Christian evangelicals from 35 countries have opened a five-day congress in Budapest. Its organizers say the meeting, called "Hope 21", offers an unprecedented get together of world evangelists.
Gospel songs and prayers ring out in the Budapest Convention Center as more than 1,000 evangelical leaders from all over the world hold their first meeting to explore how they can deliver the Christian message to 21st century Europeans.
Evangelical speakers have expressed alarm and concern at what they call Europe's moral decline and culture of death, citing recent laws in the Netherlands allowing the mercy killings of terminally-ill patients under strict guidelines. The evangelicals, who come from all Christian denominations, note that church attendance is dropping in Europe and an increasing number of congregations are closing down. Their goal is to reverse the trend by becoming more active in both social and religious areas.
The evangelicals do not form any one particular denomination. Their creed is that the only way to God and eternal life is through Jesus Christ, with whom they say anyone can have a personal relationship.
Hungary's center-right government has welcomed the "Hope 21" gathering. Foreign Secretary Zsolt Nemeth, who opened the congress, described the meeting as a historic opportunity for churches. "It is the first time that so many evangelicals have gathered to discuss the problems of today's Europe. Secondly," he said, "it is the first time that about 35 European countries are represented in a meeting of the 'Hope for Europe' movement. Number three, it is the first time that most of the Christian churches are represented at such an event."
Congress manager Jeff Fountain says world-class evangelists such as Billy Graham spread the Christian word in what they liked to call Crusades, but today's evangelists are avoiding that word. "Crusade is a 'no-no' word these days," he said. "We have become very embarrassed and very aware of what went on through the Crusades in the name of the cross, in the name of the church, in the name of Christianity, 900 years ago. Some of my colleagues have walked down the old crusaders route apologizing to Orthodox Christians, to Muslims, to Jews, for what was done in the name of Jesus."
Mr. Fountain says today's evangelicals should show more compassion, and at the same time must live a life of Christian family values.
The conference ends May 1.