ROME – Hungary’s State Secretary for the Aid of Persecuted Christians and a leading member of the country’s Christian Democratic People’s Party has lauded Pope Francis’s condemnation of so-called “ideological colonization,” and his call for Europe to return to its founding values.

Speaking to Crux April 8 as part of a whirlwind trip to Rome, Secretary Tristan Azbej referred to the common practice of Western governments including condoms in aid packages for developing nations or making humanitarian support for needy countries contingent on making legal provisions for abortion and gay rights.

“Some of these liberal or woke ideology governments, instead of going there to these communities, asking what is the real need, they try to follow their own agenda,” Azbej said, adding, “This, I would say, is moral insanity.”

“This is the liberal, political, ideological colonization that we see. It is utterly disrespectful, and the Holy Father said it very rightly, this is a colonization of those countries…that is not only threatening, but utterly immoral, inhumane.”

Azbej also referred to Pope Francis’s call for Europe to return to its Christian roots and the call of European bishops for political leaders to embrace anew the continent’s founding Christian values ahead of EU parliamentary elections in June.

As elections approach, “We see a very strong push from the agenda-lobby, in Brussels, in European politics, in Western politics, but we are combatting that because we want to adhere to our core values,” Azbej said.

“We’ll see if the traditional political forces that uphold the traditional building stones and values of European civilization will get stronger, or to the contrary, the woke movement will gain more ground,” he said.

Azbej, whose office falls within the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, also serves as head of the Hungary Helps humanitarian agency, which provides on-the-ground support for persecuted Christian communities and communities impacted by various humanitarian crises, and he is Vice President of Hungary’s Christian Democratic People’s Party.

He was traveling to Rome to meet with officials inside of the Italian government, as well as representatives of the Holy See and the Sovereign Order of Malta.

In his conversation with Crux, Azbej discussed the scale of global anti-Christian persecution and what he said was a lack of international political will to the fight against it, as well as the importance of forging church-state networks, the upcoming EU elections, and current projects assisting at-risk communities.

Please read below for excerpts of Crux’s conversation with Hungarian State Secretary for the Aid of Persecuted Christians Tristan Azbej:

Crux: Can you explain what you’re doing in Rome and what your objectives are with the various meetings you are holding?

Azbej: One part of my mission this time, in my visit to Rome, is to meet and consult with high-ranking officials of the Holy See, and today I have also met with the Grand Chancellor of the Sovereign Order of Malta. For years now we have been working together with the Sovereign Order of Malta out of many countries, for example Lebanon, where we support social care and education institutions of the Order that are Catholic by spirit, but serve all people of Lebanon regardless of their faith. So, part of this visit is that we have consulted with the Order of Malta regarding what can the Vatican do in the Middle East, in Africa, and in the crisis zones of the world, for example, in Ukraine or in Gaza.

Similarly, we have built partnerships with the Catholic Church, with dioceses, and Catholic charities all around the world. We have discussed our experience, because for us as a government it is unusual to work so closely, directly engaged with churches and faith communities, and also, we have discussed what is the best possible answer we can give to ongoing conflicts and crises in the world.

For a long time, we have been one of the very few governments, because Christianity is the most persecuted religious group in the world, and also because we are a Christian Democratic Government of a Christian nation, to have such a dedicated program. Eventually over time we have found a very few like-minded governments who had sensitivity to religious freedom issues, and one possible such partner is the Italian government.

The Italian government made a very big and important step that we can only commend, when last year they created the Office of Special Envoy for Religious Freedom. We are initiating talks with the Foreign Ministry and the Italian Agency for International Development (AICS), to compare methodologies and seek common projects and common areas of interest where we can work together to benefit the developing world, to provide aid to suffering people, with faith-based involvement.

What is the importance for you in engaging with state but also faith leaders in this conversation? How important is this network?

There are more than 300 million people in the world who are discriminated (against) or targeted, or even persecuted by oppressive organizations because they are Christian. More than 300 million, by far this is the largest group of people in the world that is persecuted because of their identity. We are talking about one of the biggest human rights crises of our time. It shouldn’t be left to charities, the international community, including governments, including big donors, including international organizations, including the European Union and the United Nations, should step up for that.

We work together with charities and the Holy See because we are learning from them and we are building the closest, most direct possible connection to these communities we work for, but we also want to influence political actors and governments to follow this example and recognize the magnitude of this humanitarian and this global human rights crisis.

Then a separate issue is to help and support those suffering people, communities in crisis, who are in a crisis that doesn’t involve faith-based persecution, who are involved in man-made disaster areas, or natural disaster areas, or the people in the poorest countries in the world, or in war zones. In that case, our experience after more than six years of the aid program Hungary Helps, is that even for non-Christian people in crisis, Christian charity organizations prove to be the most efficient, most direct and most trustworthy humanitarian partners.

This is difficult diplomatic work, most Western governments, mostly governed by liberal parties, refuse to work together with the Christian organizations because they claim that it is not politically correct to work with them, they claim that working through such an organization goes against the humanitarian principle of neutrality and impartiality. But we think this claim is false because the social mission of the Church is specifically open to all people, not only to Christians, and those governments and big donors who most of the time have way more money than the Hungarian government…sometimes they exclude the only way to reach the most vulnerable people in faraway lands.

Pope Francis often speaks about “ideological colonization” when aid is sent to developing nations, with the reception of that aid contingent on the acceptance of certain provisions for issues such as abortion and contraception. How common would you say this experience of “ideological colonization” is in the allocation of humanitarian aid, and what do you think of Pope Francis’s condemnations of it?

I not only agree with these statements from the Holy Father, but I can confirm it based on my personal experience on the ground. I can give you one example of what I have experienced: it was Uganda, where there was great humanitarian need back in that time and they were in need of pharmaceuticals and medicines, and humanitarian fast relief.

What happened is that one of the greatest donors among the Western countries, the humanitarian response was sending big shipments of contraceptives. They were shocked to see huge shipments of condoms, and this is the problem, because some of these liberal or woke ideology governments, instead of going there to these communities, asking what is the real need, they try to follow their own agenda.

That’s one mistake. The other mistake is in many cases, some European member states and sometimes even the EU is guilty of that, they only provide much-needed humanitarian development assistance if the beneficiary country is making amendments to its legal system according to woke ideals, if they legalize abortion, if they legalize so-called ‘gay marriage,’ and so on. This, I would say, is moral insanity. How can you ask from a government that in return for much-needed humanitarian support, as a government they influence their own legislative branch to pass certain laws.

This is the liberal, political, ideological colonization that we see, and this is not only happening politically speaking, but it is utterly disrespectful, and the Holy Father said it very rightly, this is a colonization of those countries…that is not only threatening, but utterly immoral, inhumane.

Pope Francis has called Europe, and the bishops of Europe have also called political leaders, to return to Europe’s founding principles and Christian values ahead of parliamentary elections this June. How important is this call, do you think, as elections approach?

I can give you the Hungarian perspective. Hungary, at least culturally, is a Christian country, and we as a Christian Democratic government, have a mission to implement the social teachings of the bible and the Church into our policy, including protecting marriage, including protecting the concept and only true definition of family.

We see a very strong push from the agenda-lobby, in Brussels, in European politics, in Western politics, but we are combatting that because we want to adhere to our core values. Seeing how powerful this lobby is in EU legislation and EU institutions, we made preventive measures by amending our constitution. In our constitution, we protect the definition of family and of marriage, and we proclaim in the constitution that marriage is between one man and one woman, and that a father is a man, and a mother is a woman. Where has our world reached, when such a thing needs to be set in constitutions?

After amending our constitution, the amount of political attacks from EU politics has amounted on Hungary, and became ever-more severe. That will have another round during the European elections. We’ll see if the traditional political forces that uphold the traditional building stones and values of European civilization will get stronger, or to the contrary, the woke movement will gain more ground.

Going back to your work with Hungary Helps and with the issue of anti-Christian persecution, it’s sort of fallen out of global discussion. What is the best way to keep raising awareness about the importance of this issue?

The basic human right of human freedom and belief should be more discussed and observed, not only for Christians, but for all. When we talk about human rights, somehow the right of religious freedom is less on the agenda of international organizations. People and politicians feel that it is a sensitive topic, it is hard to address, therefore they fail to do so. So, first of all, religious freedom has to be protected.

Then, the plight of persecuted Christians has to be first recognized, and we are not there yet. There is still denial in the West that Christians are persecuted. This denial is mostly politically motivated, or maybe out of bad conscience, we know that. We don’t think that any Christians would want to engage in a competition of victimhood, that’s not the point.

We shouldn’t protect Christians at the expense of other persecuted and discriminated groups, but so far in some in international organizations and in the big diplomatic forum, there is not even a recognition that such a phenomenon of anti-Christian persecution exists, and we need to change that.

Christians are murdered by the thousands each year because they follow Jesus Christ…each day on average 13 Christian people are murdered for religious reasons. The attacks against Christian institutions have tripled in one year, the registered cases last year were 14,000, the fiscal attacks against Christian institutions. So, we should be not only recognizing the issue, we should be sending tangible aid and protection to these communities, and we are trying to inspire more resources from more experienced governments in the West, to also work in such a direct way to assist these groups.

Any new projects or initiatives on the horizon in this regard?

On the side of persecuted Christians, we have started our first projects in the Middle East. Since ISIS collapsed, there is no murderous persecution against Christians in Iraq and Syria, but the 2,000-year-old Christian communities in these countries have shrunk to a fraction of their former size, and their institutional background and presence is very, very weak, and they might not have a future. So, in the Middle East we continuously support the institutions.

Regarding bloody, murderous Christian persecution, Nigeria is where 90 percent of the murdered Christians were killed last year, so there we are sending humanitarian fast relief to support the victim-survivors and family members of anti-Christian terrorist attacks, and also the internally displaced Christians who will not receive food, shelter or any provisions except from the limited capacities of the dioceses, so this is what we are currently working on and starting new projects.

When we’re looking at the general humanitarian activities of our program, then we are very active with faith-based engagement in Gaza. Once again I need to underline that the Gaza conflict has no, or a very small religious context, it is a political and ethnic conflict. Because we don’t see any other accessible and trustworthy humanitarian partners, we work through the Catholic Church, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, in giving humanitarian support to the civilian population of Gaza, and also in the West Bank.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on X: @eliseannallen