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Latin American Ecumenical News March - May 2013 • No. 2

LAEN

Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence.

Proverb 12,17

Information Service of the Latin American Council of Churches New Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) President values regional ecumenical relations

Voices at the CLAI VI General Assembly Havana/WCC, ALC

From a joint release by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Latin America and Caribbean Communication Agency (ALC), co-written by Marcelo Schneider (WCC) and José Aurelio Paz (ALC] haring his opinion on the relationship between CLAI and the World Council of Churches (WCC), the newly elected president of the continental ecumenical organization, Rev. Felipe Adolf said, “the WCC is not only a companion, but is the older brother to all of us involved in the global ecumenical movement. It embraces our common challenges in Latin America, such as the support of peace and integration processes and the care for internal changes in the churches.” “It is important that the WCC continues to lead the relationship with the regional and confessional

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Felipe Adolf, center, receives result of the election that made him new president of the Latin American Council of Churches (WCC)

councils of churches from all continents in order to give the ecumenical movement its overall character,” he added. After the election, Adolf also stressed the need for better coordination between the work of CLAI and the ACT Alliance in Latin America. “The council cannot duplicate experiences that other organizations are already doing very well. As an ecumenical organism we must work to strengthen these relationships”, he

affirmed. The new president of CLAI believes that the ecumenical movement is not limited to institutions but plays a decisive role in the dynamics of the movement. “CLAI and the WCC have common memberships in Latin America and the Caribbean, so we share a common responsibility. These churches are our bridges to the global ecumenical movement, of which the World Council of Churches is the represen-

CLAI VI General Assembly:

The need for better articulation on advocacy work was highlighted by the Anglican bishop from Colombia, Francisco Duque. “Just as many of our governments join political, economic and social forces in their search for a more equitable dialogue with the most powerful nations, we too as churches must unite in prayer and join human resources to serve the societies in their struggle to defend human rights and freedom,” he said. Jessica Mora Romero, coordinator of CLAI’s youth programme, added that “the council needs to be a tool of empowerment for youth so that they may have voice and participation both in ecumenical and secular spaces.” Her views were echoed by Rev. Juan Abelardo Schvindt from the Evangelical Church of the River Plate (IERP). “CLAI has to be a signal of hope and empowerment to the humble and excluded ones on the continent and to give witness of the Christian faith through the diversity of the region,” said Schvindt. Source: World Council of Churches, WCC: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/press-centre/news/clai2019s-president-electvalues-strengthening-regional-ecumenical-relations

CLAI VI General AssemblyY:

Continental Consultation on Church and Sexual and Reproductive Rights underway “As long as we have philosophical theories that rationally justify the appropriation of truth and we do not reflect on their principles and foundations, admitting that they are creations of ours and not visions of reality, an ecumenism of concrete gestures cannot be sown, cannot germinate,” said Dominican Republic biblical scholar Tirsa Ventura yesterday, May 20, when opening the reflections supporting the theme of the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) VI General Assembly in Havana, Cuba: An Ecumenism of Concrete Gestures.

tative and unifying element”, Adolf concluded. For Martin Coria of Church World Service, one of the ACT Alliance’s largest member organizations, “Latin America and the Caribbean have changed and continue to change. CLAI members and leadership know this reality and must work to make a difference in this broad and diverse scenario,” he said. Held under the theme “An ecumenism of concrete gestures”, the 6th Assembly offered a wide space of reflections about the role of CLAI in the current ecumenical framework and its challenges in the future. Rev. Dr Ofelia Ortega Suárez from the Presbyterian Reformed Church of Cuba and WCC’s president for Latin America and the Caribbean, stated that CLAI’s main challenge is to keep finding ways to contribute towards just peace and unity among the churches and peoples in the region. She valued spiritual life within the council which, in her opinion, is expressed through a “renewed and inclusive liturgy”.

Havana/ALC, By José Aurelio Paz n the biblical study beginning the Continental Consultation on Church and Sexual and Reproductive Rights preceding the CLAI VI General Assembly, Ventura used Psalm 85:8-13 as a base on which to point out that the purpose guiding CLAI’s task will be unreachable also, so long as there are institutions, groups and organisms that do not reflect and admit “a transcendent truth, as revelation, there will be holocaust, dismissals, there will be exclusions, there will be marginalization,” when people so often cling to other truths that hide their personal desires and not the truth as a revelation of God.

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Dominican Republic biblical scholar Tirsa Ventura.

The first day of the CLAI gathering had as a special guest, Dr. Kate Gilmore, representing the United Nations Population Fund, with which CLAI has been working on the theme of sexual and reproductive rights. In her biblical reflection, Tirsa Ventura also affirmed that ecumenism is not a physical phenomenon, but a relational one. “In that sense it is a relational action, having to do with the ethic of the common good. It is for this reason that love cannot be lacking, love and truth have always met together and are personified in those concrete actions, always in an environment of peace and justice. Love is not true if there is not peace with justice,“ she said. The continental consultation is the result of gatherings at national and regional levels and which collected together the concerns over the issues of sexual and reproductive rights, to be discussed in Havana. These concerns arise out of the specific realities of each country and region in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the goal of the consultation is to identify concrete actions that will facilitate a much more positive and deeper incidence on the part of the churches, in favor of the common good of the most vulnerable sectors among the people.

Christian spirituality demands a more Samaritan Church, assembly told at closing service Delegates, advisors and guests have returned to their home countries following a week of debates at the VI General Assembly of the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI), held in Havana from May 20-25. Each participant carried a cross on their chest, made from the wooden remains of the houses that were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy last year. Havana/José Aurelio Paz for ALC t the closing of the assembly on Saturday, May 25, the president of the World Council of Churches (WCC) for Latin America, Cuban Reformed pastor Ofelia Ortega, highlighted three concepts that make-up Christian spirituality: justice, love and humility. “Getting to the roots of social problems, starting from the same root of our spirituality, is the ultimate foundation of the spirituality for another possible world. Thus we need a church that is merciful, a church that is more Christian and more human, a Samaritan Church,” said Ortega.

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CLAI general secretary, Rev. Nilton Giese, read the Havana Pastoral Letter that points out urgently pressing issues in the region, such as the political conflict between the United Kingdom and Argentina over the Malvinas Islands, the peace process in Colombia, the 70 thousand violent deaths and the 20 thousand disappeared reported in Mexico. The letter also underlines the need for the development of Lay States in the region, in addition to the strengthening of freedom of worship. It calls for prayer for the deepening of the Venezuelan democratic process and support for the selfdetermination of the people of Puerto Rico. The letter emphasizes that the economic blockade imposed on Cuba still continues, and denounces the torture of prisoners held in the Guantánamo Naval Base. In an ecumenism of concrete gestures, theme of the gathering in Havana, delegates from the member churches of the continental ecumenical organization collected US$12,000 that will be destined to providing goods to cover the basic needs of those who suffered the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy in the eastern provinces of the island.


LATIN AMERICAN ECUMENICAL NEWS • MARCH - MAY 2013

2 Latin America and Environment CLAI VI General Assmbly:

‘Parliamentariatitis’ in procedural hassles during opening business and Cuba’s religious affairs director warmly received What U.S. Presbyterians should learn from Latin American Christians: a conga line dancing down the aisles during worship. What Latin American Christians should not have learned from U.S. Presbyterians: parliamentary procedure. Havana/Presbyterian News Service/ALC By Jerry L. Van Marter he Sixth Assembly of the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) formally opened May 23 with Bible study and stirring worship that left participants forming a shimmering conga line as Latin American spirituals were sung. But after moving to business, the Assembly immediately bogged down in parliamentary procedure that left it two hours behind the docket after just three hours. The inability for technical reasons to implement a planned electronic voting system slowed balloting on even simple matters, and the Assembly struggled throughout its first day to catch up. Three hundred full and fraternal delegates were present for this Assembly, the first since 2007. The Assembly welcomed new “full”

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members: Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Puerto Rico; Baptist Alliance of Brazil; Christian Mennonite Church of Colombia; and Evangelical United Church of CubaLutheran Synod; and fraternal members: Social Services of the Dominican (Republic) Church; Memorial Center for Martin Luther King, Jr. (Cuba); Prophetic Program for Community Education and Formation (Cuba); Christian Medical Asociation of Nicaragua; Center for Biblical Studies (Cuba); and Christian Center for Dialogue and Reflection (Cuba). Rejecting a recommendation from its Executive Committee, the Assembly retained the full membership of an indigenous church in Ecuador. CLAI’s bylaws state that member churches must be “officially” recognized by their countries, something the Ecuadorian church has not been able to attain. Leaders of the church argued that they are being stifled by the Ecuadorian government. One delegate remarked, “Who decides what is a church? Certainly not the government!” Cuba’s director of religious affairs denounces “genocidal embargo” The Assembly warmly received Caridad Diego Vello, Cuba’s director

CLAI VI General Assembly:

Havana/ALC From a news store by José Aurelio Paz for ALC.

LAEN Latin American Ecumenical News is a quarterly produced by the Communication Department of the Latin American Council of Churches Editor: Geoffrey Reeson Translation: Geoff Reeson Layout and Editorial Coordination: Amparo Salazar Chacón Press service: ALC, Methodist News Service, ENI, Presbyterian News Press, ACNS, Zenit, Factiva, ACPress. Departamento de Comunicaciones CLAI Inglaterra N32-113 y Av. Mariana de Jesús Casilla 17-08-8522, Quito, Ecuador Telepone: (593-2) 255-3996/252-9933 Fax: (593-2) 256-8373 E-mail: nilton@claiweb.org www.claiweb.org ISSN 1390-0358 Subscriptions: Latin America and the Caribbean: One year US$ 12, Two years US$ 20 Other regions: One year US$16, Two years US$26

Caridad Diego Vello speaks with delegates after she addressed the 6th Assembly of the Latin American Council of Churches, CLAI (Jerry Van Marter)

tem and policies, Vello said (to loud applause): “Lift the blockade and let’s see.” Recent reforms – most initiated by President Raúl Castro after he succeeded his brother Fidel three years ago – include private property ownership, encouragement of private business with government startup loans, land reform in which individual farmers are given land if they agree to live and farm on it, and a just-introduced system of taxation to support government services in education, healthcare and infrastructure. Before the 1959 revolution, 85

percent of Cuba’s trade was with the U.S. After the blockade was imposed, that trade shifted to the former Soviet bloc countries. Now, with the Soviet Union’s collapse in the late-1980s, Vello said, “We have had to find new markets and rely on self-sustainability. We aspire to a socialism that is sustainable and that depends on our efficiencies and creativity.” She praised CLAI for its efforts “to create the bonds that unite us as people, churches and states regardless of the peculiarities and differences that separate us.” Source: Presbyterian News Service: http://www.pcusa.org/news/2013/5/28/parliamentariatitis/

CLAI VI General Assembly:

Lutheran ArgentineanEcuadorian pastor, Rev. Felipe Adolf, elected new president of CLAI Following five ballots, Adolf was elected on May 24 as President of the Board of Directors of the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI), obtaining 66 votes, 7 more than Bishop Carlos Poma of the Methodist Church of Bolivia.

of the Office of Religious Affairs, who described the “transformation” of Cuba’s economy despite what she called the “genocidal U.S. blockade.” Cuba has embarked on its transformation, Vello said, “so we can create a socialism that is more sustainable and prosperous.” Cuba already leads Latin America and much of the world in literacy rates, life expectancy, low infant mortality, educational levels and per capita doctor-to-population rates. But the U.S. economic blockade –now more than 50 years old and sustained by nine consecutive U.S. presidents– has greatly hindered economic development in Cuba and has been condemned by virtually every international organization in the world, including the United Nations. “There is no legitimate reason to continue this genocidal blockade under which 77 percent of Cubans have been born,” Vello said, citing a U.S. State Department memo from 1960 that she said states that “they (the U.S. government wants to wear us down, deny us funds and supplies to provoke hunger and despair and bring down our government. To those who say the Cuban government is “bluffing” to disguise the failures of its socialist economic sys-

“We have to re-woo the churches and let them know that they are the owners of CLAI,“ Adolf said to ALC. Following its VI General Assembly, CLAI faces enormous challenges, and “we now have to think about the integrating of a board of directors in which all of us are willing to work, re-building on the bases of what is being done,” he added. Adolf, 67, was the first secretary general of CLAI and past vice-president of its board of directors. He is the pastor of the Spanish speaking congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ecuador (IELE) in Quito, where CLAI has its headquarters. So that the churches feel themselves to be the owners and support CLAI, they need to have a passion for it as a project that responds to the needs of the churches with sensitivity and affection, stressed the new president. Adolf continued by saying that CLAI cannot duplicate experiences that other organizations are already doing very well. The experiences of the churches are what nurture the council. He pointed out that “CLAI is an ecumenical organism and as such we want to strengthen relationships.“

Bishop Emeritus Federico Pagura honored at assembly opening service The State Council of the Republic of Cuba, represented by its First VicePresident, Miguel Díaz Canel Bermúdez, has bestowed the Order of Solidarity upon Argentinean Methodist Bishop Emeritus Federico Pagura, in recognition of his friendship with the Cuban people, his defense of human rights and Latin-American integration, and “his militant anti-imperialism.” Havana/ ALC From a news story by José Aurelio Paz for ALC.

he presentation of the order took place at the opening service of the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) VI General Assembly being held in Havana. Pagura is a former president of the continental ecumenical body. The opening service in the Lázaro Peña theatre was covered live by Cuban television. In expressing his gratitude for the recognition, the 90 year old bishop said that the meeting of the CLAI assembly in Havana is a “contemporary miracle,” because it has bent “the immoral decision of the empire of the North,” that

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froze the financial resources of the ecumenical organization deposited in a North American bank, designated to cover the assembly expenses. Pagura paid homage to the Cuban people and government, and the ecumenical churches that make-up the continental family. He remembered those who preceded him in the leadership of CLAI, and shared a reflection on the mission of the church of the poor and its commitment with the kingdom of justice and of hope proclaimed by Jesus Christ. When declaring the VI Assembly officially open, the present President of CLAI, Anglican

Bishop of Panama Julio Murray, said that they were gathered “to make visible the presence, work and growth of the action of God in that corner of his Kingdom, where the many difficulties being experienced weigh heavily as a result of the unjust measures of the economic blockade imposed by the empire.” Murray affirmed that the CLAI gathering brings an offering of solidarity to the Cuban people and highlighted that the assembly was taking place at the time of Pentecost, when “the Holy Spirit comes and founds the Church.” Source: Presbyterian News Service: http://www.pcusa.org/

Cuban State Council honoring of Bishop Federico Pagura (J. A. Paz)


Latin America and Environment 3 LATIN AMERICAN ECUMENICAL NEWS • MARCH - MAY 2013

Caribbean churches reflect on new directions for diaconal work “Diakonia must be done through action, social services, advocacy and challenging systems and structures that create injustice and dehumanization of people,” said Rev. Dr Paul Gardner of Jamaica at a seminar in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, which included a visit by the president of Haiti. WCC/ALC Port-au-Prince iakonia is a Greek term used in the New Testament to describe ministries of service, mission and support. It is the source of the English words “deacon” and “diaconal” and was the theme of the seminar held 15 to 18 April. “We are able to develop tools through which we can continue to exemplify our Lord’s work in various situations, said Gardner, a Jamaican Moravian pastor and member of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee. “The Haitian context in the dialogue provides us the perfect background for discussions, reflections and prayers about diakonia.” The event was organized by the WCC in collaboration with the Caribbean Conference of Churches (CCC) and hosted by the Protestant Federation of Haiti (PFH). The seminar provided a space

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for dialogue on good practices for the diaconal ministry of the churches. Participants shared updates on contemporary issues related to diakonia and development in the ecumenical movement, particularly in the Caribbean. Forty people took part in the discussions, including representatives of the WCC member churches in the Caribbean, diaconal projects, diaconal institutions and specialized ministries in Haiti. The methodology for discussions at the seminar was facilitated by the Regional Ecumenical Advisory and Service Centre (CREAS) from Argentina. The event was part of a process on diakonia initiated at the WCC’s 9th Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil, 2006, and leading to the WCC’s upcoming 10th Assembly in Busan later this year. The discussions were a follow-up to consultations on diakonia in Romania in 2009 and the Netherlands, 2010. A document, Theology of Diakonia for the 21st Century, an outcome of the WCC consultation in Sri Lanka, 2012, was also discussed extensively. In her reflections at the seminar, Elvire Douglas, a Haitian participant from the African Methodist Episcopal Church, said, “Diakonia should be a way of living for each Christian bearing testimony of the gospel in the 21st century.” “Prophetic diakonia is to be promoted by the churches to enable and reset its objectives and define

Participants in a WCC seminar on new directions for diakonia in Port-au-Prince, Haiti (WCC)

relevant strategies to teach, empower and advocate for justice and peace for the healing of the world,” she added. Translating diakonia into social action Haiti’s president, Michel Joseph Martelly, visited the group on Wednesday, 17 April, thanking PFH specifically for the invitation and offering greetings to the participants. “My pledge to you is to tell the world to work with the government of Haiti for the improvement of the living conditions of people,” said Martelly. He expressed appreciation for the “accompaniment of the churches to build the kingdom of God, bringing peace, justice, reconciliation, democratic values among the people through action and prayers.” “What would Haiti be today without pastors and priests?” he added. Rev. Dr Lesley Anderson, a member of the CCC presidium, affirmed that this dialogue has an “impact on the direction in which the church leaders must work to enable people to have a new vision of hope in a world of despair.” “From biblical and theological perspectives, we have examined the socio-political and economic realities of our region. We feel inspired by our togetherness to seek solutions to the many and varied challenges with which we are confronted,” he added. The Rev. Dr Carlos Emilio Ham, the WCC’s programme executive for diakonia, and Latin America and the Caribbean, said that the seminar represented an opportunity of “regional empowerment through mutual sharing.” Currently, the WCC is working toward strengthening the diaconal capacity of member churches and networks that “will further empower them to transform structures of injustice and violence exacerbating suffering of people and communities,” said Ham. Source: World Council of Churches, WCC: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/press-centre/news/caribbean-churchesreflect-on-new-directions-for-diaconal-work

First Woman Elected as Moderator of the National Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Guatemala (IENP) In the renewal of the leadership of the IENP’s Executive Committee, Presbyter Esther Polo de Sánchez was elected as Moderator, the first woman to hold that position. Guatemala City By Azucena Rosal for ALC.

sther Polo de Sánchez has a broad experience both at the level of the national church and her local congregation, the First Presbyterian Church of Antigua, Guatemala, founded in October, 2012.

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The Plenary Assembly of the IENP held from February 23-24, has brought winds of hope and justice in the search to be a community faithful to the principles of the gospel of the Kingdom of God. Accompanying Esther Polo de Sánchez on the IENP Executive Committee are the Governing Presbyters Consuelo de Molina of The Messiah Church, Ruth Ixcot of the Eben-Ezer Church and current Moderator of the Central Feminine Presbyters Union, and Bessie Orozco of the Central Church. Congratulations to the whole Executive Committee, and especially to the women who from their

new ministries will be useful for the building of Christ’s body. The installation of the new Executive Committee was presided over by Presbyter Baudilio Recinos. The IENP Plenary Assembly also set the date for the ordination and installation of Azucena Rosal as Minister of the Word and Sacraments. Rosal has served as a Licensed Preacher in the Peniel Church, the first woman to be ordained to this ministry in the history of the Central Presbytery. The church grows as a manifestation of God’s good will when all those who God in his great love has called are taken into account.

Churches in solidarity with campesinos arrested during protest against mining project in Guatemala, with Pastors Similox (left) and Álvarez (second from left).

Churches in solidarity with campesinos arrested during protest against mining project in Guatemala The churches lament the excessive force used by the police authorities against the 29 campesinos in San Rafael Las Flores, who were peacefully protesting against the establishing of the El Escobal mining project there. Guatemala City/Mayra Rodríguez for ALC. long with Lutheran pastor José Pilar Álvarez, Pastor Vitorino Similox of the Ecumenical Christian Council of Guatemala, visited the area on April 12 and encouraged the campesinos to peacefully resist the project and not fall into provocations, so that the authorities not criminalize their struggle in favor of the environment. Similox also criticized the news media for generating misinformation and fear among the people. More than 150 campesinos took part in the protest but only 29 were arrested. The police invaded the private property where the campesinos were gathered, apprehended nine vehicles and took away grain foods and personal belongings and mattresses of the demonstrators. Beginning on April 11, the protesting campesinos have suffered reprisals, including tear gas bombs thrown by the police, with no consid-

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eration for the women and children present. In spite of the community’s rejection of the mining project made known in a public consultation, the government granted a 20 year license for mining exploration in San Rafael Las Flores to the San Rafael Mining Company, a subsidiary of the Canadian Tahoe Resources. Gustavo Martínez, of the Catholic Church, said that most of the campesinos that are peacefully resisting the mining project are Christian, and that they are defending the life and what God has given them. According to Similox, the churches are accompanying the campesinos’ peaceful protest and ask of the authorities that they respect the human rights of the demonstrators, listen to what they are asking for, and take into account their anxiety. Álvarez and Similox met with the local priest, Néstor Melgar. “It is saddening that our governments do not look after the common good, it is an injustice,” said Melgar. An ecumenical service is to be held with the campesinos. The Observatory of Indigenous Peoples points out that Guatemala has 1.2 thousand points of conflicts caused by the establishing of mining operations, the building of hydroelectric plants, and practices of single crop agriculture.

Bible Society of Brazil (SBB) Reaches New High in Distribution of the Bible The SBB reached a new record in the distribution of the Holy Scriptures in 2012, with 7.38 million copies, an increase of 9% when compared to the previous year. ALC hen adding together selections and portions of the Bible, New Testaments, and complete Bibles, the number of copies distributed in 2012 was 244.71 million, of which 26.27 million were distributed with no charge to students, the sick, those imprisoned, and those with hearing or visual limitations. The printing of all these biblical texts is done at the SBB press installations in Barueri, São Paulo, where

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a Bible is printed every three seconds. The SBB exports the printed texts to more than 100 countries, in Portuguese, Spanish, English, French, Arabic and Ioruba, spoken in African countries. Each month the SBB press installations use 800 reels of paper, the equivalent of 24.000 kilometers. The paper used in one year would circle the Earth 7.2 times. Founded in 1948, the SBB is a part of the United Bible Societies, a world alliance that arose two years earlier for the purpose of facilitating the processes of translation, production, and distribution of the Holy Scriptures. The United Bible Societies gathers together 147 related organizations in over 200 countries and territories.


LATIN AMERICAN ECUMENICAL NEWS • MARCH - MAY 2013

4 Church and Society

Testimonies from the PEAC ecumenical accompaniers in Colombia The first Ecumenical Program of Accompaniment in Colombia (PEAC) accompaniers have begun their experience of being with and sharing with the communities. In two teams of two they are accompanying a) the Finca Alemania cooperative farming community and b) the communities of Brisas del Mar, Vista Hermosa and Campo Bello on the Colombian Caribbean coast. PEAC/ALC San Onofre Here we wish to share with you some of the experiences they have recounted to us*: The Finca Alemania Farming Cooperative: A strong community which does not give way to tears The Finca Alemania was the first place we visited, and walking through their fields I could sense sadness, pain and isolation. Nevertheless the people are quick to show us hospitality and friendship, greeting us with smiles and flowers, bringing us food which they produce on their land. So the week began with flowers. And the first visit to these people we will be accompanying was to one of the community leaders, who met us halfway up the road to his house with a big bouquet for each of us. It was such a beautiful and unexpected gesture, but it was only the first of many such moments in a week pro-

foundly filled with emotions. When we had greeted one another we continued with him on foot and started talking as we walked. He seems to me to be a man of much wisdom, the sort of wisdom that can only be gained through experiences over time, through grief and loss. But the kind of wisdom that makes you strong, that enables you to understand that in spite of everything you have to keep going, you have to maintain hope. He and his wife received us in their home with food and much affection. He gave us a general overview of how the Finca Alemania came to be established, what happened to them when the violence began and hfû own personal experiences. But he also talked about the goals of the cooperative in the present day, about their current struggles, and how he sees the future for Finca Alemania. That is to say, how they are working together to improve their community and raise their crops, but also how he sees the likelihood of more violence against them developing. Listening to him, I am very aware of the grave importance these people place on our accompaniment. On Tuesday and again on Thursday, we talked with two other leaders, both older men but very vigorous. I didn´t want to ask them how old they are, but I think that rather than being of very advanced years they have been aged and seasoned by their experiences. Life has wrinkled their skin, but not their souls. Neither of them talks much, but I can read in their expressions their welcome and their pleasure at being

First PEAC ecumenical accompaniers in Colombia (PEAC)

able to be with us. Ruth and I found it hard to come up with ways of not eating with them. Not that I would mind eating with them, in fact it really bothers me not to share bread with them, because for Jesus the sharing of bread was so important, to get to know people, to be with them as in a family. But I still feel keenly that I am taking from them something they have very little of. The two of them open their hearts to us and tell us their stories briefly but in a very sincere manner. As we were continuing to talk with one of them, his wife and two of his neighbours came over towards the end of the afternoon to share their own moving stories. Friday we went to the house of an incredibly strong woman and had a much livelier conversation with her which allowed us to get into such topics as personal tastes and the role of women in our respective societies. She was a great hostess and it was very pleasant to spend time in her home.

I have left the other things that happened on Friday until last, because they were very different. We went to listen and learn at a meeting of the cooperative members which took place in the home of one of the most prominent women leaders. We took advantage of the opportunity to introduce ourselves to all the members we had not yet met. Rosario from Infancia Feliz (“Happy Childhood”, an NGO) brought along two lawyers who reviewed case by case the support being provided to each family that had previously been displaced. We shared food with the group and afterwards we all sang together. The members of Finca Alemania have suffered forced displacement, threats and the deaths of a number of their leaders, but still they look to me to be a very well-organized group of people The PEAC program has been very well received, and they are very clear about what they want from us. They aren´t asking us for our

opinions about what happens in their meetings. They want us to accompany them and listen to them. I asked Sergio directly what difference he would see between the former time when the Finca Alemania community was forced to leave this place and how things would be if the same thing were to happen today. He almost didn´t know how to answer me, but then he told me that we, that is to say our presence, is a great positive step. I want to somehow be worthy of his confidence, and I trust that together with all the team of people who have brought us here and who are supporting us we will be able to do good work. These people have a great deal to tell us, and I believe firmly that this in itself is a liberating act, and that we are accompanying them in that act. And I am aware that they have not even shared with each other some of the details which they are sharing with us. What amazes me is that during not one of the stories which I have listened to so far have I seen the narrator shed even one tear. This is a community that does not cry. It may be that they have recounted their stories so many times, it may be that their costeño, or coastal, character helps them get through it, it may be that this is a form of selfprotection, it may be many things. But the fact is that they are telling you their life stories, telling you their sorrows, their loss, their fears, their anxieties…..with a smile on their lips. What incredible strength they have! *This narrative was developed by the PEAC communications team based on material contributed by accompaniers Isabel Silva and Ruth. For further information on PEAC, see: http://peac.co/?page_id=74 Source: Ecumenical Program of Accompaniment in Colombia, PEAC: http://peac.co/?p=177

“Taking One Small Step toward Great Change”: Training in Latin America Equips Lutheran Youth for Advocacy on Climate Justice Youth delegates to The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) regional meeting for churches in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) have expressed their strong support for the LAC churches’ commitment to advocacy and environmental care initiatives that address climate change. LWF, ALC/Managua By Chelsea Macek, communications consultant for the LWF COL meeting. he 16 youth participated in an LWF-led training on advocacy and climate justice, 13-15 April, prior to the Latin American

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Church Leadership Conference (Conferencia de Liderazgo-COL) hosted by the Nicaraguan Lutheran Church of Faith and Hope in the capital Managua. The training by LWF Youth included an exposure visit to the “Green Project” in rural Nicaragua, a farm learning center that grows coffee and fruit trees utilizing organic fertilizers. The local Lutheran church supports the center where community members can learn about irrigation, family gardens, water management and alternative farming, as well as food security, deforestation and water contamination. In the project visit, some 40 Nicaraguan youth, who had traveled five hours to meet the LAC youth delegates, shared their experiences. Fabián Bello, a delegate from

At the Green Project, the LAC and Nicaraguan youth get ready to become artistic advocates for the environment (LWF Chelsea Macek)

Colombia, commended the Nicaraguan Lutheran church for its significant support to the “Green Project” and the encounter with the local youth. “It is a beautiful union that we should encourage in other churches around the world,” he added. Earlier at the advocacy and climate justice training, Maura Ramos from El Salvador led the opening worship, urging the delegates to dedicate their lives to the church. Helping Congregations Participants drawn from 13 LWF member churches in the LAC region spoke of their local involvement in the fight against climate change, explaining how they help their home congregations learn more about protecting the environment. Projects included recycling units, training on how to mitigate the effects of natural disasters and selling recycled crafts. “What we are doing is taking one small step toward great change,” said Mexican youth leader Luis Velázquez, who is advocating for recycling in his local community. Theology student Danielle Dokman from Suriname noted that even as climate change leads to new diseases, disappearing forests and

beaches, and worsening poverty, it is difficult to get people in the region to take notice. As Lutherans, it is important to define the relationship between the Creator and creation, while remembering that Christians are co-partners with God, she reflected. Nahún Stütz from Argentina and Raquel Kleber from Brazil presented “Climate Change –A Challenge to Our Churches,” the international report developed by young delegates who attended the COP18 climate change negotiations as LWF representatives. The report will be presented to the LWF Council in June. Rev. Ángel Furlan, former president of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church (IELU) in Argentina, spoke on how to implement advocacy efforts in local communities. “When I look into the faces of these young people I see so much potential here,” said Furlan. “They are already making changes.” Rev. Dr Patricia Cuyatti, LWF area secretary for Latin America and the Caribbean, advised the youth leaders to take advantage of the opportunity to meet presidents, bishops and pastors from the different LWF member churches in the region.

She emphasized that youth’s voice should be heard in all aspects of LWF’s work. Soliette López of Nicaragua facilitated a discussion on social networking in church youth work, and a dialogue was held to discuss how to improve such sharing and what methods of communication would work best for the youth. Caroline Richter, secretary for LWF Youth, presented the LWF youth blog as a platform that young leaders can utilize to share their stories, and she trained the youth on how to start blogging in their networks. She stressed the importance of exchanging ideas face-to-face as well as continuing to network in the region and globally. During the visit to the “Green Project,” the LAC and Nicaraguan youth jointly painted a mural representing the commitment by youth leaders and churches to climate change advocacy, and a colorful banner on the youth meeting. When the youth delegates delivered their message to the COL church leaders on 18 April, they also presented the banner on advocacy and climate justice. Source: Lutheran World Federation, LWF: http://www.lutheranworld.org/lwf/index.php/taking-one-small-step-towardgreat-change.html


Church and Society 5

Abundant life includes sexual and reproductive rights: Two-day consultation wraps up with call to work for end to sexual violence Building on a global effort led by the United Nations to address the issues of sexual and reproductive health, the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) has concluded a two-day consultation in Havana to develop plans for action in this region, one of the most hard-hit in the world by sexual violence. Presbyterian News Service/ALC By Jerry L. Van Marter Our commitment is to respect the life of all people and to affirm their lives and rights,” said Marcela Suazo of Panama, one of the organizers of the U.N. effort that culminated in the release of an agreement called the Cairo Consensus. “Our thanks to CLAI for their commitment to this process and to building a global alliance that includes people of faith.” The report produced by the consultation here May 21-22 – formally titled “Continental Consultation on the Church and Sexual and Reproductive Rights” – stated that “the Cairo Consensus needs to be framed in theological terms by the churches to educate and inform our members about the necessity of sexual and reproductive health.” Moreover, the report stated: “The churches must work to construct a society where sexual violence

and violence against women are eliminated and to promote policies that protect the most vulnerable among us – indigenous people, young people and women.” The CLAI consultation – which included more than 40 young adults from throughout the region among its 200 participants – comes in a context of persistent sexual and domestic violence in Latin America. A welter of disturbing statistics about domestic violence, matricide, infant and maternal mortality, HIV and human trafficking buttressed the consultation’s call to action. Twenty national and four regional consultations during the past year laid the groundwork for this “continental” consultation. Those gatherings addressed the biblical and theological underpinnings of the church’s position on sexual and reproductive health, as well as scientific and anthropological analysis of the issues. Other factors impacting the problems of sexual and domestic violence in Latin America that were identified include poverty, lack of educational and vocational opportunity and the cultural shifts throughout the region brought on my immigration. Consultation participants heard reports from church leaders in Panama, Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Cuba. A guidebook entitled “The Church and Sexual Rights” has been produced to further engage faith groups in their study and response to the identified problems.

“As Christian citizens, we need to work for a society that heals these illnesses and creates a quality of life free of exploitation, violence and discrimination, so our youth can live long days and our women can live not under any curse (Isaiah 65, John 10:10), the consultation report states. “Jesus Christ promised all people life in abundance,” the report continued. “This is the mission of committed faith – to work for change to help protect dignity and human rights of all people to improve quality of human life.” Though the consultation report was approved “in general” with only one dissenting vote, a number of participants offered proposed additions and changes: “Statistical analysis must be accompanied by political analysis that demonstrates the political barriers to public policies that protect the most vulnerable among us, particularly women.” “Too often churches support systems that prolong violence and increase death while at the same time advocating for the elimination of the policies advanced by those systems.” “Statistics do not produce hope – we need as the church to hold out more hope.” The next step for CLAI, said General Secretary Nilton Giese, “is to figure out how to adapt this process we’ve used here for use locally in coming years.”

CLAI joins in solidarity with the Venezuelan people The President of the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI), Bishop Julio Murray, and the General Secretary, Rev. Nilton Giese, have expressed the continental ecumenical organization’s solidarity with the people of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela at this time of pain over the loss of their President. CLAI, ALC/Quito The full CLAI letter follows: Jesus Christ says: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11: 25-26) Dear brothers and sisters, people of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela:

The Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) wants to be in solidarity with you at this painful time of the loss of your President Hugo Chávez. His government has transformed your country and has especially provided greater social and economic inclusion of the most popular sectors. His charismatic personality transcended borders and he made himself felt in nearly all the countries of Latin America. Behind him followed a wave of alternative rulers on the continent, elected with the commitment to overcome the extreme poverty in their countries. His political leadership strengthened the Latin American continent in the face of imperialist and world financial forces. He was loved and hated, but always respected. Bishop Federico Pagura of the Argentinean Evangelical Methodist Church and former President of CLAI, has shared the following with us: “It is not by pure chance that the departure of President Hugo Chávez comes during Lent, a time of deep reflection, and on the threshold of a

new Easter of Resurrection, because Jesus said: ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.’ (John 12: 24). And so will be the multiplying of lives and societies transformed by the coherent life of this genuine believer, who worked until death for justice and peace in our Latin American and Caribbean homeland, in the service of that ‘Other Possible World’ that we proclaim from Porto Alegre.… No longer prostrate, the children of this Latin American and Caribbean continent, can, standing up, sing as the Venezuelan songwriter and singer prophet Alí Primera taught us…. ‘Those who die for life cannot be called dead…. Companions, let us go, let us go, companions, let us go let us go…. “ May God continue to bless you with peace and well-being and may your President rest in the peace of God. Fraternally, in Christ Jesus.

Methodist pastor Leonardo Félix is the new Director of the ALC news service Félix, who is Argentinean, assumed the position on May 3, following his election by the Latin America Caribbean and Communication Agency (ALC) Board of Directors at its Annual Meeting in April. The new director was chosen from among a number of different candidates who had applied in response to the board’s public invitation for applications. Buenos Aires/ALC

élix is 45 years old, and with his wife Silvina have two daughters. He is an ordained minister of the Argentinean Evangelical Methodist Church since 1996. After pastorates in several parishes in the country, he assumed a pastoral ministry last March with the Central Methodist Church of Buenos Aires, while at the same time heading communications for a national trade union. Félix brings to ALC a broad experience in the ecumenical world and especially in strategic communication. “It is a real privilege as the new director of ALC to be able to journey along this part of the road with a valuable, to say the least, team of colleagues, understanding that the agency has a road that it has traveled for almost 20 years, with experience not only in the communication and ecumenical fields, but also in the possibility of always generating new channels of dialogue, interaction and motivation among its readers, involved in the work of the churches and social commitment in our vast Latin America and the world,“ said Félix. “I believe,” Félix said, “that the richness of the agency lies precisely in this: in the permanent link between the news and the reality of all who actively par-

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ticipate not only in new experiences, but also the daily effort of returning to us from their actions the hope that another, better world is possible, and that the changes hoped for in our continent are close as are our intact dreams.” On the election and the expectations for the work of the new director, Marcela Gabioud, President of the ALC Board of Directors, affirmed: “We welcome Leonardo trusting in the election by the Board of Directors from among those who applied for the position. They all had excellent references but this time we gave priority to the ability for administration, the seeking of resources, the knowledge of the ecumenical world and previous experience of working in strategic communication. ALC is preparing to adapt to the communication needs that the organizations and churches have in today’s world and we trust that Leonardo is the person who will help us carry it forward.” Félix succeeds Enrique Zerbin, who for several years carried out his work effectively and with commitment. Upon his retirement, Zerbin’s merits are been deeply appreciated. ALC was constituted in Quito, Ecuador, in May, 1994, and began its journalistic activities in March, 1995. The active associate organizations that support the agency are: the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI); the Council of Evangelical Methodist Churches of Latin America and the Caribbean (CIEMAL); the Alliance of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches of Latin America (AIPRAL); the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC-Latin America Region); the Ecumenical Regional Center for Consultancy and Services (CREAS), and; the Lutheran Forum of Communicators (FLC).

New Director of ALC Leonardo Félix and wife, Silvina (Leonardo Félix)

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CLAI VI General Assembly:


LATIN AMERICAN ECUMENICAL NEWS • MARCH - MAY 2013

6 Latin America and Environment

WCC issues statement on peace and security in Latin America The World Council of Churches (WCC) Executive Committee has expressed deep concern about the alarming increase in threats to human security in Latin America. The committee has called for renewed efforts by churches to ensure peaceful and just societies. WCC, ALC/Geneva Statement on peace and human security in Latin America WCC Executive Committee 5 - 8 March 2013, Bossey, Switzerland Upon recommendation of the public issues sub-committee, the executive committee approved the following statement by consensus: 1. Conventional security threats have receded in Latin America since the end of the Cold War. During the Cold War, the region was roiled by political bloodshed, originated by the implementation of the ideology of national security, military dictatorships and authoritative regimes and left-wing insurgencies. Today unconventional threats have come to the forefront of several countries in the region. Despite various positive developments that have taken place in the area of peace-building and security, organized crime and violence are corroding governance and imperilling democratic legitimacy and the rule of law. A United Nation’s study on homicide in 2011 found that killings in Central America were nearing a “crisis point”. According to its estimates, the number of people killed by gun crime in Central and South America is four times the world average. 2. The dignity of millions of people in Latin America is affected by the current realities in the region. Human insecurity, drug trafficking

and human trafficking, “femicide”, organized crime, youth gangs, a supply of illegal guns and corrupt, ineffective state institutions, inequality, poverty, unemployment, discrimination and exclusion of Indigenous Peoples and impunity, are among the prevailing trends. 3. The rise in urban crime-related violence, together with the lifting of a ban on US sales of advanced weapons, has also had a strong impact upon the security of the region. At the same time, the inclusion of Colombia in the framework of the “War on Terror” further increased arms-related trade and aid, causing regional instability. The policies of militarization as a response to the actions of organized crime and drug trafficking have not only failed but they have increased the violence indices and definitively benefit the large capitals. Many Latin American countries have been affected with the wide spread of small arms and light weapons. 4. According to the World Health Organization, gun-related fatalities are the leading cause of death among Latin Americans between ages 15 and 44. The WHO estimates that overall, gunshot wounds kill between 73,000 and 90,000 people annually in Latin America, demonstrating that the region is inundated with firearms. The North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) reveals in its study that there are at least 45 million to 80 million small arms and light weapons in Latin America. About 2,000 guns cross the border between the United States into Mexico almost every day. 5. It is in this context that community, public health and judicial programmes are needed to save as many as possible of the Latin Americans who die in armed violence every day. It is also a reminder of the urgent need for reforms in the arms trade in order to end irresponsible sales and transfers of arms to and within the region and for the

Participants at the WCC consultation on peace and human security in Antigua, Guatemala, 2012 (Mayra Rodriguez Castro WCC)

support of Latin American states for the Arms Trade Treaty. 6. It is an encouraging sign that Latin America has remained a Nuclear Weapons Free region since the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (the Treaty of Tlatelolco) was agreed in 1967. 7. It is necessary to approach and address these problems through structural reforms in the economic and social spheres, as well as through international agreements. The states have the obligation to guarantee the implementation and full enjoyment of human rights by all citizens. There is a need for public policies that safeguard life and guarantee human security, respect for human rights and development. The strengthening of national institutions as well as of the InterAmerican human rights system and the international human rights protection mechanisms is necessary. 8. The WCC, the churches in the region and the wider ecumenical movement have a long tradition of involvement in addressing human rights and peace in Latin American countries, especially in the past decades. However, the current situation of increasing levels of violence and human insecurity calls for renewed efforts on behalf of the ecumenical movement in order to address adequately Latin America’s mounting problems related to peace,

security and human rights. Participants of the commission of the churches in international affairs (CCIA) consultation on “Peace and Human Security in Latin America” held in Antigua, Guatemala, in December 2012, expressed concerns about the deteriorating situation in the continent and invited the WCC to play a more active role and call on its member churches and the global ecumenical family to express solidarity at various levels. Therefore, the executive committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Bossey, Switzerland, 5-8 March 2013: A. expresses its serious concern about the rising levels of violence and human insecurity in many countries in Latin America; B. denounces the increasing numbers of extra-judicial killings, discrimination and exclusion of women, youth and migrants in the region; C. condemns the persistent discrimination and systematic attacks against Indigenous Peoples and black communities; and demands that the economic ventures of transnational corporations and local projects in ancestral Indigenous lands be done in consultation with the people of those lands, as stipulated by Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization and the United Nations Declaration

on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; D. expresses a special concern about the threats to the territorial and economic sovereignty that different countries of the region have experienced; E. requests that the states of Latin America assure the integral protection of human rights defenders in the region. The tasks of human rights defenders in monitoring, denouncing and proposing public policies must be free from pressures and threats. The criminalization of social protest is unacceptable; F. condemns the negative policies of the government of the United States towards Cuba, especially the economic sanctions imposed against the country, which constitute a threat to peace and a manifestation of a policy of interference in peoples’ right to self-determination; G. welcomes the beginning of the peace talks between the government of Colombia and the FARC as a way to fulfil the aspirations of the people of Colombia for a lasting peace with social justice; and urges a bilateral cease fire during the peace talks; H. urges all countries to support the negotiations on a robust Arms Trade Treaty at the United Nations Conference in March 2013 that will conclude the work begun in July 2012; I. acknowledges the historical contributions of the WCC in supporting the struggles of the people in Latin America for human rights and democratization; and urges the WCC to address emerging concerns related to peace and human security in the region; J. calls on the churches and the wider ecumenical movement to pray and support decisively the people and churches of Latin America in their struggles for the construction of a society of peace with justice. Source: World Council of Churches, WCC: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/executive-committee/bossey-march-2013/peace-and-security-in-latin-america.html

World Council of Churches (WCC) pays tribute to Emilio Castro A leading ecumenist of the late 20th century, Rev. Dr Emilio Castro is remembered by the WCC for “his unfaltering efforts in bringing together Christian faith and spirituality with radical commitment in the struggles for justice.” WCC, ALC/Montevideo astro, a Methodist pastor and theologian from Uruguay, served as the WCC general secretary from 1985 to1992. He passed away in Montevideo, Uruguay on 6 April, at age 85. Coming from the Evangelical Methodist Church of Uruguay, Castro initially joined the WCC as director of its Commission on World Mission and Evangelism in 1973. “As director of CWME, Castro paved the way for the active participation of churches from Eastern European countries in the life of the Council,” said Rev. Dr Olav Fykse

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Tveit, the WCC’s general secretary. “His personal leadership was crucial for the production of Mission and Evangelism - An Ecumenical Affirmation, considered the most important and comprehensive statement on mission by the World Council of Churches, adopted in 1982 after lengthy discussions with churches all over the world,” stated Tveit. “I would like to mention Castro’s great contributions towards the WCC’s work on the mission of the church, justice and peace, as a true calling for the church. At the WCC Central Committee meeting during my election as a general secretary and in later encounters, he strongly encouraged me and was optimistic for the future of the ecumenical movement,” he said. “The first time I met him in 1992, he inspired the young ecumenist in me to be committed to the call to unity and justice. He appealed to my faith and to my heart with his words and his open and twinkling eyes,” Tveit remembered. During social unrest in Uruguay

in 1970s, Castro played a significant role in fostering dialogue between political groups and in the creation of Frente Amplio, a broad coalition of democratic forces. For his efforts in defending human rights in Latin America in 1980s, Castro was awarded Orden de Bernardo O’Higgins, the Chilean government’s highest honour. Emilio Castro’s legacy Rev. Dr Walter Altmann, the WCC’s Central Committee moderator, expressed sadness over the passing away of Castro. “It is with a heavy heart that we received the news of Emilio Castro’s decease,” said Altmann. “Castro was one of the most outstanding ecumenical leaders in Latin America. An eloquent preacher, he could convincingly link the call to mission to social commitment,” he added. Altmann continued, “Opposition to military dictatorships in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s was definitely a consequence of faith in Christ committed to love the neigh-

bours, especially the vulnerable and oppressed. Our hearts are filled with gratitude for the life testimony that Castro gave and left with us for our inspiration.” Anglican Bishop Julio Murray, president of Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI), sent a condolence message to Castro’s family. It stated, “Rev. Castro’s leadership and prophetic vision encouraged the ecumenical movement to create the CLAI with the aim of being an active common voice of the evangelical churches on issues of denouncing the roots of poverty and human rights violations in this continent.” Rev. Juan Abelardo Schvindt, former general secretary of the Evangelical Church of the River Plate (IERP) recalled a WCC Central Committee held in Argentina in 1985. “Rev. Emilio Castro’s idea to hold this meeting in a country that had recently left behind the sad days of military dictatorship was very important not only for the churches in Argentina, but for the whole advocacy work on human rights in our

continent,” said Schvindt. “Emilio leaves such a strong legacy behind, not only for his excellent stance, but also for his personal and pastoral commitment to a renewed, open and inclusive church that would work in favour of the excluded,” concluded Schvindt. In her message, Dr Ofelia Ortega of Cuba, the WCC president from Latin America, stated, “In the words of Cuban poet José Martí ‘Dying means closing one’s eyes, in order to see better.’ In his passing, Emilio Castro fills us with the strength of his memory, the power of his love and teachings born from his ageless wisdom, devoted entirely to the pursuit of justice and peace. Thanks to his extraordinary life story, today we are filled with hope and enabled to experience the daily miracle of the resurrection. In this way, we continue to enjoy his unique company.” Castro is survived by his children Ruth and Emilio and their families. Source: World Council of Churches, WCC: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/press-centre/news/wcc-mourns-the-deathof-former-general-secretary-emilio-castro


Latin America and Environment 7

In the presentation of her report to the Assembly, CONIC General Secretary, Romi Márcia Pastor Bencke, highlighted the role of the ecumenical organization in the fight against religious intolerance and the debate concerning the Lay State. The Assembly, gathered in São Paulo from March 8-10, also marked the beginning of the partnership between CONIC and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). ALC/São Paulo By Marcelo Schneider for ALC. encke presented statistics from the Secretary for Human Rights of the Presidency of the Republic that show an increase in the number of cases of accusations of religious intolerance, aimed at African, Indigenous, and

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CONIC, 30 Years logo (CONIC)

Gypsy religious expressions as the main objectives. Given the reality of the decline of the historic churches and the growth of new Christian expressions, Bencke identified a pluralist and transforming process. “If, on the one hand, the positive in the increase of religious pluralism is perceived, on the other, an increasing religious intolerance in the country is seen,” she said. Religious intolerance is also practiced against vulnerable groups, especially women, apprentices of African religious expressions, and those who live their homo-affectivity and transvestites and transsexual persons. Bencke, who began her work as

general secretary in August, 2012, believes that with greater action at the national scene, CONIC and other organizations that fight for a more just society and on behalf of human rights for all, can be important agents for the transformation of that situation. “We are not always able to express our position or be part of a theological debate on more polemical issues. That requires greater work and involvement, as well as an increased articulation between the churches and ecumenical organisms that make-up CONIC, so that the position of churches clearly identified with the agenda of human rights becomes visible,“ Bencke added. The theme of the Assembly was, “What model of State?” Time was taken to reflect on the Lay State. Bishop Manuel João Francisco, CONIC President, affirmed that “Constitutionally, Brazil is a State of a lay nature, which does not impede that Church and State assume positions of cooperation in specific areas.”

For Bencke, with each electoral process in Brazil comes the using of politics as an instrument on the part of religious groups, most of them of a Pentecostal or Neo Pentecostal background. “Those groups defend political tendencies that are, most of the time, of a very conservative nature, somewhat distanced from the preservation and broadening of human rights.“ “Many of those groups hinder means of communication and get to have their positions and actions become public,“ she concluded. At the Assembly, Casimira Benge, from the coordination of the Grow Without Violence Program of UNICEF, presented the proposal for lines of collaboration and partnership between that organization and CONIC. Each year, the ecumenical body will promote the celebration of the Day of Prayer for Children, to be held on November 20, as a result of a more sustainable and long-term cooperation and action. The agreement includes two other levels as well. The first is the beginning of a collaboration focused

on the promoting of peace, tolerance and non-violent behaviors, through education and positive discipline, and citizen’s rights. The second is the organizing of a planning office in which participants will be motivated to bring examples of activities that are being carried out by each group in the areas identified above, so as to evaluate how to increase their potential and expand them with the insertion of those new themes, including moments and events that bring about large gatherings of each religious community. The office will offer input for a Plan of Action which, in turn, will be validated by CONIC’s collegial body. The CONIC XV Assembly gathered together more than 60 participants from the five member churches: Apostolic Roman Catholic, Episcopal Anglican, Evangelical of Lutheran Confession, United Presbyterian, and Syrian Orthodox of Antioquia. Also attending were guests and observers from national and international partner organizations.

Ecuador Guarantees Right to Free Emergency Contraception “Our constitution guarantees free access to services, contraceptive methods and family planning visits”: Carina Vance, Minister of Public Health of Ecuador. Inter Press Service News Agency, IPS/Quito Leisa Sánchez interviews CARINA VANCE, Ecuador’s public health minister The government of Ecuador is determined to curb the growing number of teen pregnancies, and has begun to knock down barriers that stand in the way of the right to a responsible sexual and reproductive life. The question of sexual and reproductive health has been a focus of public debate since new regulations were announced on availability and access to birth control methods, including emergency contraception known as the morning-after pill. Making emergency contraception freely available forms part of the National Multi-Sector Strategy for Family Planning and Teen Pregnancy Prevention (ENIPLA), which has been given a budget of 4.4 million dollars. Ecuador has the highest teen pregnancy rate in South America: 81 births per 1,000 females between the ages of 15 and 19. Seventeen percent of girls in that age group have at least one child. And the number is on the rise: according to official figures, the number of births to adolescents in that age group rose from 31,053 in 2004 to 45,708 in 2011. The Catholic Church and other critics claim the morning-after pill is an abortifacient, even though studies show that what the pill actually

does is delay ovulation. The pill has been legally available in Ecuador since 1998, but a prescription was needed. Today it is freely available, without cost, in all public hospitals and health centres in this South American country. Public Health Minister Carina Vance discussed the ENIPLA strategy, its achievements and challenges with IPS. Q: Why was the decision reached to make the morningafter pill freely available? A: We have disturbing statistics with respect to family planning and the spacing of children, in terms of the number of desired children and how many people actually have. ENIPLA, a joint programme of the ministries of education and economic and social development, has been implemented since 2011 in Ecuador, which has the highest teen pregnancy rate in South America. Q: Is the controversy over the morning-after pill based more on moral values than on knowledge of rights? A: We believe there is no real controversy, because there is actually wide acceptance, of ENIPLA and of the fact that the method is freely available. We have received a favourable response from social organisations and national and international institutions involved in health and women’s rights. The great majority of opinions against (the morningafter pill) are not based on scientific information, but on a mistaken understanding. They claim that in some cases, emergency contraception is abortive, but there is scientific evidence that it is not. And they also want parental consent in order for an adolescent to

have access to birth control methods. Q: Are young people in Ecuador mature enough to decide on their own? A: If young people are mature enough to have sexual relations, we have the obligation to respect their right to unlimited access to the pill, without barriers or the approval of third parties. We believe in working with parents to strengthen family communication on sexuality and sexual and reproductive rights. There are people who because of principles or religious beliefs don’t consider it appropriate to make this kind of contraceptive freely available. We completely respect that position, but we have to integrate public policies in a framework of rights, and understand that the Ecuadorean state is secular. Q: How many health centres distribute the emergency contraception pill? A: We have 1,900 units nationwide. Q: With respect to the promotion of a responsible reproductive and sexual life, what efforts are needed? A: The Health Ministry has the obligation to provide objective, science-based evidence and provide medication totally free of charge. For example, we have condom dispensers in our health units, but that’s not enough. Multi-sectoral work is needed, which is why it is so important to work with the Education Ministry. And there is also the shared responsibility of society: conversations on sexuality and rights should not be limited to visits to health centres. We also work with the parents of young people.

Church and Sexual and Reproductive Rights (Latin American Council of Churches, CLAI, VI General Assembly, Cuba, May, 2013)

We carry out an ongoing effort in prevention, attention and studies on sexually transmissible diseases and the various problems that influence their spread. We definitely have challenges: high teen pregnancy rates; the fact that 13 percent of maternal deaths occur among adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19; and the fact that six out of 10 women overall have suffered some kind of violence: physical, psychological or sexual. We also face big challenges in achieving an equitable society free of violence, where sexual and reproductive rights are fully respected. Q: Does this mark a watershed in sexual and reproductive rights? A: Use of the emergency contraception pill has been legal since March 1998. With these latest regulations, we are now guaranteeing access to the pill without a prescription, as well as adequate supplies in all public health centres and hospitals, and the exercise of the right to a birth control method without

parental or partner consent, a requirement that used to be a barrier for women. Our constitution guarantees free access to services, contraceptive methods, family planning visits, and the possibility for everyone to lead a healthy life with universal access to health care, with a central focus on primary care. Q: How does the government plan to move forward in the struggle to consolidate sexual and reproductive rights? A: I don’t know if I would call it a struggle. A 2011 survey found that 84 percent of respondents agreed with the free provision of birth control methods – in other words, we have a high level of acceptance, and a government that is totally committed to the exercise of rights, including sexual and reproductive ones. We are going to do everything necessary to implement sustainable policies, to make sure there is no backsliding. Source: Inter Press Service News Agency, IPS: http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/04/qa-ecuador-guarantees-right-to-free-emergency-contraception/

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National Council of Christian Churches of Brazil (CONIC) XV Assembly discusses religious intolerance, and the Lay State


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LATIN AMERICAN ECUMENICAL NEWS • MARCH - MAY 2013

8 Latin America and Environment

Recounting CLAI’s history using Luke 8 The ecumenical movement frequently uses the imagery of a boat, Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) General Secretary Nilton Giese told the organization’s sixth General Assembly on May 24. Presbyterian News Service/ALC Havana From a news story by Jerry L. Van Marter raming his report around Luke 8 about Jesus and his disciples in a storm-tossed boat Giese admitted that “in the last six years, the CLAI boat had terrible storms.” The election of a new governing board is being intensely watched here after conflicts following the fifth General Assembly in 2007 in Buenos Aires resulted just a year later in the resignation of five of the 11 board members and the previous general secretary, Israel Batista. The fallout included court-ordered severance payments to 10 CLAI officials totaling $190,000. Giese, a Brazilian Lutheran, added, “But there was no money. Supporting organizations in the U.S. and Europe were dismayed, wondering, ‘What happened to CLAI?’ They were supportive of our problems but refused to pay the severance and told us winds of change their own financial crises were blowing in the North. This further damaged our financial situation.” Giese and the newly elected CLAI president, Episcopal Bishop Julio Murray of Panama, made the rounds of CLAI member churches “to see what we should be doing.” Giese said, “We were dismayed to find that many didn’t know what CLAI was doing and that it was far

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Participants in the CLAI General Assembly renew their baptism vows during morning prayers (Jerry L. Van Marter)

removed from the churches.” So in 2009, with help from a Swedish church, CLAI embarked on a thorough evaluation of its mission and activities. The evaluation showed, Giese said, “that CLAI functioned more like an NGO we had a financial and administrative witness but were not functioning like a communion of churches. So we set about to redefine CLAI at its original purpose: a body of churches, not a grant-making machine.” CLAI established “national dialogue tables” of member churches in each country to foster cooperation of churches,” Giese reported. CLAI programs have been revised to align with the feedback received from the dialogue tables. Though some churches are more than 20 years in arrears in paying their membership contributions and attendance at this sixth General Assembly has fallen short of 2007 figures for the fifth Assembly, “we have received more participation in funding and participation in CLAI efforts,” Giese said. “Our purpose,” he continued, “is to be a communion of churches, to strengthen our national roundtables, and to develop ecumenism at the grassroots with concrete actions,

such as the accompaniment program in Colombia.” Giese said, “CLAI is still trusted as a place to come together from different political perspectives, so we are positioned to address peace and justice, globalization and environmental justice, development inequality and human rights.” To do so, he said, “We need a permanent process of ecumenical training in our member countries, to make visible the rights and claims of our indigenous peoples and to strengthen our relationships with them, and to create a space where young people can discuss the issues important to them without the imposing presence of adults.” Giese concluded that “with this report we are able to say that Jesus has led us to the other side of the lake. God has permitted us to celebrate our deliverance from this storm and at the same time is challenging us for the future. God has thrust this moment into our hands and given us a mission to embrace an ecumenism backed by concrete actions” a reference to the Assembly theme: “Affirming an ecumenism of concrete gestures.” Photo: Source: Presbyterian News Service: http://www.pcusa.org/news/2013/5/29/riders-storm/

Latin America and Caribbean ACT Alliance Organizations Build Strategy for Regional Work A strategic planning meeting was held in Antigua, Guatemala, from April 29May 4, involving representatives from the National Forums and organizations that are part of the Latin America and Caribbean ACT Alliance. ALC/Antigua he strategic work sessions were for the purpose of sharing experiences and lessons learnt from the response to the emergency situations that occurred in Haiti, Chile and Cuba, as a result of the earthquakes and hurricane that affected those countries. In addition, a proposal was worked on to create a regional system for the coordination and administration of risk situations brought about by climate change, as well as the preparing of a work plan to strengthen the presence and inci-

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dence of the ACT Alliance in Latin America and the Caribbean. During the sessions, ACT personnel from Geneva and regional member organizations shared their analysis of the effects of climate change, and the policies and plans that are being presented to international organizations and countries to stop the continuing of global warming. Strategies for incidence focused on the seeking of climate justice in the region and at the global level were also worked on. A follow-up was done of the results of the consultation that had previously taken place in Managua, Nicaragua, in August, 2012, with an analysis of the contribution of the Latin American region to the October, 2014 ACT Alliance Assembly to be held in the Dominican Republic. The results of this discussion led to a work plan built with the contributions of the participants, for the purpose of positioning the ACT Alliance in Latin America and the

Caribbean to promote a regional agenda of integration, from the starting point of the three pillars of the Alliance (humanitarian assistance, development and incidence), seeking sustainability with a focus on transforming development. Milton Mejía, representing the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI), shared about the CLAI VI Assembly shortly to take place in Cuba this month, and committed the contribution of the continental ecumenical organization’s FaithEconomy-Society and Climate Justice Program (FEES) to the work plan, by especially encouraging Latin American and Caribbean biblical-theological reflection on which to base the three pillars of the ACT Alliance, as well as the promoting of campaigns of incidence so that the churches are involved in looking for alternatives to the global warming that is producing climate change. Reporting by Milton Mejí a.

Magali Cunha joins Brazil’s National Truth Commission Dr Magali do Nascimento a Central Cunha, Committee member of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and professor at the Methodist University of São Paulo, has joined Brazil’s National Truth as a Commission researcher. The commission will investigate human rights violations in Brazil that occurred between 1948 and 1988, including the years of military dictatorship in that country. WCC, ALC/São Paulo

unha will support one of the twelve working groups of the commission that will focus on role of the churches challenging human rights abuse during the dictatorship. Cunha’s appointment at the commission was announced on 12 March. Her name was recommended by Anivaldo Padilha, coordinator of the commission’s working group. “It is with joy that I accept this great challenge of being part of this exciting research,” said Cunha. “The commission was created to make the true history of Brazil known, a history that has been silenced by those in power who in fact instigated human rights violations.” “The commission’s work is part of the efforts to heal wounds of the past that are still open, and to reconcile Brazil with this past,” added the Methodist theologian and communicator. The main task of the commission is to investigate the cases of missing people. Official records indicate that around 150 opponents of the military regime are still missing. The commission was created in 2009, enacted into law in 2011 and established in May 2012. The commission will work for a term of two years with seven people from civil society appointed by Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff. Brazilian churches taking part in the ecumenical movement have a long history of challenging human right violations during the dictatorship years. In 1979, church workers and lawyers gathered evidence of atrocities committed by the military regime. The project was called Brasil: Nunca Mais! (Brazil: Never Again). For six years, vital information recording the government’s crimes against the Brazilian people was surrepti-

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Dr Magali Cunha.(WCC)

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tiously photocopied and sent from Brasilia to São Paulo and beyond. The WCC, in cooperation with church leaders of many traditions, was a key supporter of this documentation. Much of the material still remains in the WCC archives in Geneva, Switzerland. These pages from the WCC archives were delivered to the Brazilian government during a public ceremony in June 2011 and are assisting federal prosecutors in replacing essential data that has gone missing from the files of the Superior Military Court. “The political position of the churches against the dictatorial regime in Brazil was remarkable, both in supporting resistance movements as well as in challenging repression,” recalls Cunha. Among people who were killed or went missing during Brazil’s dictatorship were both Christian and lay leaders. On the other hand, there were also Christian clerics who collaborated with the regime and refused support to people from their own churches. The commission’s working group on churches will retrieve history related to these two stances adopted by the churches, analyzing facts and situations related to human rights violations. The creation of the specific working group on churches is an outcome of efforts by Anivaldo Padilha along with others who suffered at the hands of the military regime. Many of the people in support of the commission have missing family members. Padilha, a Methodist, who himself was persecuted during the military rule, recognizes the important task of this working group. “It is essential to make a historical review that allows everyone to be involved, recognizing the establishment of memory as a healing mechanism through which society and institutions can overcome their weaknesses.” The working group will present its report to the commission in May 2014. Source: World Council of Churches, WCC: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/news/news-management/eng/a/article/1634/magali-cunha-joins-brazil.html


Latinamerican Ecumenical News