The leaders of Russia and Russia have agreed to cooperate in protecting persecuted Christians, including in war-torn Syria and other Middle Eastern nations.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban discussed the issue in Budapest where they also met with church leaders from the Middle East.
Speaking in Budapest, Russian President Putin expressed concern about a “massive exodus” of Christian communities from the Middle East. He said Christians face persecution and being killed, raped, and robbed.
Putin, whose military faces criticism over conduct in areas such as Syria, stressed that supporting Christians in conflict areas is now “a top priority” for Russia.
“We also cooperate with every stakeholder in the Middle East and North Africa. We see it as inadmissible that some of the Christian community members may be persecuted for their religious belief.”
He added. “We know that, although the Middle East is the cradle of Christianity, the position of Christians in the region is very difficult, with murder, violence and plunder. We see that Christians are leaving the Middle East en masse. This is an alarming development. It is alarming because our identity is based on the Christian culture.”
Putin thanked Hungary’s prime minister for hosting a gathering where the Russian president could meet Middle Eastern church leaders.
The church leaders expressed desperation about violence directed against their communities. That prompted Putin to say that he and others watch what’s happening to Christians in the Middle East with tears in their eyes.
But Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of the Syriac Orthodox Church warned that government leaders should act quickly to prevent the disappearance of Christianity in the war-torn region. “The situation is very alarming. You have heard that Iraq has lost more than 90 percent of its Christians,” he said.
Many leaving Syria
“From Syria, I can say around, or more than 50 percent have left the country. Why? Who benefits from that? Not us and not the Muslims in our countries because the presence of Christians is very important to them, too,” the Patriarch said.
Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán has also expressed concern about the plight of Christians. But he made clear he doesn’t see migration as the answer.
Instead, his government spent tens of millions of dollars on building hospitals, schools, and churches to encourage them to stay in the troubled Middle East and other areas.