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Guatemala's Churches, Partners Plan Next Steps Following
Widely Praised "Peace and Reconciliation Consultation"

See Also: 4/4/02 NCC News Alert “April 8-12 Guatemala Visit Aims to Reinforce Peace Accords”

April 18, 2002, NEW YORK CITY – Leaders of Guatemala’s Protestant and Catholic churches are meeting this week to consider how to build on the “avalanche of support” for their April 10 “Peace and Reconciliation Consultation” – a meeting co-convened by the (U.S.) National Council of Churches (NCC) with the goal of helping jumpstart Guatemala’s stalled 1996 peace accords.

Nearly 90 leaders of Guatemala’s churches and civil society attended the day-long consultation in Guatemala City.  They agreed that the 1996 accords are not dead and need to be revived.   And they agreed that Guatemala’s churches – which have remained united in a deeply divided society – are best equipped to lead the process.

Widely covered by print, radio and TV media in Guatemala, the consultation was the top story in the nation’s biggest newspaper, “Prensa Libre,” on April 10, and won that newspaper’s endorsement in an editorial titled “A Needed Forum for Peace.” 

The consultation was the centerpiece of an international ecumenical delegation visit to Guatemala April 8-12, organized by the NCC in response to invitations from 1992 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Mench˙ Tum and from the Rev. Vitalino Similox, Director of the Ecumenical Forum of Guatemala, through which both Protestant and Catholic churches are working for implementation of the peace accords.

The NCC-led delegation’s mission was to support Guatemala’s churches in their efforts to reactivate implementation of peace accords signed in 1996 by the government and rebels after more than 35 years of armed conflict. More than 200,000 people were killed or "disappeared" and presumed dead. Most of these casualties were attributed to the government and its paramilitary allies.

NCC General Secretary Bob Edgar and Guatemalan Roman Catholic Archbishop Quezada Y Toru˝o convened the April 10 meeting. Co-convenors were the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) and the World Council of Churches (WCC).

Dr. Edgar opened the consultation, noting that April 16-27 he would be leading an NCC delegation to the Middle East in support of efforts to resolve the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.  “The urgency of peace with justice is as important in Guatemala as in Israel/Palestine,” he said, promising that the churches would not allow Guatemala’s needs to be overshadowed by other world crises.

Commented the Rev. Oscar Bolioli, NCC Associate General Secretary for International Affairs, who staffed the April 8-12 trip, “The consultation was met with an avalanche of people expressing support who wanted to be part of a process of dialogue and action to implement the 1996 peace accords.” 

Participants in the April 10 consultation represented a wide range of societal sectors, including human rights, indigenous peoples, women, peasants, trade unions, universities, research institutions, media, business, the courts, the electoral tribunal, several government ministries and main political parties. Several members of the joint government-guerrilla commission overseeing implementation of the peace accords were present.

Church leaders present included Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist and Mennonite. Diplomats from Norway, Sweden, Spain and the United States - all of which encouraged the signing and implementation of the peace agreements – and representatives of two United Nations programs also attended.

The NCC-led delegation’s agenda April 8-12 also included individual meetings with leaders of many of the sectors that were represented in the April 10 consultation.

In addition to Dr. Edgar, a United Methodist, and the Rev. Bolioli, a Methodist from Uruguay, delegation members include: Methodist Bishop Federico Pagura from Argentina and a president of the WCC; Episcopal Bishop Julio Cesar Holguin from the Dominican Republic, president of CLAI; the Rev. Catherine Gordon, Associate for International Issues in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Washington, D.C., office, and Susan Peacock, a United Church of Christ layperson who directs the Guatemala Program in the Washington Office on Latin America, Washington, D.C.

The World Council of Churches, Latin American Council of Churches and NCC will continue their active support of Guatemala’s churches and they follow up on the April 10 consultation, Bolioli said.  “Bishop Pagura will present the issue at the World Council of Churches Central Committee meeting in August,” Bolioli said, “and I will meet next week with CLAI General Secretary Israel Batista and Bishop Holguin, CLAI president, in Quito to start conversations on the implementation.”

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