Evangelist Luis Palau tested the new limits of religious freedom in Mexico last month by holding unprecedented public crusades and events that would have been constitutionally illegal less than six months ago. In what was billed as the Festival of the Family, organizers staged ten evangelistic rallies in stadiums and other public venues, with audiences of 7,500 and more. A parade by evangelicals through the heart of Mexico City drew 450,000.

“I felt total freedom,” Palau told CHRISTIANITY TODAY. “When I stood there watching the parade, I wept. I can still remember the days when we were duly insulted and properly put down.”

Constitutional changes initiated last year by Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari will grant sweeping changes in religious law once ratified by both houses of government. Legal recognition of the church’s right to own property, voting rights for clerics, and the freedom to stage religious gatherings outside of church buildings are included in the proposed reforms.

The government welcomed Palau on the eve of his March 2–21 visit to Mexico City with the title of “Distinguished Visitor.” Only two other religious figures have ever been so received: the Dalai Lama and Pope John Paul II. Palau said the accolade came in the form of a letter. Attempts to meet with Mexico’s political elite were unsuccessful, Palau said. “There is still touchiness.”

Nevertheless, Palau said he was thrilled with the recognition because it gives evangelicals “standing, credibility, and a sense of dignity, which they’ve been denied for so long.”

Lingering Opposition

Despite the new openness, the Mexican press gave scant attention to Palau’s visit. Aside from one live radio interview and an editorial in El Diario de Mexico, the press ...

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