Romania: Religious Liberty Festival Attendees Urged to Promote Freedom
September 21, 2006 Bucharest, Romania .... [Karel Nowak/ANN]
"Religious liberty is, as I learned, a highly important issue but, for me it is primarily a gift of God's grace. It may be that we will not always have it; it may be that someday we will be called to bear witness to our faith and allegiance to the Lord Jesus as our predecessors did," declared Carmen Timos during the Religious Liberty Festival held September 16, in Bucharest, Romania.
Being "called to bear witness" was exactly the situation Timos found herself in seven years ago. She was 15 years old at that time and just finishing her compulsory education. In order to be admitted to secondary school she was expected to pass a comprehensive exam. Because the National Ministry of Education had scheduled the test for a Saturday, Carmen and many other young Adventists refused to take it and violate the Bible Sabbath. Her statement, declaring that she would rather lose a year of her life and repeat the last class of elementary school than to compromise her convictions and betray her faith, appeared in her hometown of Timisoara's newspaper.
Pastor Adrian Bocaneanu, then president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Romania, officially asked the education ministry for an alternate test date for the students, but his request was denied. In the end more than 400 Adventist children and their parents filed suits against the government. Even though the lower courts generally ruled against the Adventists, the case finally reached Romania's Supreme Court. Recognizing rights of personal conviction and acknowledging that religion should be respected, the tribunal permitted the young Adventists to take the exam on another day.
Carmen's story was one of many shared at the Religious Liberty Festival chronicling the struggles of religious minorities in Romania throughout the last half of the 19th century and the entire 20th century. The stories revealed that during the course of 150 years, the years of true religious freedom can be counted on one's fingers. The periods of Romania's fascist regime and the communist era were especially harsh.
During tributes paid to the countless Christians who suffered for their faith, special attention was given to several dozen living survivors of Communist imprisonment. Six Adventist martyrs who paid the ultimate price for their religious convictions were also remembered.
Also during the program two individuals were recognized for their contributions to religious liberty in Romania--Ion Zubascu, a journalist from a leading national newspaper, and Cristi Tepes, who works for the national TV station.
"We invited everyone we knew who in one way or another contributed to the religious liberty movement or who suffered because of the lack of it," said Viorel Dima, director of religious liberty for the Adventist church in Romania. "Many of them," he continued, "never used the term 'religious liberty' but they struggled for respect, tolerance and opportunity for all to live according to their convictions and consciences. We also invited the young generation because we don't want them to forget the past and the dangers that restrictions to human rights can bring.."
Another goal of the Festival was to invite all Romanian Christians to be actively involved in the struggle for promoting and preserving religious liberty.
In his keynote address, John Graz, director of the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty department for the Adventist world church, challenged the participants "to be actively and purposefully involved, to accept the responsibility, and to assume an active role in the society."
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