Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world. In today's edition:
- Iraqi Religious Leaders Seek Humanitarian Aid, Democratic Government
- SARS Impacts Open Doors' Leadership Training In China
- Belarus Christian Leader Seeks Political Asylum in the United States
- President Bush Urged to Help Free Sudanese Slaves Now
Iraqi Religious Leaders Seek Humanitarian Aid, Democratic Government
Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service
Iraqi religious leaders issued a joint statement Wednesday (May 28) calling for increased international humanitarian assistance and a permanent Iraqi government that protects all religious and ethnic groups. The statement was released at a conference in Amman, Jordan, that was convened by the World Conference on Religion and Peace. More than 20 religious leaders, representing Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims as well as Christians in Iraq, recommended that international institutions increase their humanitarian assistance by cooperating more with Iraqi religious groups and social institutions that include women's and youth organizations. They also urged that "the permanent Iraqi government be built on the basis of direct, free, democratic elections, a constitution and the rule of law that protects equally all religious, ethnic and national groupings, while maintaining Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity." Their recommendations were endorsed by the full conference, which included 40 other international religious leaders and diplomats and representatives of humanitarian agencies. "Pledging common action to assure a just society in Iraq, these religious leaders demonstrate that religion can be a powerful force for peace and for affirming our common humanity," said Prince El-Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, moderator of the World Conference on Religion and Peace, in a statement.
SARS Impacts Open Doors' Leadership Training In China
Open Doors USA
The virus that has brought fear to Asia and the rest of the globe has also affected church leadership training in China, Open Doors has confirmed after talking to key Christian house church leaders. According to China's Ministry of Health, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, has killed 321 people. No Open Doors co-workers have contracted the virus, but repercussions from the government's effort to contain the spread of SARS are having serious consequences on Christian ministry. An Open Doors spokesman said, "As far as we know, there is not one co-worker of ours who has been affected by SARS. But we do need to pray for speedy control of this new virus." SARS has affected training in several ways. One, traveling is high-risk for the trainers, not only because of the risk of contracting and spreading the virus, but also because traveling is restricted and travelers may be interrogated unnecessarily. Two, long-distance travel is often forbidden, preventing some trainees from attending the sessions. Three, a large group gathering is itself a high-risk situation, since it tends to draw the attention of the authorities and may end up spreading the virus.
Belarus Christian Leader Seeks Political Asylum in the United States
Frank Brown, Religion News Service
One of Belarus' most persecuted Christian leaders is seeking political asylum in the United States, saying the degree of religious repression in the former Soviet republic has become unbearable and dangerous. "We have had to practically go underground. There are large fines for praying at home. You can even end up in prison," said Father Yan Spasyuk, 36, administrator of the tiny Belarussian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, in an interview Wednesday (May 28) from Highland Park, N.J. Spasyuk said the situation grew especially acute after a draconian new religion law was signed in October by Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko, sometimes described as Europe's last dictator. The law strongly favors the country's dominant Russian Orthodox Church and lays the legal groundwork for a clampdown on minority faiths in the country of 10 million between Russia and Poland. The plight of Spasyuk's 7,000-member Belarussian Autocephalous Orthodox Church figured prominently in the U.S. State Department's International Religious Freedom Report released in October. The report documents Spasyuk's attempts to erect a church building on his property and his subsequent arrest. In August, security forces sealed off Spasyuk's village of Pohranichny, near the Polish border, and used bulldozers to demolish the brick church constructed by parishioners.
President Bush Urged to Help Free Sudanese Slaves Now
Christian Solidarity International
Today, Christian Solidarity International’s (CSI) U.S. Executive Director, Dr. John Eibner, urged President George W. Bush to help make 2003 “the year of the eradication of Sudanese Slavery”. Writing following his return from a fact-finding visit to Sudan, Eibner reported “the current ceasefire … offers a window of opportunity for a mass exodus of slaves from northern Sudan to their homes in the South”. While in Sudan, Eibner and his CSI colleagues found that many Arab slave masters are now prepared to release Black African slaves, without compensation fees and that land corridors for the return of slaves to Southern Sudan are now open and secure. During Sudan’s 20-year-old civil car, over 200,000 women and children have been enslaved, according to leaders of the victimized communities. The U.S State Department has indicated that it expects a peace agreement before the end of June. Eibner encouraged President Bush to use the current window of opportunity to support Sudanese civil society’s efforts to free the slaves now. “There will be no true peace in Sudan as long as black African women and children and children are enslaved”, Eibner concluded.