminarians rushing about in the year before being ordained to the diaconate to try to find a wife.)

I honestly don’t think it would be possible for the Church here to maintain the principle of ordaining the already married but preserving the celibacy of the already ordained. We’d be too quick to see the end result – married clergy – and wouldn’t care much about how we got there. It’s just one reason why I think the Amazonian concession (if it happens) should be kept for the Amazon.

In the past I have complained about the dearth of really good cards of a religious character; for Communion and Confirmation the choice is especially dire. But a Tablet reader recommended that I try the ones made by St Michael’s Abbey Press from the Benedictine Community in Farnborough and recently I received a Mass card that they produced from a friend. It was lovely. On their website – – I found lots of good things and was only deterred from spending a fortune on Christmas cards by the prohibitive postage costs and the payment method. But there are ways round this: a parish, for instance, could buy in bulk and offer the cards for sale; so could outlets selling religious books. It’s time to break the connection between devotional cards and tat.

Melanie McDonagh is senior writer at the London Evening Standard.

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