Tuesday, October 11, 2005
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief Correspondent BosNewsLife at BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest
ARAD/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife) -- A Pentecostal church in Romania which seeks a spiritual "revival" in the post-Communist nation urged the European Parliament Thursday, October 6, to halt plans by the Romanian government to restrict activities of religious minorities.
Senior Pastor Samuel Caba, of the River of Revival Pentecost Church in the western city of Arad told BosNewsLife he had written "a letter to Europarlementariens," following several protests against the proposed legislation. "The manifestations [of Christians against the government plans] were not just in Arad, but also in Timisoara and other cities," in recent weeks, Caba said.
Under the government backed law debated in parliament all religious groups of less than 300 people are to be denied permission to call themselves 'church' or start a Religious Association as a legal umbrella for their work, according to Christian sources.
Caba stressed this could negatively impact "several thousands of religious groups" including evangelical Christian organizations and congregations. It "means they cannot promote their identity, having no right to purchase properties, to build churches or to have paid staff or ministers," Pastor Caba said in the letter to Europarlementariers.
A group with over 300 but less than 22,000 members, or roughly 0.1 percent of Romania's population, is allowed to register as a "Religious Association" but must be older than 12 years to be officially recognized by the state, according to the draft law.
"The general spirit of this law project is that religious minorities are only tolerated but not equal in rights and freedom with other denominations. This can lead to further discrimination and persecution and does not respect the Romanian constitution which guarantees absolute equality between people, regardless of religion," Caba said in the letter obtained by BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest.
He urged the European Parliament to at least pressure the centrist government of Romanian Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu to ensure the "right for a group of 21 people to start a Religious Association and to have the right to use the name 'Church' associated with their body." Among other demands, he wants churches younger than 12 years to be recognized as well.
Perceived persecution of Christian minorities is a sensitive theme in the mainly Orthodox country, where a bloody revolution ended decades of Communist dictatorship in 1989. "We grew up in a communist country [but despite] of the danger, few men and women of God who feared Him more...sowed a seed that now is bringing great harvest. They made a difference in a world of hunger, suffering and spiritual darkness," Caba said.
"Now that we got out our freedom, I believe it is our turn to take the baton from the unsung heroes and continue what the Lord has commenced. Romania in itself is a big mission field. We also believe that Revival is the greatest need of our city and our country and for this reason this church began."
He suggested his church, which was founded in 2004 and recently had its first baptism service, does not want to be forced underground like evangelical Christians during the era of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
It is unclear what impact the discussion on religious freedom will have on Romania's ambition to join the European Union by 2007. The government has not yet reacted to the church concerns and there has been no official EU statement yet. However the EU has in the past made clear that Romania is obliged to respect the rights of all ethnic and religious minorities.
"We consider that is critically important that [the European] Parliament hold a strong position against any restrictive legislation regarding religion that may be issued in Romania. After 50 years of Communist dictatorship our Romanian friends need a real democracy, and without true respect for religious minorities this cannot happen," Csaba said. (With BosNewsLife Research).
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