“De Santa Ana’s contribution to the ecumenical movement is inestimable, as much of his work sought to explain the causes that led to the divisions between the churches and to open paths for communication, dialogue, and common work between them,” said Pillay. “Our prayers are with his family and closest friends during this difficult time.”
Born in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1934, de Santa Ana was a member of the Methodist Church. He graduated in theology from the Higher Evangelical Institute of Theological Studies, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and obtained a doctorate in Religious Sciences from the Faculty of Protestant Theology at the University of Strasbourg, France.
At the early times of his formation, he was especially influenced by Richard Shaul, professor at the Princeton Seminary, United States, who alerted him to the importance of praxis as a way of knowledge. De Santa Ana would later describe the encounter with Shaul as the debut of his “theological life.”
In an article published in the periodical “Reformed World,” in September 2006, de Santa Ana wrote: “Reflecting on theological existence means, at least for those who do Christian theology, to seriously take into consideration the facts of the world in which we have come to be and in which we move. It is an effort which demands a practice of introspection that lies within the deepest parts of our beings.”
From 1969 to 1972, de Santa Ana was secretary general of the movement "Church and Society in Latin America.” Between 1983 and 1993, he was executive secretary of the Ecumenical Center of Services for Evangelization and Popular Education, based in São Paulo, Brazil.
Throughout his life, de Santa Ana held various positions in the WCC, including executive secretary of Studies and Publications of the Commission on the Churches' Participation in Development, from 1972, when he began his exile, until 1979. He served as director of the same Commission (1979-1982), and as professor of social ethics at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey (1994-2002).
Former WCC acting general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca, who worked together with de Santa Ana at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, expressed admiration and gratitude for the legacy left behind by the Latin American theologian. “A committed professor, he was a great supporter of the WCC’s efforts on ecumenical formation and the crucial role that Bossey plays in it,” said Sauca. “May God bless his soul, and may he rest at the right hand of the Father.”
Former WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser reflected that de Santa Ana was one of his closest colleagues. “With his combination of theological, philosophical, and sociological erudition and competence, Julio de Santa Ana was one of the leading ecumenical intellectuals in this past generation,” said Raiser. “The World Council of Churches has received decisive impulses and challenges from him and will always honour his memory.”
Rev. Ofelia Ortega, former WCC president from Latin America and the Caribbean and professor at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Matanzas, Cuba, wrote that de Santa Ana “fulfilled the work of life very well and left us his thoughts and ideas for the transformation of society in his theological and sociologically oriented books, so that we can build the common good for all, without exclusions.
“We thank God for having allowed us to know and love a man who taught us to live with the illusion and passion that it is possible to achieve the work of life, sustained by the certainty that we can achieve the restorative changes of life,” added Ortega.
In an interview published in 2008, as the WCC commemorated its 60 years, de Santa Ana affirmed: “The Ecumenical Movement lives in the hope of having the experience of the holy God in the encounter with those who surprise us with their different being. I am convinced that the World Council of Churches has provided the opportunity to make this experience of grace possible. And that it can continue offering it—but not looking for the survival of religious institutions.”
“I experienced the measure of his passion for the WCC each time I visited him in hospital or at home,” said former WCC deputy general secretary Rev. Dr Odair Pedroso Mateus. “Despite his declining health, his first question to me was always: “como anda el Consejo?” (How is the Council doing?),” he said.
Mateus remembered de Santa Ana’s contribution to the search for a decolonized common understanding of the church. “The polemic with his WCC Faith and Order colleagues, remains to be appreciated to its right value in three scholarly WCC publications which he edited and gave eloquent titles: ‘Good News to the Poor: The Challenge of the Poor in the History of the Church’; ‘Separation without Hope? Essays on the Relation between the Church and the Poor during the Industrial Revolution and the Western Colonial Expansion’; and finally, ‘Towards a Church of the Poor,’” added Mateus.
Former Bossey student Noel Suministrado, a Philippino member of the United Church of Canada, described de Santa Ana as a true mentor. “While I was struggling with my ecumenical studies, it was you who patiently nurtured me and provided wisdom like a father to his son. You were stern but loving, principled but caring, and showed me that love is the way to life,” he wrote.
De Santa Ana was also known for his vast background in different areas of knowledge, such as philosophy, theology, economics, and sociology.
In 2007, de Santa Ana was awarded with the Order Maurício Lopez, of the Methodist Church in Uruguay, and the Order of Methodist Merit of the Council of Methodist Churches in Latin America and the Caribbean, both distinctions traditionally awarded to people who stand out with unique contributions to the Latin American continent.
De Santa Ana is survived by his wife Violaine, their children Fernando, Irene, and Gonzalo, and their grandchildren Elisa, Léon, as well as Théophile.