Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Struggle and Reconciliation: Some Reflections on Ecumenism in Chile

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Struggle and Reconciliation: Some Reflections on Ecumenism in Chile

Article excerpt

Abstract

To engage in ecumenism and common witness is always a challenge when one church predominates in a society. In the case of many Latin American countries, the Catholic Church is both historically and demographically dominant, and often has a history of special relations with the states. Protestants, on the other hand, come mostly from evangelical and Pentecostal traditions with little ecumenical history or motivation. This article outlines some of the 20th century history of the churches in Chile against the background of the reception of Vatican II, and especially its leadership on religious freedom and ecumenism. Social and political events in Chile, as well as the particular demography and history of its Christianity, make this a unique context for ecumenical development. Some of these factors and the churches' responses are outlined as resources for global Christian reflection on mission, unity and society.

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The passion for unity among Christians is a central element of Catholic identity from the second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Much has been accomplished but in many parts of the world tensions continue. A mixed, positive example from the churches in Chile will be a useful illustration of this gradual process of reception in an historically Catholic country with a significant population of churches committed to the ecumenical movement (2) but with the major evangelical and Pentecostal Protestant presence characteristic of most of Latin America. (3)

Conversion to Christ's call to unity is a gradual process, so patience and reflection on the reception of the ecumenical movement in a variety of churches and cultures is an important task. Ecumenical development is a contextual process in that it is inculturated in the variety of situations where the churches live, and depends on the culture, demography, history, power relationships, and leadership in each place.

In this brief essay, I will focus on the impact of the reception of the Roman Catholic Church's second Vatican Council (Vatican II) and its ecumenical commitments in Chile. To look at this fascinating story, we will need to recall some of the developments of Vatican II and the context of Latin America, as a prelude to looking at some elements of the Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic ecumenical pilgrimage in Chile.

Vatican II

It would have seemed unlikely to anyone who attended Vatican II, following its announcement in 1959, beginning in 1962, and conclusion in 1965, that such massive developments would take place in Catholicism in these last 40 years, as have happened.

It was not a forgone conclusion, for example, that the Catholic Church would move from a position of state-enforced Catholicism as the norm, with exceptions like the United States, where Catholics had not yet taken control, to a position of advocating religious liberty as a right for all based on human dignity. There were strong voices from Latin America and Spain committed to the position that error (meaning anyone who was not Catholic) had no rights. On the other hand, cardinals Angelo Rossi of Sao Paulo, Brazil and Raul Silva Henriquez of Santiago, Chile, representing a number of Latin American bishops, threw their weight behind the Declaration on Religious Freedom. (4)

The World Council of Churches had a significant influence on forming the debate and outcome of this Catholic decision. The advocacy for religious liberty that is providing a legal basis for civil equality is a sine qua non for any dialogue or credibility for the Catholic Church in its ecumenical or interreligious outreach.

What many do not realize is that the Declaration on Religious Freedom affirms this fundamental human right, and the importance of constitutional guarantees. In doing so, the declaration departs definitively from the Constantinian wedding of religion and society. However, it does not reject historic relations with particular states, where Catholicism was the established religion. …

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