ROME — Pope Francis urged the international community to assist Christians forced out of the Middle East in their efforts to return to their homelands.
In a video message Thursday to the participants in an online meeting about the Syrian and Iraqi humanitarian crisis, the pope said that the “beloved populations of Syria, Iraq, and neighboring countries” are still afflicted by “very serious problems.”
“My thoughts go especially to the people who had to leave their homes to escape the horrors of war, in search of better living conditions for themselves and their loved ones,” the pontiff stated. “In particular, I remember the Christians forced to abandon the places where they were born and grew up, where their faith developed and was enriched.”
“We must ensure that the Christian presence in these lands continues to be what it has always been: a sign of peace, progress, development and reconciliation between individuals and peoples,” he added.
Regarding the refugees who wish to return to their country, “I appeal to the international community to make every effort to encourage this return, guaranteeing the conditions of security and economic conditions necessary for this to happen,” he said. “Every gesture, every effort in this direction is precious.”
In recent years, the Hungarian government has stood out for its efforts to provide assistance so that persecuted Middle Eastern Christians may remain in their homes rather than be forced to emigrate.
In 2016, the Hungarian government established a Deputy State Secretariat for the Aid of Persecuted Christians, making it the only nation in the world with a department of this nature.
The secretariat has sent millions of euros in assistance to rebuild homes, churches, and schools so that Christians can stay in their homes in the Middle East, as well as giving dozens of scholarships to Christian students in Africa and the Middle East who suffered persecution from militant Islamic terror groups.
According to Hungary’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Péter Szijjártó, Hungary is proud to focus its attention on persecuted Christians.
“We are a Christian country,” Szijjártó said, “and that’s why we have a special responsibility to protect our Christian brothers and sisters all around the world.”
“If we don’t protect them, who will protect them? If you don’t speak in favour of them, who will speak in favour of them?” he said.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has said that in assisting persecuted Christians, Hungary has taken the opposite approach of the European Union.
“They want to bring people here. We are helping them to stay where they are,” Mr Orbán said at a conference in Budapest in October 2017.
Hungary has been channeling funds directly to Christian leaders and organizations on the ground in the Middle East, who best know how to make the finances reach their people.
The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which supports persecuted Christians globally, revealed in 2019 that as much as 99 percent of the Christian population of Mosul has disappeared in less than two decades, and Iraq has lost more than 90 percent of its overall Christian population.
Prior to 2003, Christians in Iraq had numbered 1.5 million, and yet by summer 2019, the Christian population was “well below” 150,000 and perhaps even “below 120,000” ACN said. This means that, within a generation, Iraq’s Christian population has shrunk by more than 90 percent.
This month, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis will travel to Iraq next March in a show of support for the nation’s beleaguered Christian community.