Seventh-day Adventist advocates of religious liberty in Croatia recently gathered to celebrate a special religious-freedom emphasis day. Under the motto “Jesus — The Exile and the Traveler,” the event on January 12, 2019, at the University of Zagreb, included an award ceremony. The gathering also marked the 25-year anniversary of the launching of the Croatian Religious Liberty Association in February 1994.
The keynote speaker was the secretary of the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA), Ganoune Diop, who also heads the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department at the Adventist Church world headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.
Diop pointed out that migration and migrants are not a new phenomenon. He suggested that Genesis, the first book of the Bible, could also be titled Migration, as it relates so much to the relocation of individuals, families, and tribes for various reasons.
“What makes migrations in our time different is the extent and surprising reactions of those who could help and accept the refugees,” Diop said. “Although the indifference and cruelty of those who only seek their own profit cannot directly be removed, individuals can and should promote and develop the culture of accepting the defenseless and thus promote the dignity of each human being, because we are all created in the image of God.”
Diop reminded his audience that like many exiled children today, Jesus, as an infant, had to flee to another country, in this case Egypt, to escape the mortal danger of an egocentric king. That foreign country, he emphasized, provided a safe shelter for Jesus and His parents despite the cultural and religious differences. “For this reason, Christians should take the lead in accepting non-Christians who want to survive and secure their children a decent life,” he said.
Among those present at the gathering were representatives of many different religious communities and several prominent politicians, including Ivo Josipović, a former president of Croatia. The list included many advocates of religious freedom and human dignity.
Prizes were awarded to Metropolitan of Zagreb and Ljubljana Porfirije Perić, for promoting dialogue between religion and society, and to priest Tvrtko Barun, director of Jesus’ Refugee Service (JRS), for his courageous and generous engagement with those who have had to flee from their homes.
“One of the main ways in which the association works,” explained Adventist pastor Dragutin Matak, general secretary of the Croatian Religious Liberty Association, “is to bring together as many people as possible to share universal human values, the source of which is God’s law of love. It is the reason why the Association’s Executive Committee is composed of representatives from different religious communities.”
Matak shared that participants also became acquainted with a new issue of Liberty magazine, a journal published by IRLA, and received reports on the activities of the association as it tries to address current challenges to religious freedom in Croatia.
At the end of the conference, Rabbi Prelević of the Jewish Municipality of Croatia and Montenegro and Croatia Seventh-day Adventist Church president Slobodan Bobo Marčeta greeted and addressed the participants.