From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 05 May 1996 08:38:14


                     by Jerry L. Van Marter 
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--Meeting in Concepcion, Chile, against a backdrop 
of shifting political, theological and cultural sands, the Latin 
American Council of Churches (CLAI) held its third General Assembly 
Jan. 25-Feb. 1. 
     More than 500 church and lay leaders, theologians, resource 
people and observers attended the Assembly.  The Rev. Benjamin 
Gutierrez, coordinator for South America in the Worldwide 
Ministries Division, and the Rev. Gary Campbell, missionary in 
Nicaragua, attended the Assembly as invited observers representing 
the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). 
     Conspicuously absent were the Roman Catholic and Orthodox 
Churches, said Andrea Cano, CLAI press officer.  She said a pre- 
Assembly letter from CLAI to those churches explained that "the 
religious profile of Latin America and the Caribbean has changed 
and with that our relationships."  The letter ended with an 
expression of "hope that this decision will not be more than a 
necessary and responsible pause that will deepen our shared 
vocation of witness and service." 
     Assembly delegates spent much time discussing the changing 
fabric of religious life in the region, particularly the growth of 
Protestant and Pentecostal churches and the social impact of that 
     According to Ecuadorian theologian C. Rene Padilla, the 
"conquest of Latin America by Catholicism was an authentic crusade 
 ... to bring the pagans to Christ."  Such an approach has led to 
increasing rejection of the Roman Catholic Church, Padilla said, 
as Latin American countries have increasingly eliminated vestiges 
of colonialism, both political and religious. 
     Padilla was later challenged by former World Council of 
Churches general secretary Emilio Castro, an Uruguayan, who argued 
that the sins of Protestants also need to be delineated and that 
a movement to a more socially aware Protestant culture "does not 
guarantee, as in Puerto Rico (where non-Catholic Christians 
comprise 50 percent of the population), a decrease in such social 
problems as drug trafficking, crime, violence and all." 
     Arturo Piedras, a Baptist pastor in Costa Rica, faulted both 
Catholic and Protestant theologians for "the lack of impact of 
Latin American theology as well as liberation theology to help 
constitute a new society."  He sparked lively debate with his 
indictment of all churches in Latin America "for failure to reach 
the poor and marginalized for whom our theologies are intended." 
     Delegates unanimously approved creation of a secretariat for 
youth, the first such separate youth department in the 14-year 
history of the organization.  The Assembly also took initial steps 
toward creating a secretariat for women.  The current CLAI 
structure combines women, children and family ministry. 
     The Rev. Walter Altmann from the Igrega Evangelica de 
Confessao Luterano do Brazil was elected the second president of 
CLAI.  He succeeds Federico Pagura, bishop emeritus of the 
Methodist Church of Argentina, who has headed CLAI since 1978. 
     In his farewell message, Pagura called the Council "to be 
faithful to its founding call," adding that "on facing the 
`religious supermarket,' the unbridled competition of proselytizing 
and the ethical crisis of our generation, we must maintain a firm 
commitment to the Gospel, to the call for unity, for dialogue, for 
pluralistic respect and honest and genuine cooperation in 
everything that has to do with life and the fullness of life which 
Jesus Christ came to give us." 
     At the conclusion of the Assembly, CLAI delegates issued a 
"Carta de Concepcion."  The open letter echoed the Assembly theme, 
"Rebirth for a Living Hope," calling for spiritual rebirth in Latin 
America at a time when Ecuador and Peru are engaged in a border 
conflict, when numerous Latin American and Caribbean countries 
continue to combat the effects of colonialism, and when 
discrimination and marginalization of the poor still exist for 
     The letter noted "signs of hope" -- growing churches, 
increased participation by young people, women and the poor in the 
life of the churches.  It declares that "we have been affirmed by 
hope and in that hope God has a project for life ... which calls 
us to serve faithfully for He who was resurrected to give us life 
and life abundantly. ..."  
                              # # # 

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
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