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Pledge of religious freedom given by Romanian officials

WASHINGTON (BP)–The president of Romania, Emil
Constantinescu, and the prime minister, Victor Ciorbea,
assured a delegation of Baptist leaders of their
commitment to religious freedom, according to a news
report from the Baptist World Alliance.
An apology also was extended for a beating of nine
Baptists in the village of Ruginoasa last Easter, the
BWA reported. After the beating outside a house used
for worship, Constantinescu had ordered an
investigation and last May called a summit to determine
the rights of evangelicals in Romania. The Baptist
World Alliance at the time called upon the Romanian
government to investigate the lack of police protection
to protect the Baptists from a crowd of several hundred
Denton Lotz, BWA general secretary who led the
delegation with Vasile Talos, president of the Baptist
Union of Romania, said Constantinescu and Ciorbeaboth,
though Orthodox, gave assurances of religious freedom
during the Nov. 21 meeting in Bucharest. The two
officials stated there is little chance of a law like
the one in Russia being passed in Romania, although
Romania is predominantly Orthodox.
Constantinescu, elected in 1996 to succeed former
communist leader Ion Iliescu, is known for an openness
to change and reform. Formerly rector and professor of
geology at the University of Bucharest, he was the key
person who enabled the Baptist Seminary to establish at
the university a Baptist Faculty of Protestant
Theology. Vasile Talpos, president of the Baptist
seminary in Romania, also is director of the Baptist
Faculty at the university.
Lotz said Constantinescu “knows Baptists well from
his visits to the United States.”
Karl Heinz Walter, general secretary of the
European Baptist Federation and BWA regional secretary
for Europe who was part of the delegation, thanked the
two Romanian leaders for their new openness to
religious freedom as a marked contrast to former
Carlyle Driggers, executive secretary of the South
Carolina Baptist Convention, who had just signed a
partnership agreement with Romanian Baptists, told
Constantinescu that South Carolina Baptists will help
Baptists build, educate leaders and bring dental and
other medical help.
The Baptist leaders also visited with Orthodox
Patriarch Teoctist with whom Lotz discussed the
proposed Baptist/Orthodox conversations. The BWA is
waiting on the decision of the 15 autocephalous
Orthodox groups whether they will agree to hold such
conversations. For Romanian Baptists, however, this was
a most important visit as, on the suggestion of the
patriarch, it opened the way for further conversations
between Romanian Baptists and the Orthodox.
Lotz said he told the patriarch the BWA is opposed
to proselytism, something the Orthodox accuse
evangelicals of doing, and spoke about the suffering
Baptists had endured during the 16th century until the