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Latin American churches explore ecumenical dialogue

Costa Rica is site of second regional Global Christian Forum

December 21, 2010

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica

Around 40 Latin American and Caribbean representatives from Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, groups and councils in 21 nations, met here Nov. 23-25 under the theme “United in Jesus Christ so that Latin America May Believe.” 

Building on an earlier meeting in Santiago, Chile, in 2007, the three-day Global Christian Forum (GCF) program included time for sharing personal faith journeys, but also of community journeys in the face of social problems and justice issues. Each day began with a scriptural meditation and singing. 

Questions for discussion included: What are the main factors or variables which can encourage ecumenical dialogue in the region? What are the realities of current ecumenical dialogue or cooperation in Latin America and the Caribbean? What lessons have we learned from the past? What can we commit ourselves to for the future?

Participants followed a “consensus method” for recording the conclusions from group discussions and plenary sessions each day.

A major review by Chilean sociology scholar Oscar Corvalan of Pentecostalism, Ecumenism and Christianity in the first half of the 21st century was provided as background material.

“Secularisation is less significant in Latin America than in Europe,” he said. “The growing Pentecostal churches offer certainty of salvation, and are heard by the poor and the less-educated. They give dignity to those who have none. Many Pentecostals may not wish to participate in ecumenical encounter, but many others may not know how to.”

Harold Segura, a Baptist pastor who coordinates World Vision (Costa Rica) presented a paper on “Ecumenism in Latin America Today (or the art of imagining the future of the Kingdom).” He encouraged “informal ecumenism,” not to exclude more formal dialogue, but to move away from institutional forms and to cross borders of communication.

“From such informal meetings (like the GCF) much can grow,” he said. “’Spiritual ecumenism’ is also important: we learn from other Christians. We need to begin to listen to others, not in a spirit of rivalry and suspicion, but to discover what is common. We need to be honest with each other as Latin American Christians together.” 

At the closing plenary GCF Secretary Hubert van Beek updated participants on the work of the forum, which is promoting wider ecumenical conversations than are available in such ecumenical organizations as the World Council of Churches, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Lutheran World Federation.

Participants here agreed that more work is needed in Latin America to involve those who are still  uncertain of their welcome or remain critical of ecumenism in all its forms. 

This was the first GCF meeting that was entirely prepared by a team from the region. They will provide a report for the wider GCF family which will become available in February 2011.

Significant leadership was given by facilitators who are part of Viva Network, a Latin American Christian NGO based in Costa Rica that works with those who care for the children of the region affected by poverty, child labor, sexual exploitation, violence in the family, drugs, migration and other social and economic ills..  

Robert Gribben is a member of the GCF Committee. 

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