A large-scale festival of religious liberty here in the Southern Mexican state of Chiapas underscores how freedom of conscience continues to improve in this region with a history of persecution against some religions.
Saturday’s festival of “Friendship and Religious Freedom” brought more than 25,000 people to the Victor Manuel Rayna Stadium in the city of Tuxtla Gutiérrez. The event was also broadcast on Internet radio.
“People in Chiapas know what religious persecution means, they know the costs of following your conscience,” said John Graz, secretary-general of the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA). “We’re grateful for the progress of religious freedom, where people can choose their faith without resistance.”
Graz later said the event was held to thank the state of Chiapas, its governor, and state authorities for religious freedom.
He said the event was the largest such celebration in the region.
Incidents of intolerance toward those not of the region’s dominant Catholic faith have sharply declined in recent years. As little as a decade ago, the region was still known for persecution of Protestants.
In 2008, ANN visited congregations whose neighbors wouldn’t allow construction of permitted church buildings. In other areas of the state, property was sometimes destroyed or Protestant believers imprisoned for converting from the dominant faith.
In 2011, the IRLA held a forum in Chiapas that brought together 600 people, including pastors, lay members and government officials. Federal and state officials at the forum said laws had recently been enacted to guarantee religious freedom and that full recognition and implementation were soon to come.
At Saturday’s festival, Adventist Church President Ted N. C. Wilson publicly offered his personal thanks to the mayor of Tuxtla Gutierrez for allowing event organizers to facilitate the ceremony in the city.
“We are so grateful to the authorities of the government and all peoples of good will for the religious freedom you enjoy,” Wilson said. “God asks us not only in Chiapas but around the world to promote and foster freedom of conscience.”
There are 218,000 Adventist Church members in Chiapas. Last year, the Adventist Church in Mexico created a fifth administrative union in the country – the Chiapas Mexican Union Mission – to accommodate and lead the growing membership.