A leading ecumenist of the late 20th century, Rev. Dr Emilio Castro is remembered by the World Council of Churches (WCC) for “his unfaltering efforts in bringing together Christian faith and spirituality with radical commitment in the struggles for justice.”
Castro, a Methodist pastor and theologian from Uruguay, served as the WCC general secretary from 1985 to1992. He passed away in Montevideo, Uruguay on 6 April, at age 85.
Coming from the Evangelical Methodist Church of Uruguay, Castro initially joined the WCC as director of its Commission on World Mission and Evangelism in 1973.
“As director of CWME, Castro paved the way for the active participation of churches from Eastern European countries in the life of the Council,” said Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, the WCC’s general secretary.
“His personal leadership was crucial for the production of Mission and Evangelism - An Ecumenical Affirmation, considered the most important and comprehensive statement on mission by the World Council of Churches, adopted in 1982 after lengthy discussions with churches all over the world,” stated Tveit.
“I would like to mention Castro’s great contributions towards the WCC’s work on the mission of the church, justice and peace, as a true calling for the church. At the WCC Central Committee meeting during my election as a general secretary and in later encounters, he strongly encouraged me and was optimistic for the future of the ecumenical movement,” he said.
“The first time I met him in 1992, he inspired the young ecumenist in me to be committed to the call to unity and justice. He appealed to my faith and to my heart with his words and his open and twinkling eyes,” Tveit remembered.
During social unrest in Uruguay in 1970s, Castro played a significant role in fostering dialogue between political groups and in the creation of Frente Amplio, a broad coalition of democratic forces. For his efforts in defending human rights in Latin America in 1980s, Castro was awarded Orden de Bernardo O'Higgins, the Chilean government’s highest honour.
Emilio Castro’s legacy
Rev. Dr Walter Altmann, the WCC’s Central Committee moderator, expressed sadness over the passing away of Castro. “It is with a heavy heart that we received the news of Emilio Castro’s decease,” said Altmann.
“Castro was one of the most outstanding ecumenical leaders in Latin America. An eloquent preacher, he could convincingly link the call to mission to social commitment,” he added.
Altmann continued, “Opposition to military dictatorships in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s was definitely a consequence of faith in Christ committed to love the neighbours, especially the vulnerable and oppressed. Our hearts are filled with gratitude for the life testimony that Castro gave and left with us for our inspiration.”
Anglican Bishop Julio Murray, president of Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI), sent a condolence message to Castro’s family. It stated, “Rev. Castro's leadership and prophetic vision encouraged the ecumenical movement to create the CLAI with the aim of being an active common voice of the evangelical churches on issues of denouncing the roots of poverty and human rights violations in this continent.”
Rev. Juan Abelardo Schvindt, former general secretary of the Evangelical Church of the River Plate (IERP) recalled a WCC Central Committee held in Argentina in 1985.
“Rev. Emilio Castro's idea to hold this meeting in a country that had recently left behind the sad days of military dictatorship was very important not only for the churches in Argentina, but for the whole advocacy work on human rights in our continent,” said Schvindt.
“Emilio leaves such a strong legacy behind, not only for his excellent stance, but also for his personal and pastoral commitment to a renewed, open and inclusive church that would work in favour of the excluded,” concluded Schvindt.
In her message, Dr Ofelia Ortega of Cuba, the WCC president from Latin America, stated, “In the words of Cuban poet José Martí 'Dying means closing one's eyes, in order to see better.' In his passing, Emilio Castro fills us with the strength of his memory, the power of his love and teachings born from his ageless wisdom, devoted entirely to the pursuit of justice and peace. Thanks to his extraordinary life story, today we are filled with hope and enabled to experience the daily miracle of the resurrection. In this way, we continue to enjoy his unique company.”
Castro is survived by his children Ruth and Emilio and their families.