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Religion Today Summaries - May 12, 2009

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

Religion Today Summaries - May 12, 2009

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

  • Christians in Gaza Make Their Appeal to the Pope
  • Imprisoned Iranian-American Journalist Released
  • Orissa Archbishop Welcomes Upcoming Visit by U.S. Commission
  • Kazakhstan Declares Religion Law Unconstitutional

Christians in Gaza Make Their Appeal to the Pope

Time reports that red tape will probably prevent 250 Gaza Christians from visiting the Holy Father in Israel today. Six weeks ago, the group requested special permission to enter Israel during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit, and have received no answer. Israeli security prevents anyone from leaving the hot spot except in life-or-death emergencies, and the group doubts they will receive an exception in spite of the Vatican's efforts to help them. "The Pope is an inspiration for us, and we want to tell him how difficult it is for us Arab Christians living in Gaza," says Kamran, a young Christian student. Christians in the Hamas-controlled region tread carefully and quietly, sometimes respected and sometimes targeted by hardline Muslim neighbors. Meanwhile, in Jordan Sunday, the pope recognized believers facing "difficulties and uncertainties" because of their faith, encouraging them to hold "the courage of conviction" against extremism.

Imprisoned Iranian-American Journalist Released

CNN reports that an Iranian-American journalist imprisoned on espionage charges in Iran walked free yesterday. Roxanna Saberi, 32, was convicted last month in a closed-door trial before she and her lawyer even knew the court was in session. Saberi denies the charges, maintaining that she was researching a book even after her press credentials were revoked. The case sparked international outcry, and brought increasing pressure on an Iranian appeals court to reverse the sentence. Saberi is now free to leave Iran after her eight-year sentence was reduced to two-year jail term suspended for five years. Her father, Reza Saberi, told reporters that they will leave the country as soon as possible.

Orissa Archbishop Welcomes Upcoming Visit by U.S. Commission

The Christian Post reports that Orissa Christians are hopeful that a visit from a U.S. religious rights watchdog will motivate local authorities to protect religious freedom. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is scheduled to visit India in June. The country's Orissa state has been plagued by spurts of violence since August 2008, when Maoists extremists blamed Christians for the murder of their leader. That violence displaced more than 50,000 people, and authorities have offered sporadic help at best. “If an independent body can force local government to put into practice the provision of the constitution – religious freedom – it would be good for all minorities,” Archbishop of Orissa Raphael Cheenath said.

Kazakhstan Declares Religion Law Unconstitutional

Mission News Network reports that although a restrictive religion law has been officially defeated in Kazakhstan, ministries are encouraging believers to remain alert and courageous. A proposed amendment to the law would have imposed exorbitant fines on any religion publicly operating without government permission, and demanded permission of both parents before a child could attend a religious event. The amendment drew international criticism, and the country's Constitutional Council found it unconstitutional. Still, the spirit behind the amendment remains. "I wouldn't be surprised if we see something similar -- another push to try to restrict religious freedom. This isn't the first time, and it probably won't be the last," said Carl Kresge with SEND International.