Press release on a joint Russian-Hungarian meeting at the OSCE on the safety of Christians in the Middle East and beyond
A meeting dedicated to the safety of Christians in the Middle East and beyond took place on the sidelines of the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting on the initiative of Russia and Hungary at the Hofburg Palace, Vienna, on December 7. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto opened the forum.
Participants included Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church of Babylon Luis Rafael I Sako, Secretary of the Department for External Church Relations for Intra-Christian Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church Hieromonk Stefan (Igumnov), Secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See Paul Gallagher, Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office on Combating Discrimination against Christians and Members of Other Religions Ingeborg Gabriel, as well as religious and public figures, diplomats and journalists.
Sergey Lavrov emphasised the importance of focusing on the fate of Christianity as the world's largest religion, and pointed out the threats stemming from the persecution of Christians in a number of OSCE countries and neighbouring regions. This subject was discussed at a December 4 meeting of President Putin with heads of delegations of local Orthodox churches.
The minister emphasised that the situation of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa is particularly dire. Believers and clerics come under attack by terrorist groups, and are forced to leave places their communities have lived for centuries. Instances of desecration or destruction of Christian shrines are not uncommon and go unpunished.
Sergey Lavrov stressed that squeezing out Christian traditions and symbols from the public space in Europe leads to erosion of the common European cultural identity. Representatives of other traditional religions, including Muslims, also suffer from discrimination. The ever-growing anti-Semitic rhetoric and the glorification of Nazism are causing concern.
The mistreatment of Orthodox Christians in Ukraine is taking on threatening dimensions. Desecration and seizure of temples by extremists, violence against clergymen and believers are supplemented by the attempts of official authorities to impose restrictions on the activities of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Sergey Lavrov pointed to the need to improve the OSCE toolkit in the sphere of religious tolerance, and to develop ministerial declarations in defence of Christians and Muslims.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto provided detailed information about the Hungarian authorities’ steps to support Christian community in the Middle East, stressing that crimes against Christians should not be left without attention of the international community, including the OSCE, because they constitute crimes against humanity. In addition, it is important to provide conditions for the return of Christians to their native places, where their ancestors have lived for thousands of years.
Patriarch Luis Rafael I Sako focused on the plight in the Middle East region torn by conflicts and terrorism.
Hieromonk Stefan (Igumnov) spoke about the activities of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church to provide humanitarian aid to those affected by hostilities in Syria, to help the Christian population of Syria return to their homes, and to rebuild destroyed churches.
In general, the forum revealed a growing understanding by the international community of the need to ensure the safety of Christians and preserve the traditional values of humanity.
Russia will continue to pay special attention to this important subject at various international venues, including the OSCE.