In Africa, Asia, Religious
Freedom is Celebrated
IRLA holds events in Angola and Mongolia
eligious freedom was recently celebrated in locations some 6,800 miles apart – the African nation of Angola and the Asian republic of Mongolia – but which are united in their desire to enhance and continue peoples’ rights to worship as they choose.
Some 45,000 Angolans gathered at a sports stadium in Luanda June 28 to celebrate freedom of religion in their country, which is rebuilding in the aftermath of a 27-year civil war that ended in 2002.
The festival, the largest to date, followed a three-day religious liberty congress sponsored by the International Religious Liberty Association and attended by 330 religious liberty proponents, faith leaders and governmental representatives from the southwest African nation and around the world.
In his keynote address, IRLA secretary-general John Graz thanked the government of Angola for promoting and defending religious liberty and singled out those who fought for the freedoms the country currently enjoys. Such festivals, typically held in tandem with IRLA congresses, are an important way of recognizing a country's efforts to ensure freedom of belief, Graz has said.
IN MONGOLIA: From left, Khamba Lama of the Dashjoilin Buddhist Monastery; Eugene Hsu, a general vice president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists; Samdan Tsedendamba, secretary of Monglia's Council on Religious Affairs; and John Graz, secretary-general of the International Religious Liberty Association. The group was among more than 50 government and religious liberty leaders who met last week to plan a forthcoming freedom of religion conference. [photo: courtesy NSD]
Earlier, international religious liberty leaders joined members of Mongolia's government and major religious communities for the nation's first religious liberty symposium, meant largely to lay groundwork for a full-scale freedom of religion conference in 2009.
"This is an historic day for Mongolia in hosting this symposium on increasing religious tolerance," said Samdan Tsedendamba, secretary of the country's Council on Religious Affairs.
Mongolians enjoy considerable freedom of religion, said Graz, who is also public affairs and religious liberty director for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, which jointly sponsored the event with the Northern Asian nation's Council of Religious Affairs. Graz joined more than 50 religious and government leaders for the meeting, which included a review of the United Nation's Documents on Religious Freedom.
Mongolia is home to nearly 3 million people, 50 percent of whom are Buddhist. About 40 percent claim no religion.
The Adventist Church's IRLA representative in Mongolia, Paul Kotanko, was invited to hold a forthcoming similar meeting at the Dashjoilin Buddhist Monastery. Organizers said last week's meeting will also lead to the Third Asian Congress on Religious Liberty in September 2009.
Established in 1893, the IRLA is present in some 80 countries and is the world's largest non-sectarian forum dedicated to religious freedom. Information on the group can be found at www.irla.org.
-- Reported by Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division and IRLA with ANN and AR Staff