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Officials in Cuba forbid church leaders to attend US religious freedom event

Cuban officials blocked the departure from Cuba of the Rev. Alain Toledano Valiente. (Facebook)

(Morning Star News) – Authorities in Cuba on Sunday (July 14) refused to allow the national presidents of two Christian denominations to board their flight to Washington, D.C., to attend a religious freedom event, sources said.

The Rev. Moises de Prada Esquivel and the Rev. Alida Leon Baez, both members of the Alliance of Evangelical Churches of Cuba (AECC, Alianza de Iglesias Evangélicas Cubana) were slated to represent the organization as members of its executive board at the event.

They were notified at Havana’s José Marti International Airport that they would not be allowed to travel to the U.S. capital because Cuban State Security had blocked their departure from the country, according to an AECC press statement.

Cuban authorities reportedly denied other evangelical leaders permission to travel to the United States. Officials earlier refused to renew the passport of the Rev. Dariel Llanes, president of the Western Convention Baptist Church of Cuba (Iglesia Convención Bautista de Cuba Occidental), reportedly to keep him from attending the meeting in Washington. Immigration officials also reportedly blocked the Rev. Alain Toledano Valiente of the Prophetic Apostolic Movement (Movimiento Apostólico Profético) from leaving the country.

The incidents were the latest in a campaign of repression against the evangelical Christian community in Cuba.

On Friday (July 12), State Security agents forcibly detained independent journalist Ricardo Fernandez Izaguirre following his visit to the offices of human rights watchdog group Ladies in White in Havana.

The Camaguey-based reporter and advocate of religious freedom, who is married with an infant daughter, has since been held incommunicado by authorities, according to advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

Fernandez Izaguirre, an active member of a network of unregistered charismatic Christian churches, has reportedly been working with the predominantly Roman Catholic Ladies in White to document violations of freedom of religion and belief, a right enshrined in the Cuban constitution.

The jailed journalist’s friends and family have been unable to contact him since his arbitrary detention, and his mobile phone appears to have been disconnected, according to CSW.

Anna-Lee Stangl, head of advocacy for CSW, appealed to authorities for Fernandez Izaguirre’s release.

“CSW holds the Cuban government responsible for the well-being of Ricardo Fernandez Izaguirre,” Stangle said. “We call on the authorities to release him immediately.”

Evangelical leaders suspect mounting pressure on Christians – and on the AECC in particular – is rooted in their outspoken opposition to proposed constitutional changes aimed at legalizing homosexual marriage in Cuba. A new Cuban draft constitution approved in 2018 by the National Assembly of People’s Power replaced a clause defining the family as “a union between one man and one woman” with “a union between two persons…with absolutely equal responsibilities.”

Backlash from Cuba’s Christian community forced authorities to delete the new language, but constitutional framers specifically avoided re-inserting the traditional definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman. That left the door open to approve homosexual marriage through the new Cuban Family Code, set to be ratified within two years.

Christians fear it also practically guarantees that the campaign of repression against outspoken Christians will continue.

“In Cuba, there is no real freedom of expression or of worship,” a veteran evangelical pastor who requested anonymity told Morning Star News. “Any person who openly opposes the established system is looking for problems.”

Were the government to listen to the voice of Protestant Christians on the issue and maintain the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, there would be a possibility for resolution, the pastor said.

“But given the fact that the daughter of Raul Castro, (LGBT activist Mariela Castro Espin) is the force behind the constitutional change, I think it very unlikely that the government will back down from its intentions,” he said.

The AECC, composed of Protestant churches choosing not to identify with the regime-friendly Cuban Council of Churches, counts 1 million members among its affiliate denominations, a number that represents nearly 10 percent of the country’s 11 million population.

Bogota Cathedral attacked and vandalized (video)


(L’Observatoire de la Christianophobie) On Thursday, April 25, when protests organized by trade union centers in Bogota, Colombia, took place, a bunch of leftist fanatics attacked the cathedral and the episcopal palace of the capital, and tagged their walls in abundance. They also stoned the police deployed outside the entrance of the cathedral to prevent any intrusion. Thirty-five people were arrested by the police. The video below, in Spanish, shows images of the misdeeds committed.

Source: ACI Prensa , April 26, 2019.


Daniel Hamiche , Journalist

VOP Note: Thank you to Daniel Hamiche for his concern and dedication to the Persecuted Church. Hamiche is a journalist and president of the Association Amitié catholique France / United States. In 2007, he launched the blog Americatho (now a member of the reinforcement portal Riposte Catholique). He is administrator and editor of the blog The Observatory of Christianophobia.

Christian Jailed in Chiapas, Mexico Told to Leave Area in Exchange for Freedom

 

Chiapas state, Mexico

Chiapas state, Mexico

(Morning Star News) – A Christian in Chiapas state, Mexico was summarily jailed for three days the evening of Jan. 7 for refusing to deny his faith and contribute to Traditionalist Catholic festivals, according to an advocacy group.

Local authorities who practice the Traditionalist Catholic blend of indigenous pagan and Roman Catholic rituals also threatened Juan Gabriel Lopez Perez, 28, that he would not be released unless he sold his house and left the area within 20 days, the Coordination of Christian Organizations (COC) said in a statement. When Lopez Perez fell ill two days into his 72-hour sentence and was temporarily released to obtain medical care, his wife was obliged to serve the time in jail in his place, according to the organization.

Authorities in Rancheria El Encanto, Municipality of Las Margaritas, had given Lopez Perez the option of paying a 5,000-peso (US$240) fine or 72 hours in jail. After refusing to pay the fine, he was sent to jail at 7 p.m. for declining to sign a document denying his evangelical faith and agreeing to contribute to the Traditionalist Catholic festivals, which frequently involve drunkenness.

“On Jan. 9, the health condition of the prisoner were getting worse from the climatic conditions, so that in spite of requests for medical attention, it was not possible until night, when it was proposed that another person go to jail in his place, as a doctor had diagnosed the onset of bronchitis,” the COC statement read. “His wife, Eduvina Lopez Santiz, went into the jail at that time.” (more…)

MEXICO – Kidnapped Priest who Condemned Crime and Corruption Found Alive and Tortured

 

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(Agenzia Fides) – Diocesan priest José Luis Sánchez Ruiz, who had been kidnapped on Friday, November 11, was released yesterday with “obvious signs of torture”, according to a statement from the Diocese of San Andres Tuxtla (Veracruz, Mexico) signed by His Exc. Mgr. Fidencio Lopez Plaza.

In the statement, sent to Fides, the Bishop thanked the authorities for their interest and informs that the community awaits the conclusions of the prosecutor to clarify the facts. Mgr. Lopez Plaza also thanks for the “heartfelt sympathy and prayers of all the faithful, as well as the Mexican Episcopal Conference, and in particular the Bishops of the Ecclesiastical Province of Veracruz”.

According to the local press, Father Sánchez Ruiz, the parish priest of Los 12 Apóstoles Catemaco, in the days before the kidnapping had received threats, surely for his harsh criticism against corruption and crime in the town of Catemaco. Citizens had more than once expressed the lack of security and the arrogance of organized crime. Fides on several occasions reported that the Mexican states of Veracruz, Guerrero and Michoacán are the most violent regions even for priests. (CE) (Agenzia Fides 14/11/2016)

Mexica: Two priests kidnapped and killed in Veracruz state

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Poza Rica (Agenzia Fides) – In a statement the Mexican diocese of Papantla confirmed the violent death of two priests: Fr. Alejo Nabor Jiménez Juárez and José Alfredo Suárez de la Cruz. According to information gathered by Agenzia Fides, a first report of the Office of the Attorney General of Veracruz state indicates that the two priests were kidnapped last Sunday evening, September 18, from the parish of Nuestra Senora de Fatima, in the extreme outskirts of the city of Poza Rica, in the northern part of the Veracruz state. Their lifeless bodies were found yesterday morning, Monday, September 19, at the side of the road that connects Papantla to Poza Rica. A collaborator of the priests, who worked as a sacristan and driver, was also kidnapped, and fortunately was found alive. The area was the scene of violent clashes between drug cartels for years, but it is still not clear why the two priests were killed.

“We are dismayed by this news and we pray for their eternal rest – writes Mgr. José Trinidad Zapata Ortiz, Bishop of Papantla, in the statement for the tragic death of the two priests -. Once more we see that violence and insecurity have taken root in our society”. The Bishop hopes that the loss of the two priests will help bring long-awaited peace and priestly vocations to continue the evangelizing mission of the Church. “We condemn all forms of violence and pray for the conversion of those who forget that we are brothers and cause suffering and death – writes Mgr. Zapata Ortiz -. The path of violence and crime generates even more violence. God does not want death, neither violence nor injustice. God wants life, God wants everyone to live in justice, dignity and peace”. (CE) (Agenzia Fides, 20/09/2016)

STOP, be still! Can you hear that?

Who has held the oceans in His hands? Who has numbered every grain of sand? Kings and nations tremble at His voice. All creation rises to rejoice

Behold our God seated on His throne
Come let us adore Him
Behold our King nothing can compare
Come let us adore Him!

Who has given counsel to the Lord? Who can question any of His Words? Who can teach the One who knows all things? Who can fathom all His wondrous deeds?

Who has felt the nails upon His hands bearing all the guilt of sinful man?
God eternal humbled to the grave. Jesus, Savior risen now to reign! (Behold Our God, original lyrics)

STOP, be still. Turn off the all that distracts you. Shhh, be silent and listen. Can you hear that? The ONE who loves you is calling your name…Go to HIM!

 

Colombian Guerrilla Group Bans Worship Services, Threatens Pastors

An estimated 150 churches closed since July. 

Newly-baptized-believers-in-Putumayo-River_-Morning-Star-News-David-Miller

December 18, 2013 (Morning Star News) – Christians in southern Colombia are living in constant danger from a guerrilla army that has banned worship services in rural areas under its control.

An estimated 150 churches have been forced to close since July, when the 32nd Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP in Spanish) launched a repressive campaign against Roman Catholic and evangelical churches in the department (state) of Putumayo.

The FARC-EP has prohibited celebration of the Mass and Protestant worship in most small town and villages. Only congregations that have express permission from the rebel group are allowed to hold services without fear of retaliation.

Christians at greatest risk are the members of house churches and the itinerant evangelists who serve them.

“Every time my husband or another church leader leaves to go preach in the countryside, I can only ask, ‘Lord, continue to watch out for the safety of every one of them,” Jeanet Ortiz Pinto, wife of itinerant evangelist and radio speaker Angel Pinto, told Morning Star News. “My heart is saddened to see what is happening around us.”

The Pintos have pastored the Church of God in Puerto Asis, Putumayo since 1988. Angel Pinto also serves as itinerant pastor of several newly planted churches in the region.

During his 25-year ministry, Pinto has been captured five times by armed groups. Twice they told him he would be executed for violating FARC-imposed bans against preaching.

In both cases, local commanders released the pastor once they realized who he was – his congregation operates a well-known rescue ministry for war orphans.

“Some of those orphans belong to us; their parents were our comrades in arms,” they told Pinto the last time they spared him. “If we kill you, they will have nobody else to care for them.”

The FARC is known to have assassinated hundreds of evangelical church leaders over the years, including some of Pinto’s ministerial colleagues in Puerto Asis.

Guerrilla threats have driven six priests from their parishes in the Diocese of Mocoa, according to press reports.

“In the manual of coexistence issued by area FARC units, they have ordered us to close our churches, prohibited us from visiting outlying communities, or to preach – in effect, we must cease religious celebrations altogether,” Monsignor Luis Alberto Parra, bishop of Mocoa, told El Colombiano.

In the 50 years since the FARC launched its guerrilla war, 220,000 persons have lost their lives, according to a study by Colombia’s National Center for Historical Memory. Hundreds of thousands of families have been displaced by the violence, creating one of the world’s largest populations of internal refugees.

Ironically, the current aggression against Christians is happening while the Colombian government is engaged in negotiations with the FARC in Havana, Cuba, with a view to developing a comprehensive peace plan. The Colombian government tapped politicians, journalists, businessmen, and retired police and military officers to form the negotiating team, but no religious leaders.

Eneida Herrera, an evangelical and professor of Public Finance at the Autonomous University of the Americas, lamented that the church has suffered violence from armed groups yet was excluded from talks in Havana.

“Should the Havana negotiations fail to produce anything positive, we can expect an even greater wave of violence than what has occurred to date,” Herrera told Morning Star News. “The church and the local communities are the ones who will have to live with the results, whether good or bad.”

Pedro Mercado, adjunct secretary of the Episcopal Conference of the Catholic Church, reportedly said he was “very worried.”

“We assumed that, in the face of the peace process, pressure from the FARC was going to diminish,” he told reporters. “But on the contrary, it has grown harsher. We are watching with worry the security threats to our priests and bishops, which restrict our freedom to preach the word of God.”

On Friday (Dec. 13), the 48th Front of the FARC-EP tried to take by force the village of Caicedo, about 30 minutes from Puerto Asis. In order to stall response from police and military units, guerrillas blew up an oil tanker on the road as Angel Pinto was passing through on his motorcycle. He and other travelers were unhurt but were stranded at the site for several hours until authorities could restore order and remove the burning tanker.

By Latin America Correspondent for Morning Star News

Photo: Newly baptized believers in the Putumayo River. (Morning Star News, David Miller)

Four Christians In Mexico Jailed and Beaten

evangelical-mexico

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is calling on the Mexican government to prosecute local officials responsible for the unjust imprisonment and torture of four protestant Christians from 5-8 November in the western state of Oaxaca.

Reverend Leopoldo Alonso, leader of the Independent Pentecostal Christian Church in San Juan Ozolotepec, and three members of his church, Manuel Martínez Silva, Miguel Silva Reyes and Plácido Aragón, were imprisoned on 5 November on the orders of the municipal president, who had ordered the destruction of the Pentecostal church on 4 November.

The four men were freed on 8 November after government officials, accompanied by state police, travelled to the municipality to intervene.  Voice of the Persecuted viewed photos of the men who were admitted to the local hospital that clearly showed signs that they had been severely beaten.

Threats against the Protestants were first reported in May when church members made a public declaration calling for state government intervention in reaction to threats from the municipal president, Pedro Cruz González. The church members said that Cruz González had threatened to burn them and throw their bodies into a canyon if they did not renounce their faith. When government officials failed to respond, the situation escalated. In July, a member of the church, Vicente Aragon Hernandez, was imprisoned by Cruz Gonzalez. Municipal leaders indicated that this was punishment for speaking out publicly about the situation in San Juan Ozolotepec. In the face of continued inaction on the part of the state government, the situation took a violent turn when Cruz Gonzalez made a public order to ‘demolish the temple, lynch, imprison and torture’ the members of the Pentecostal church.

The National Commission for Human Rights has opened a complaint into the San Juan Ozolotepec case and issued a statement indicating that cases of religious intolerance are on the rise in Mexico, particularly in rural areas and regions with a significant indigenous population.

Dr Jorge Lee Galindo, an expert on freedom of religion and conscience in Mexico who is currently hosting a CSW delegation there, told CSW that incidents of religious intolerance continue to occur in parts of Mexico, in part because of a culture of impunity. “The government, on the occasions when it decides to act, often intervenes only to calm the situation, but rarely takes legal action against those responsible for these violations. Local authorities see that there are no real consequences for acts of violence and exclusion targeting religious minorities and these cases escalate and spread.”

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “It is imperative that the Mexican government take swift legal action against those responsible for this horrific crime. If the state government is unable or unwilling to uphold the law, the federal government must intervene. Freedom of religion is guaranteed in the Mexican Constitution and enshrined in international law to which Mexico is party; it is past time for all of Mexico’s citizens to enjoy the fundamental right to choose and practice their own faith.”

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