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Religion Today Summaries - Jan. 18, 2011

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

Religion Today Summaries - Jan. 18, 2011

Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.
In today's edition:

  • Pakistani Churches Criticize Refusal to Amend Blasphemy Law
  • Chinese Christian Activist's Torture Described
  • Cuban Party Official Warns Christians
  • John Paul II Closer to Sainthood

Pakistani Churches Criticize Refusal to Amend Blasphemy Law

Pakistani churches say they're frustrated by the government's refusal to amend a controversial blasphemy law that makes it a capital crime to insult Islam or the Prophet Muhammad. Religion News Service reports that human rights groups have urged for the law to be repealed or amended to protect the rights of minority faiths in a nation that is overwhelmingly Muslim and increasingly volatile. Pakistani officials have brushed off calls from outsiders for the law's repeal. On Tuesday (Jan. 11), Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told reporters that "it is our law and we will work according to our law." The National Council of Churches in Pakistan also expressed displeasure with Gilani, though general secretary Victor Azariah said he was not surprised by the reaction. The governing Pakistan People's Party has just 125 seats in the 342-member National Assembly, and must rely on independents and Islamic parties that support the blasphemy law to keep its fragile governing coalition intact.

Chinese Christian Activist's Torture Described

The Associated Press last week released transcripts of their interview with Gao Zhisheng, a Chinese human rights lawyer and Christian who has been missing since April 2010. Gao, who has represented fellow activists and Christians before China's legal system, disappeared in February 2009 and resurfaced for just a month in March 2010. His family is unsure where he is now. He told the AP that police stripped him and beat him for two days and nights and did other things he refused to recount. "That degree of cruelty, there's no way to recount it," the civil rights lawyer said, his normally commanding voice quavering. "For 48 hours my life hung by a thread." Gao asked that "his account not be made public unless he went missing again or made it to 'someplace safe' like the United States or Europe."

Cuban Party Official Warns Christians

A Cuban Communist Party official has openly confirmed a government strategy to target churches affiliated with the fast-growing Apostolic Movement, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide. The group recently obtained video footage of Caridad Diego Bello, the head of the Religious Affairs Office of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, saying that the "illegalities" of the movement must be stopped. "[W]e are taking measures and will continue to take measures, the hands of our authorities will not waver, and I don't do this in a manner of warning but rather to inform," he said. "[W]e have confiscated literature because it has not entered the country via the appropriate channels, but rather under the table." Many churches affiliated with the movement have documented consistent religious liberty violations over the past few years, including the detention of church leaders.

John Paul II Closer to Sainthood

Religion News Service reports that Pope Benedict XVI has recognized a miracle attributed to Pope John Paul II, bringing the late pontiff one step from sainthood a mere six years after his death, the Vatican announced on Jan. 14. By signing a decree accepting the miracle, Benedict completed one of most rapid beatifications in the modern history of the Catholic Church. Another miracle attributed to John Paul's intercession will be required before he can be declared a saint. The process leading to beatification and sainthood ordinarily does not begin until at least five years after death. Benedict waived the required waiting period about two months after the previous pontiff's death. The beatification ceremony, to be held in St. Peter's Square on May 1 -- the Sunday after Easter -- is likely to attract vast numbers of pilgrims from around the world, especially from John Paul's native Poland. John Paul's funeral drew an estimated 4 million mourners to Rome.