Mikhail Gorbachev's promise of religious freedom for the Soviet Union has met with enthusiasm from Idaho's religious and refugee communities.
Gorbachev's vow resulted from his meeting with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican."It's unsurpassed as a historical event," said Tudor Cushman, director of SOAR, Sponsors Organized to Assist Refugees, at Church World Services.
Her agency has brought two Russian families seeking religious freedom to the Boise area, and a third family of six was expected Monday.
"In the Soviet Union, going to communion for Catholics has carried a penalty of death. It was usually not enforced, but it was a great burden for believers," she said.
"As soon as there is the possibility, our people will be ready to go," said Ted Johnson, spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in southern Idaho, speaking of the church's missionaries.
"We have a record 40,000 missionaries serving now around the world. There are plenty to go into any door that opens."
"We've been praying for this for a long time," Johnson said. "We have already been behind the Iron Curtain. The rusty curtain is disposed."
"The amount of good news is even more than expected," said the Rev. W. Thomas Faucher, project director for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boise.
Gorbachev's announcement is the result of a lot of hard work and prayer by the Catholic Church, in addition to the attempts of the Soviet Union to meet the needs of its people, Faucher said.
"All the events in Eastern Europe are combined with the growth of religious expression," he said. "Religious freedom is a deep human longing. It's a necessary human condition."
Alan Tell, a member of Congregation Ahavath-Beth Israel, Boise's Jewish congregation, echoed their praises for the turnaround.
"It's a tremendous step for all people. Not only were Jews persecuted, but so were most Christians and other people," he said. "We won the Cold War."