BUDAPEST — Hungary’s Prime Minister has warned that Europe’s religious, cultural and demographic nature is changing so rapidly that the kind of persecution of Christians taking place in such countries as Syria, Iraq and Nigeria is “much closer” than “many people think.”

In a forthright speech at a major international conference on persecuted Christians in Budapest, Viktor Orbán said the “only thing” that can save Europe is if it “reverts to its real Christian values” along with its “Christian roots and Christian identity.”

He said he is “convinced” the greatest help in saving the continent comes from the persecuted Christians whom his government is currently assisting. “We’re sowing a seed, giving the persecuted what they need and getting back from them the Christian faith, love and persistence,” he said.

Orbán was speaking Nov. 26 at the Second International Conference on Christian Persecution, a large three-day gathering in Budapest of religious and civic leaders, diplomats and volunteers. The previous conference, also hosted and sponsored by the Hungarian government, took place in 2017.

The first government in the world to establish a government ministry for persecuted Christians in 2016, Hungary has been providing tangible help primarily in the form of aid and development through its “Hungary Helps” program to Christians suffering persecution.

Explaining why his government has felt called to take the lead in this battle, Orbán recalled how before the nation of Hungary was formed a thousand years ago, many Magyar tribes settled in the country but then died out.

“We Hungarians have been curious why we didn’t share their fate,” he said, and have asked why the nation was able to “survive and remain,” especially as Hungarians did not ethnically belong to the region, surrounded by German and Slavic populations.

“The key moment of our survival was our assumption of the Christian faith,” Orbán explained. “We’ve sometimes stepped off this road but found our way back on to it” and yet the “strength and power” of Christianity in preserving nationhood is acknowledged by Hungary in its constitution. “We therefore believe it can help the survival of other peoples and nations,” he said.

Orbán also recalled that Hungary’s first Christian king, Saint Stephen, was a visionary monarch who wrote a guide and “spiritual compass” 1000 years ago for his son Emeric called ‘Admonitions’. Hungarians read it as a “personal message to all of us, both as a nation and as individuals, and it has been a source of our strength and flourishing,” he said.

Quoting a passage from the Admonitions, Orbán said:

Be merciful to all who are suffering violence, keeping always in your heart the example of the Lord who said: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ Be patient with everyone, not only with the powerful, but also with the weak.

Finally, be strong lest prosperity lift you up too much or adversity cast you down. Be humble in this life, that God may raise you up in the next. Be truly moderate and do not punish or condemn anyone immoderately. Be gentle so that you may never oppose justice. Be honorable so that you may never voluntarily bring disgrace upon anyone. Be chaste so that you may avoid all the foulness of lust like the pangs of death.

Hungarians believe Christian values lead to “peace and happiness,” Orbán continued, which is why the country’s Constitution states that “protection of Christianity is an obligation for the Hungarian state. It obliges us to protect Christian communities throughout the world suffering persecution.”

“We firmly believe that good inspires good,” he added, “that standing up for someone gives birth to courage” and that a good example “can travel far.”

Returning to the extent of Christian suffering for the faith worldwide, Orbán told the assembled guests that 4 out of 5 people persecuted for their faith are Christians and some 245 million Christians around the globe suffer extreme persecution, including many martyrdoms and vandalized churches.

“And yet Europe remains silent again and again,” he said. European politicians seem “paralyzed, unable to do anything, and insisting that it is all a matter of generic ‘human rights.’

“But Christian persecution is not just a humanitarian issue,” he continued. “It is not just violence against individual persons or groups but an organized attack on an entire culture, including here in Europe.” Such attacks take many forms, he observed, such as “population exchange through mass migration, stigmatization, mockery, and the muzzle of political correctness.”

As Hungary lies on a “pathway” of Muslim migration, Orbán said they feel obligated as Christians to defend their culture, especially as religious, demographic and cultural changes have been exacerbated by “illegal migration that results in uncontrolled migration into Europe.”