Bulgarian lawmakers eased proposed restrictions on training, foreign funding, and missionary outreach by Protestants and other minority faiths following an evangelical outcry. Thousands of evangelicals prayed outside the Parliament in Sofia against the draft amendments to the Eastern European nation’s Religious Denomination Act, which were also condemned by leaders of its Eastern Orthodox majority as religious freedom violations. A revised proposal did away with measures that would threaten evangelicals’ rights to launch seminaries and host foreign preachers in the former Communist country.
Dozens killed in cathedral massacre
At least 40 people and two priests died in a November attack on the compound of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, a Catholic mission sheltering refugees in the largely Christian town of Alindao in the Central African Republic. The local bishop was gunned down as attackers looted the church and burned the surrounding camp. The attack was the latest violent clash between factions in the country, reportedly carried out by the Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique, whose fighters are mostly Fulani Muslims. A Catholic church in the capital, Bangui, lost 15 people in an attack earlier in 2018.
Noel Castellanos, who has led the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) for more than a decade, stepped down in November amid allegations of mismanagement by several former employees. Castellanos said he resigned “in part due to our inability to resolve the conflict with former staff,” who launched a website detailing a “toxic environment” under his leadership. The allegations publicly came to a head around the ministry’s 30th annual national conference. CCDA released a statement of repentance apologizing for mistakes in the past and pledged to continue reconciliation efforts.
Clashes between armed separatists and government forces have shaken Cameroon’s English-speaking regions, where scores of students from a Presbyterian school were kidnapped for a week this fall. More than 100 pastors have joined a quarter-million people fleeing the escalating violence in the Anglophone areas of the Francophone country, while the national Presbyterian body has coordinated humanitarian outreach for the displaced and advocated for mediation between the two sides. “We have failed God,” said evangelical leader Gustav Ebai. “There is no evil like the evil I have seen in my country.”
Though Ireland never enforced its law against blasphemy that was on the books for more than 80 years, Christians campaigned to revoke the measure in 2018 to make a point for dozens of countries that continue to use such laws to restrict religious expression. “Now, states like Pakistan can no longer justify their own severe anti-blasphemy laws by pointing to Ireland’s Constitution,” said the local Amnesty International leader after nearly two-thirds of Irish voters decided to repeal the dormant ban last fall. Evangelical Alliance Ireland supported the efforts, saying blasphemy bans hurt religious dialogue and religious freedom, particularly for religious minorities.
A federal judge ordered the release of about 130 Iraqi Christians more than a year and a half after they were detained in immigration raids in Detroit, home to the largest Chaldean Christian population outside the Middle East. These Iraqi Christians were among about 300 awaiting deportation due to past crimes; however, supporters argued that they would face persecution and violence were they to return to Iraq, and their home country refused to repatriate them against their will. The judge ordered that the detainees be returned to their families by Christmas and continue to defend their cases from home.
Thousands of churches close under new law
More than 2,000 churches in Angola shuttered late last year under new registration requirements issued by the southern African nation, according to Open Doors. Christians expect another 1,000 to close for not gaining the 100,000 signatures required to register. The head of Angola’s Culture Ministry, which counts just 84 registered churches among a population of 29 million, said the law was meant to “act against unregistered bodies, which are a threat to human rights and against the principles of urban life and positive coexistence.” Open Doors reports that the mostly Christian country has not recognized any new churches since 2004.
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