Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.
In today's edition:
- Luis Palau’s Costa Rica Festival Draws 400,000 to Streets of San Jose
- Death Penalty Feared for Chinese Religious Leader
- Kota Residents Risk Beatings to Deliver Food to Children
- Europe Shrinks from Health-Religion Research
Luis Palau’s Costa Rica Festival Draws 400,000 to Streets of San Jose
The Luis Palau ministry teamed with major Latin American entertainers, over 18,000 volunteers and more than 800 churches to bring the Costa Rica Festival with Luis Palau to the national capital of San Jose this weekend for two days of “Great music and Good News”. Christian Wire Service reports that official crowd estimates put the attendance at over 401,000 people during a week of outreach events that was capped with historic crowds at the city’s famed Parque de la Paz. The week-long outreach included face-to-face meetings with the country’s top leadership – including President Abel Pacheco Rodriguez and incoming President Oscar Arias Sanchez – where evangelist and author Palau shared the Gospel message at gatherings that included women’s groups, clergy, and political and business leaders. During the weekend, his Children’s Festival attracted over 35,000 kids and families, and the evening productions drew 160,000 on Friday and 205,000 on Saturday. San Jose’s mayor Johnny Araya Monje opened the city’s heart and resources to the Palau team, taking the massive Festival stage on Friday night to welcome Luis to his city. Palau’s first major event in Costa Rica was in the early 1970’s, and many of the Costa Ricans who heard him then are now active in the church community there. The next Luis Palau Festival is set in Orlando, Florida on April 1st and 2nd, followed by Houston, Texas in October.
Death Penalty Feared for Chinese Religious Leader
There is mounting international concern over the fate of a Chinese religious leader, Xu Shuangfu, who is awaiting a verdict amidst growing fears that a death sentence will be passed. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that Xu, also known as Xu Wenku, is the leader of a religious group called the Three Grades of Servants. He and at least fifteen others from the group were tried from 28 February to 3 March in Shuangyashan Intermediate Court, Heilongjiang Province in northeast China. It is thought that the verdict may be imminent. China Aid Association (CAA), an organization documenting religious persecution in China, reported that government sources have said that Xu and at least three co-defendants will be sentenced to death. The defendants are accused of murdering leaders of the Eastern Lightning group and defrauding members of their own group of millions of yuan. The case is of particular concern as evidence emerged at the trial that severe torture and sexual abuse had been used against the defendants to extract confessions. Xu described how he was hung in the air for five hours and how interrogators tied his fingers, toes and genitals with wire and then connected the wire to an electrical supply. Due to the imminence of the verdict and the fears of unjust use of the death penalty based on confessions obtained through torture, CSW and other agencies are urging that strong representations be made to the Chinese authorities as a matter of urgency. Tina Lambert, CSW’s Advocacy Director, stated ‘It is obviously deeply concerning that such brutal torture has been used to extract confessions which were then produced in court against these religious leaders.
Kota Residents Risk Beatings to Deliver Food to Children
According to an eyewitness account from inside the Emmanuel Hope Center Orphanage, sympathetic Hindu citizens of Kota are still risking beatings to deliver aid to children held under siege by anti-Christian terrorists. The B&B Media Group writes that cash for food purchases is desperately needed for the 2,500 children because local government officials illegally froze the orphanage bank accounts last month. By telephone interview, staff members inside the besieged compound said that they were encouraged by calls and visits yesterday from the U.S. Embassy and unofficial representatives of the central government in New Delhi. There is food for another week, said the sources, but it is risky for people to help the children because the radicals are intent on using food shortages to force the Christians to abandon the orphanage and hospital. Emergency food money for the children and legal expenses for the orphanage staff are being collected at the Hopegivers International website, www.hopegivers.org. Eight American volunteers continue to work at the Kota orphanage and hospital although all the senior administrative staff of both institutions has been forced to carry out their work on an underground basis. “We have no plans to leave,” said American volunteer Frank Gilbert. “We are virtually being held prisoner here by the radicals. It’s not safe to go outside of the compound.”
Europe Shrinks from Health-Religion Research
A story in Science & Theology News indicates that the chasm between scientific research and theology in Europe has begun to close - slowly. Scores of university institutes and medical associations are gathering to see how the two fields might help each other. Progress is slow, however, as an increasingly secular Western Europe and a post-communist Eastern Europe continue to resist any efforts that smack of church and state collaboration. Candid discussions concerning religion and medical science take place but never in a formal research environment, said Lucija Fabijanic, a recent graduate from Croatia’s University of Zagreb Medical School. Ukraine’s National University boasts a newly formed East-Ukrainian Center of Science and Religion. Its charge is to eradicate communism’s legacy of “aggressive atheism in the public consciousness and in the sphere of interrelations between science and religion.” Likewise, in 2002, Estonia’s University of Tartu founded the Collegium of Science and Religion to revive the “tradition of science and faith dialogue that was forgotten during half a century of imposed atheism.”. The collegium has long-term plans to conduct empirical studies, but immediate plans only include seminars, colloquiums and college courses. Across Europe, empirical research has been conducted primarily in the areas of mental health and ethnography, but the research has taken place in isolated institutional pockets and with little academic or media fanfare. In Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet, for example, religion and science are only rarely mentioned in the same breath. Of the 2,814 dissertations published since 1995, only half a dozen mention the words together.