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The release of 12 evangelical leaders, held hostage in the southern region of Mindanao in the Philippines, highlights how dangerous the region remains for all Christians—although the Philippines is known as Asia's only nation with a Christian majority.

A spate of hostage-taking by the Muslim rebel force Abu Sayyaf marred last summer in the Philippines. After abducting 21 tourists from Sipadan Island, Malaysia, in early June and removing them to Jolo Island, the rebels demanded "the removal of all Christian missionaries in the southern Philippines." The rebels soon dropped this condition and demanded money instead. During the protracted negotiations, a team of 12 Filipino evangelists from the Jesus Miracle Crusade Church offered to go into the hostage camp and pray. When they did on July 1, all 12 were taken hostage.

A military operation launched on September 16 led to their release in early October. The evangelists were taken to the Presidential Palace in Manila and paraded in front of the media. The wife of Wilde Almeda, the lead evangelist, thanked God and President Estrada for their safe return.

The evangelists' actions did not win universal approval, however. Bishop Romulo de la Cruz, a Catholic leader on the island of Jolo, called their actions "imprudent," adding, "Prayers can be said wherever we are and with similar effects."

Meanwhile, Reuters news agency reported this fall that a Christian family of seven was slaughtered in a remote mountain village in the southern Philippines. Though Muslim rebels are suspected, the assailants remain unknown.

Roughly 80 percent of the Philippines' 70 million people are Roman Catholic; 7 to 10 percent are Protestants. Muslims are 8 percent of the population, and most Muslims live in ...

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December 4, 2000

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