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Latin Americans offer reflections for assembly participants

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A UMNS Web-only photo by Paulino Menezes, WCC

Methodist Bishop Federico Pagura from Argentina speaks at a plenary session on Latin America at the WCC assembly.
Feb. 21, 2006

By Linda Bloom*

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (UMNS) — Hosting the World Council of Churches’ 9th Assembly is a historic moment for Methodists and other Christians in Brazil, according to one of the nation’s Methodist bishops.

“So many people involved in preparing the liturgy for the assembly are Brazilian,” said Bishop Adriel de Souza Maia, a Methodist regional leader based in Sao Paulo.

De Souza, who also is president of the National Council of Christian Churches of Brazil, believes the assembly will give a boost to the country’s ecumenical movement as well. Members of the council include the Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Anglicans, Reformed, Orthodox and Catholics.

“From the point of view of the churches, it’s serving to unite in very beautiful ways,” he told United Methodist News Service. Pre-assembly meetings last year even drew representatives of Pentecostal churches, he added.

The Methodist Church of Brazil has a membership of about 150,000, according to the bishop. De Souza and other Brazilians took part in a brief Feb. 18 meeting with other Methodists at the assembly. “What I was most impressed with was how many Methodist youth were here from around the world,” he said.

In Brazil, youth are also active in the denomination. “The greatest number of new members in the church are coming out of the youth movement,” the bishop added.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Paulino Menezes, WCC

A colorful version of the WCC’s 9th Assembly logo is created during a Feb. 19 plenary session on Latin America.
Founded in Porto Alegre in 1982, Brazil’s national council was the first to have the Roman Catholic Church as one of its founding members. The council’s goals are to strengthen ecumenism and dialogue and promote peace and justice, encouraging joint witness in action on such issues as human rights, women’s rights, hunger, poverty and violence.

A recent campaign on disarmament for example, “served to unite the churches against violence and really work toward establishing peace together,” de Souza said.

In a written greeting to the assembly, the national council repeated “our commitment and our willingness to work in close collaboration with the WCC and toward full unity, justice and a culture of peace. We are prepared and open to dialogue with organizations and religious communities committed to the dignity of life.”

Challenges facing the church

A Feb. 19 plenary on Latin America sought to give assembly participants some food for thought on the question, “Where is God at work in Latin America?”

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A UMNS Web-only photo by Paulino Menezes, WCC

Elsa Tamez, a theologian and member of the Methodist Church of Costa Rica, speaks at the plenary session on Latin America.
According to Darcy Ribeiro, a Brazilian anthropologist, race and culture in Latin America have been shaped by three main sources: surviving indigenous people, new people who are mixed-race descendents of indigenous, European and African ancestors, and transplanted European immigrants.

“The main challenge facing Christianity is the inequality and injustice that it has shared in and legitimized ? and at times prophetically condemned,” said a WCC informational document. “An important contribution by Christianity follows in the line of this more prophetic tradition.”

For the last 40 years, Christians have cooperated together and with popular movements, working with the poor and for the integrity of creation. Together with the increasingly popular Pentecostal movement, the churches of Latin America have “a spirituality and pastoral approach rooted in the life of the people.”

Struggles for justice

The plenary focus on Latin America was carried out through music, a drama featuring life-sized puppets, and a video presentation of testimonies and statements by church leaders and others.

Bishop Federico Pagura, a Methodist from Argentina and the WCC president for Latin America, told how witnessing the suffering of indigenous people and the peasants in Central America gave his life a new direction.

“I was led to a stronger commitment to the gospel, including the gospel of the kingdom, which includes the quest for justice, the quest for truth, for authentic freedom and also the hope for a new world, the hope that a new world is possible,” said the 82-year-old bishop.

Rigoberta Menchu, a human rights activist in Guatemala, said that when she received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 “it was a sign of hope for the struggles of the indigenous peoples throughout the continent, freedom for indigenous peoples, wherever they are in Latin America and worldwide.”

Another type of struggle has been waged by the Plaza de Mayo mothers and grandmothers of Argentina, a past recipient of the World Methodist Peace Award. Nora Cortinas last saw her son on Easter, 1977, and still does not know what happened to him or others who “disappeared” during the country’s 1967-83 military dictatorship.

The mothers and grandmothers “took up the cause for which our sons and daughters had struggled,” along with the defense of economic, social and cultural rights, she said. Both Protestant and Catholic churches in Argentina have supported their efforts.

“We received, particularly from the Methodist Church, unqualified support and friendship and solidarity, which deserve to be remembered still today,” Cortinas said.

Lifting up the excluded

Elsa Tamez, a theologian and member of the Methodist Church of Costa Rica, said she bases her theology on the experience of women, whose potential contributions often are excluded by the church.

“Poverty has a woman’s face,” she said. A close connection exists between the patriarchal system and “this sinful economic system that is increasingly separating rich and poor,” she added.

Methodist Bishop Nelly Ritchie of Argentina believes that God can be seen in the faces of the vulnerable in Latin America. “God gives a name and dignity to people, and through the preaching of the gospel, we give a face and dignity to people,” she said.

“God is raising up these peoples that for a long time have been excluded and forgotten and whom the powers that be have also forgotten and never paid attention to,” said Methodist Bishop Carlos Poma of Bolivia. “But among these excluded people, there is God, journeying with them.”

The WCC assembly will continue in Porto Alegre through Feb. 23.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or

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