International: Relations Improve between Church and State in Hungary

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The country allows the first evangelistic services on public property since World War II.

During the Stalinist period of the early 1950s, Hungary saw the persecution and arrests of many church leaders, the appointment of atheists to church leadership positions, and the dissolution of church institutions. But conditions today in the East European country are far different. For example:

• Bibles and Christian books are readily available. Four religious bookstores are open in Budapest, most churches operate book tables, and many government bookstores handle Sunday school materials. Religious journalism is thriving, church services are broadcast weekly on state radio, and an American street evangelist is setting up a ministry to troubled young people in Budapest.

• Relations with the Vatican are “normalized.” Some 65 percent of Hungary’s 10.5 million people are at least nominally Roman Catholic.

• The Bible is taught as literature in public schools. Teachers are warned not to use such classes as an occasion to belittle or attack religious belief.

Among the more notable signs of a thaw was evangelist Billy Graham’s preaching visit to Hungary in September. His two rallies, one on a downtown square in the southern city of Pecs and the other in a modern sports arena in Budapest, were the first evangelistic services on public property since World War II.

In both cities, Graham capped his sermons by asking his listeners to turn to Christ, and thousands responded. In another first, loudspeakers carried the evangelist’s words far beyond the meeting sites. And Graham’s team brought in a giant video screen to enable the vast outdoor crowd in Pecs not only to hear, but also to see the evangelist.

A bevy of church-operated bookstalls in both cities ...

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