BUDAPEST (ChurchMilitant.com) - Catholic Hungary is making good on plans to become a leading advocate for persecuted Christians.
Over the past few days, the central European nation has made headlines for intervening to save a former Muslim from being forced to return to Iran.
Iranian actress Aideen Strandson quietly renounced Islam while still living in her homeland. After seeing footage of a woman being stoned to death, she recalled, "I decided at that moment, I don't want to be a Muslim anymore." Shortly after, she said, "I had a dream about Jesus. He was sitting near me, and he took my hand."
In 2014, Strandsson fled Iran for Sweden, where she applied for a work visa, petitioned for asylum and asked for a public baptism to confirm her embrace of Christianity.
But recently, though Sweden has admitted hundreds of thousands of migrants over the past few years, the country's migration board rejected Strandsson's asylum request. She was ordered back to Iran, where as an "apostate," she could face prison or death for leaving Islam for Christianity.
"It's not our problem if you decided to become a Christian," Swedish officials told Strandsson.
Now, Hungary has responded by opening its doors to her. "Taking in persecuted Christians is our moral and constitutional duty," explained Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén. The move is the latest example of Hungary's growing emphasis on the plight of Christians around the world.
Located in the heart of Europe, Hungary has long been a crossroads of cultures. But in 2015, it was flooded with migrants making their way out of the Middle East, with more asylum applications (174,000) filed there than any other E.U. member except Germany.
In September of that year, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán sounded the alarm over the consequences of the influx, writing in Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, "Those arriving have been raised in another religion and represent a radically different culture. Most of them are not Christians, but Muslims. ... This is an important question because Europe and European identity is rooted in Christianity."
"Is it not worrying in itself that European Christianity is now barely able to keep Europe Christian? There is no alternative, and we have no option but to defend our borders," the prime minister added.
Orbán was slammed in the European press as a racist and xenophobe, and his government has been chastised repeatedly in Brussels for refusing to abide by the E.U.'s migrant quota plan. But his government maintains that Christians — whatever their national origin — are much better able to integrate into Hungarian society than Muslim migrants.
"Right from the beginning," Semjén said in a statement, "we have differentiated between economic migrants and genuine asylum-seekers."
In October 2016, the administration of prime minister Viktor Orbán established the Deputy State Secretariat for the Aid of Persecuted Christians, a first-of-its kind government department, focusing solely on aiding Christians oppressed for their faith.
In January, at an international conference on Christian persecution in Budapest, parliamentary state secretary at the Ministry for Human Resources, Bence Rétvári, reminded conference participants that "more Christians are being persecuted today throughout the world than during the reign of Roman Emperor Nero." At the conference, government representatives announced that Hungary would become "a hub and supporter" of groups working on behalf of persecuted Christians.
In 2012, Hungary adopted a new constitution. "God bless the Hungarians," it begins, before acknowledging the nation's first king, St. Stephen of Hungary, for his role in transforming the land into a Christianized European state, 1,000 years ago.
Tamás Török, head of the government's effort to aid persecuted Christians, notes the Hungarian constitution "reaffirms the importance of the family and the nation" and "upholds the traditional definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman and the right to life from the moment of conception."
"It recognizes the role of Christianity in preserving nationhood and also states that we have a general duty to help the vulnerable and the poor," he adds. "Hungary has had to endure a number of attacks for this pro-life, pro-Christianity constitution, which has but made us stronger and even more determined in our vow to protect Christianity."