Religious Property Ownership Threatened in Transylvania

 by Rimager, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   Image by  Rimager 

 

For the last 25 years, the Historic Hungarian-speaking Churches of Transylvania have expected the government of Romania to return their illegally confiscated properties. In a process that has been fraught with complication and delays, victories in favor of progress have been slowly underway. Until now.

Religious repression and the practice of nationalizing what was once considered private property was the policy under Communist rule, broadly and especially in Romania from 1947-1989.

During those decades of Communist rule in Romania, church real estate was wrested from all denominations, including the four traditional Hungarian-speaking churches in the country: Roman Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran, and Unitarian. From these denominations, 2,140 properties were taken and nationalized by force.

In 1989, as Communist rule came to an end, democratization and the restoration of forcibly confiscated property began at a glacial pace. As of December 2012, half of those confiscated properties had been restored to their rightful owners; of that half, only a third have been granted usage rights.

In other words, over 1,700 properties across the denominations that comprise the Historic Hungarian-speaking Churches of Transylvania have still not been fully restored, despite government ordinances, two laws, international outcry, and countless ignored deadlines by the Romanian government.

Those few and far between success stories in all of this could at least be held up as signs of progress and signals to all that there is still hope to exercise their constitutional right to “sanctity of private and community property.” However, in November 2014, a profoundly concerning legal precedent was set when one of these restored properties was suddenly re-nationalized.

On November 26th, a Romanian appellate court ruled to renationalize the Székely Mikó Reformed High School, a property that was confiscated under Communist rule and restituted to its legal owner, the Reformed Church, over a decade ago.

The illegal verdict sent shockwaves throughout the religious community, conveying a troubling message that threatens the future of all of the already restituted properties – not to mention those that still hang in limbo. In a region that is less than 20% Hungarian, this move boldly signifies discrimination against minorities in Romania.

The Hungarian Unitarian Church shared the following statement in response to the ruling:

Kolozsvár, 27 November 2014
STATEMENT on the recent developments regarding the Székely Mikó Reformed High School

 

The Executive Committee of the Consistory of the Hungarian Unitarian Church noted with profound indignation the court decision on the restitution of the Székely Mikó Reformed High School in Sfântu Gheorghe (Hungarian: Sepsiszentgyörgy), Romania.

 

The legally binding verdict of the Court in Ploiesti de facto re-nationalized the Székely Mikó Reformed High School, which was confiscated (nationalized) by the Communist dictatorship in 1948, and restituted to its legal owner, the Reformed Church, in 2002.

 

This verdict is illegal, and it sends a humiliating and outrageous message not only towards the members of the Reformed Church, but also to the entire Hungarian minority in Romania, irrespective of religious denomination.

 

Since the 1989 fall of Communist dictatorship in Romania, the Hungarian-speaking minority churches in Romania have relentlessly struggled to obtain the restitution of their confiscated church properties (or compensation in justified cases).

 

For these 25 years, the restitution process has been controversial and painfully slow; until this moment however, our churches could have hoped for our constitutional right – i.e., “sanctity of private and community property” – for legal remedy, but this alarming court decision is a direct threat against our already restituted properties, which might be similarly re-nationalized at any moment.

 

Besides expressing hereby our solidarity with the Reformed Church in Romania, we are devoted to continue protesting in front of lay political forums and commence international lobbying, as well as to join forces with our Transylvanian Hungarian sister churches until justice prevails, and our confiscated properties are returned.

 

The Executive Committee of the Consistory
of the Hungarian Unitarian Church

At the request of the Hungarian Unitarian Church, we are sharing this news.  And, as further opportunities to support the public witness and protest arise, we’ll share them here.

During the winter holidays, let us keep our Unitarian brothers and sisters in Transylvania in our hearts during a challenging time in their country’s history, where democracy is fragile and the future of all Hungarian-speaking churches and other religious minorities of Romania hangs in uncertainty.

“Our lamps may be different, but light is the same”

robmacphersonIn the wake of the horrific school shooting in Pakistan earlier this week, community leaders in Adelaide, Australia, organized a peace vigil to honor the innocent lives lost. Drawing a multicultural, interfaith crowd of over 300, all who attended came together to mourn and to heal. Minister of the Unitarian Church of South Australia, Rev. Rob MacPherson, offered the following words at the vigil, printed here with permission.

peacevigil

Good evening. I want to offer a thought that might kindle some light for us in this dark time.

Just last Sunday, a beautiful thing happened at our church—I wish you all could have seen it. We held a service in which Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Ba’hai, Unitarians, and Muslims came together to worship as one body–an interfaith service. This service was followed by a shared meal, during which people of these different faiths broke bread together and shared fellowship.

Guess what happened? No one died. No one made threats or was threatened. No one feared for their safety. No voices were raised, except in laughter. The peaceful fellowship we enjoyed that day was more than cordiality, more than the politeness that goes with the religious practice of welcoming the stranger at your table. It had more to do with really seeing that, as the poet Rumi said, ‘our lamps may be different, but light is the same’. And so we could let the diversity of our faiths just be, together knowing that abundant plurality is how God actually expresses itself in this infinite, expanding, and varied creation. And for a brief time, we looked at the light, and we saw that it was good. (more…)

UU-UNO Climate Change Initiative: International Human Rights

People's Climate March
People’s Climate March in New York City

As part of our series on International Human Rights, we would like to highlight the important work of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office on Climate Change initiative.Climate change is posting an immediate and far-reaching threat to the basic elements of life for all people now and in future generations. It is time for us to avoid furthering the impacts of climate change. The UU-UNO is guided by our UU principles to respect and promote the interdependent web of existence, well being, peace and justice throughout the world. UU-UNO collaborates with other environmental agencies at the United Nations in order to promote climate change mitigation initiatives on a global scale and protect to protect our rights and those of future generations. Climate Change

On September 20, the UU-UNO helped to organize and co-sponsored The Climate Crisis: Which Way Out? event at All Souls Church, New York City. On September 21, the office members and interns participated in the inspirational People’s Climate March with over 400,000 marchers from around the world. We lifted our voices, faith and values as one to save the earth. Read more about the People’s Climate March here.

We host the UU-UNO Climate Portal, which was created by and is maintained by Dr. Jan Dash. The portal is a world-class website covering most of the wide ranging topics discussed at UN climate conferences. It contains educational information and current climate news on climate science, environmental impact, and mitigation/adaptation “what we can do” strategies, renewable energies, politics, negotiations, ethics. We updated the Lima Climate paper for the Lima Climate Conference in December focusing on sustainable strategies for adaptation and mitigation.

The UU-UNO is participating in the Commit2Respond (C2R) initiative, which is a new UU climate justice campaign to accelerate the shift to clean, renewable energy, grow the climate justice movement, and advance the rights of marginalized communities. The program development groups initiated a collaborative process of developing General Assembly workshop proposals involving C2R’s partner organizations and beyond.

The UU-UNO is facilitating the creation of networked Climate Action Teams (CATs), which are groups generating involvement in efforts together to mitigate climate change. Find more information about CATs on the UU-UNO Climate Portal and the instructions to start a CAT.

To support our continued access to the highest levels of the United Nations and to the Canadian and American governments, please donate generously to the UU-UNO.

Migration Justice: Peace, Liberty, and Justice for all at the UU-UNO

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Thursday, December 18th, 2014 is International Migrant’s Day, and the UU-UNO is celebrating by holding a special film screening on Migration Justice and reviewing its major accomplishments.

Over the past year, the UU-UNO’s efforts around Migration Justice have led us closer to our goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all .The office would like to end a year of successful human rights work by hosting a special film screening on immigration justice from 9:30 AM – 12:00 PM on Thursday, December 18th, 2014.

Winner of the 2013 Cinematography Award, “Who is Dayani Cristal” will be screened on the 10th floor of the UN Church Center and is open to all that would like to attend. The event is co-sponsored by the Immigration Committee of the Unitarian Church in Westport, Peace and Justice Task Force, and the Racial Justice Initiative.

RSVP on Facebook!  (more…)

2014: A Big Year for UU-UNO’s Work on LGBT Human Rights

lbbt UNMy name is Raymond Firmalino and I am one of the UU-UNO‘s LGBT Program interns. As part of our blog series on International Human Rights Day, I on behalf of the  UU-UNO will highlight our work this year on one of the most pressing issues of our time: the plight of lesbian, gay, lesbian, and transgender (LGBT) people.

The current situation is dire. Many LGBT people around the world endure brutal acts of violence; are denied opportunities to work, learn and receive healthcare; and must flee their countries–all because of who they are. In some 80 countries it is illegal to be gay or to be suspected of it. Consequently, many LGBT people are excluded from the full measure of human rights.

We raised this issue repeatedly at the United Nations. This past summer, the UU-UNO participated in the UN Post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals Agenda, a policy process in which member states, major groups and civil society developed international development goals for 2015 and beyond. The UU-UNO proposed policies that promote and protect LGBT human rights, and was the only NGO at the UN’s proceedings to do so. (more…)

UU-UNO Spring Seminars: International Human Rights

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As part of the human rights advocacy work of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, we host an annual Intergenerational Spring Seminar, where youth and adults from around North America come together to spend three days in New York City learning about an issue of global concern.

The seminar works to help our participants find themselves in the global U/U story with regards to international human rights. Each year focuses on a different human rights theme. Past themes have included women’s rights, poverty, HIV, human trafficking, peacekeeping, climate change, and race and immigration.

The annual spring seminar is a major program of the office that brings together all UN-office interns, staff, and an inter-generational planning committee across and outside UU congregations to collaborate on the planning of the amazing program. (more…)

UU-UNO Women’s Initiative in Light of International Human Rights Day

CSW59 Image Retrieved from UN Women

My name is Nazli, and I am the Women’s Initiative intern here at the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO). As part of our series of posts on International Human Rights Day, I will uncover the works and efforts of the UU-UNO on or referring to international women’s rights issues.

Here, at the UU-UNO, our focus is to incorporate Unitarian Universalist (UU) principles along with the values of the United Nations (UN) into our efforts advocating collective fair treatment and global civil liberties. Guided by UU principles, the mission of the organization is to recognize and encourage the inherent worth and dignity of all living things.

The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office staff and interns work hard on a number of varying programs that encompass universal unalienable rights and social justice violations, one of them being the Women’s Initiative.

The Women’s Initiative program, concentrates on various aspects of human rights violations against women and girls. As an Intern of UU-UNO, I have been privileged to have the opportunity not only to work on a project where I can offer my own unique ideas and perspectives, but also design and propose panel discussions for events pertaining to UU-UNO and the UN. (more…)

International Human Rights Day at the UU-UNO

130408 Ban Ki-moon bij Timmermans 1990 by Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   Adapted from original image by Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken 

Every year on December 10th, the world observes International Human Rights Day. Since 1950, this has been an occasion for people around the world to acknowledge and celebrate the fundamental rights that we all share as human beings. This year’s International Human Rights Day is focused around the idea that every day is Human Rights Day – and at the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO), this is certainly the case.

United Nations Headquarters in New York City
United Nations Headquarters in New York City

Unitarian Universalists are proud to be leaders in action for social justice around the country and around the world. As in our daily lives we strive to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person, each day at the United Nations the UU-UNO strives to affirm and promote every person’s human rights on the international stage.

The UU-UNO participates in meetings, conferences, and committees at the United Nations with key UN bodies such as Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Department of Public Information (DPI), the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the World Bank to discuss with them how they can act in the interest of creating a world community that is accepting, just, and compassionate.

Keynote panel with at the UN Trusteeship Council Chamber
Seminar keynote panel in the UN Trusteeship Council Chamber

As a leader in the NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) Committee on Disarmament, Peace, and Security, the UU office works with other NGOs and UN member nations to create policies for a peaceful, free, and just world. The UU-UNO also takes a leading role in the NGO Committee on Sustainable Development, the NGO Committee on Human Rights, the NGO Security Council Working Group, the Faith and Ethics Network for the International Criminal Court, and the NGO/DPI Executive Committee.

Today on International Human Rights Day, we should all take the time to reflect on how we as individuals can advocate for our own rights and the rights of others. Over the course of the next week, the UU-UNO will be sharing more about how the work that it does at the UN is important for upholding international human rights and Unitarian Universalist values. Stay tuned!

To support our continued access to the highest levels of the United Nations and to the Canadian and American governments, please donate generously to the UU-UNO.

 

A Recap of the International Human Rights Work at the UU-UNO in 2014

UU-UNO Logo

December 10th is International Human Rights Day. Guided by our principles, Unitarian Universalists are called to advocate for international human rights; to be a voice for the voiceless by promoting the inherent worth and dignity of all living things. Our Unitarian Universalists United Nations Office is the UU voice to the United Nations. I would like to share with you all of the important accomplishments of our office in 2014.

High Level Consultations

The UU-UNO’s reputation has grown over the past few years, to the point where we are consulted and asked to speak at very influential forums. Over the course of 2014, we have been invited to speak and consult with the: Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development on human rights including religious freedom, women’s rights and sexual orientation and gender identity human rights. These consultations included staff from the Office of the Prime Minister. We enjoy a close working relationship with Amnesty International’s UN Office, and their offices in Canada and the United Kingdom.    1

We have been asked to join a consultative group at the United States Department of State that pulls together faith-based leaders to advise the State Department on the areas of Social Justice, Development, Peace and Conflict Resolution. We have played an important role on the Social Justice subcommittee which has focused on sexual orientation and gender identity human rights. (more…)

The God Wound

The Philippines: Typhoon Hagupit barrels by EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection 

tetRev. Tet Gallardo, minister of the Bicutan UU Church in Manila (Philippines), reflects on the challenging process of healing, grappling with doubt, the relativity of certainty, and resiliency in the face of natural disaster.

The following is excerpted from Rev. Gallardo’s blog, The Spiritual Theorist.

Today, the sound of howling winds too often heard in these parts tear through the glass windows sealed for comfort. Incorrigible. The deaths of 10,000 or so in one island during the last supertyphoon of this magnitude is still fresh in the collective memory of those in the 7,000 islands of this country that were spared. The winds don’t lash or buffet, they crush any sliver of faith that God will spare us from danger. At least for me.

 

How does one heal from a God wound?

 

Barely a year has passed after Typhoon Haiyan, today we get Typhoon Ruby. At this time, although it has made landfall, the news we get is that our luck can be summed in the few lives snuffed this time. Barely a handful this time.

 

But I sorely remember how 2 days after Haiyan hit, after we all prayed in our heart of hearts and our deepest faiths to our God, that damage caused by the typhoon was zero. Somehow, it magically disappeared. And this to my mind was how the nuns in my Catholic high school described one typhoon that magically split into weaker forces getting lost in a mountain range. How it was a miracle, nothing is impossible with God.

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