It was with sadness that World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit received the news of the passing of Rev. Juan Abelardo Schvindt of the Evengelical Church of the River Plate (IERP), on 23 August.
“Juan Abelardo was a committed ecumenist who served the ecumenical movement faithfully, both in his context and in the global ecumenical movement”, wrote Tveit in a letter addressed to the IERP and to Rev. Schvindt’s family on 23 August.
Abelardo, who passed away at the age of 63, was born in Entre Rios, Argentina, in 1953. Abelardo offered a strong Protestant testimony in times when churches in Latin America began to forge their ecumenical relations. He studied theology at the Evangelical Institute of Theological Studies (ISEDET) and was awarded a Bachelor’s degree in 1976. He was ordained in 1981.
“Having served in all three countries where the membership of the Evangelical Church of the River Plate lives, Juan Abelardo made great efforts to bear witness to unity in diversity in his congregations”, continued Tveit, referring to the fact that Abelardo carried out his ministry in Uruguay (1977-1981), Argentina (1982-1984) and Paraguay (1984-1989).
Abelardo was present at the act of foundation of the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI), held in Oaxtepec, Mexico, in 1978. He also took part of the constitution of CLAI, in Lima, Peru, in 1982.
Between 1989 and 2000, Abelardo served as regional secretary of CLAI, and was also a member of the CLAI board between 1982-1988 and 2001-2013. Between 2000 and 2011 he served as IERP general secretary and ecumenical officer.
Rev. Sonia Skupch, current general secretary of IERP, noted that Juan Abelardo “served God and his church with all its capabilities and life. He was a person who believed strongly in the new time of the Kingdom of God that the Gospels tell us about, with a visibly united Church of Jesus Christ. This resulted in a strong ecumenical commitment that remained throughout his ministry".
Abelardo was an active member of several ecumenical organizations, such as the Argentina Commission for Refugees and Migrants in Argentina (CAREF), the Committee of Churches for Emergency Aid in Paraguay (CIPAE), the Emmanuel Centre in Uruguay, and the Argentina Federation of Evangelical Churches (FAIE).
As a member of the WCC’s Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, “he worked tirelessly in the defense and promotion of Human Rights”, noted Tveit.
Rev. Gloria Ulloa, WCC president for Latin America and the Caribbean, expressed her thankfulness for Juan Abelardo’s life and ministry. “We thank God for the opportunities we had to work in collaboration and learning from him in several ecumenical initiatives and for his strong pastoral accompaniment to the victims of human rights violations”, Ulloa said.
The funeral will be on 25 August in Nueva Helvecia, the region where he had chosen to live after retirement with his wife and life partner Adela.