The World Council of Churches gives thanks to God for the life of Emilio Castro, who served for nearly twenty years as a leading member of the WCC staff, and from 1985 to 1992 as our fourth general secretary. Dr Castro passed away in Montevideo, Uruguay on the evening of Saturday 6 April 2013 at the age of 85.
Emilio Castro was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, on May 2, 1927 to a working class family. He began attending the Methodist Church in his neighbourhood of La Aguada when he was 9 years old.
Following his theological studies at the theological faculty in Buenos Aires, he began his ministry with the Methodist congregations of Trinidad, Durazno and Paso de los Toros, Uruguay in 1950.
In 1953 he was the first Latin American student to attend the lectures of Karl Barth in Basel. After returning Latin America, he spent three years as pastor in La Paz, Bolivia, before returning to Uruguay to become the pastor of the Central Methodist Church in Montevideo in February 1957.
In 1965 Castro was designated part-time secretary general of UNELAM, the provisional evangelical committee on Christian unity in Latin America —the ecumenical body that paved the way for the formation of the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) in 1979.
During the social and political convulsions of the 1970’s, marked with serious social unrest in Uruguay, Castro played an essential role in fostering dialogue between different political groupings and in the creation of Frente Amplio, a broad coalition of democratic forces.
In 1973 he joined the World Council of Churches as director of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) bringing to this post, as the late Bishop Lesslie Newbigin said, “a glowing assurance about the gospel and a corresponding desire to share it, a burning compassion for the victims of public wrong, a pastoral care for individual people and a bubbling sense of humour.”
As director of CWME, Castro paved the way for the active participation of churches from Eastern European countries in the life of the Council. 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.
Throughout his leadership in CWME, Castro insisted that the humanization of life through evangelism is a fundamental Christian responsibility and that the support and betterment of humanity, motivated by God's love, is the main aim of all missionary vocation.
He taught courses on missiology and ecumenics at the theological faculty in Montpellier, France, and at the Illif Theological Seminary in Denver, USA. He earned his PhD degree from the University of Lausanne in December 1984.
In 1985 he became the fourth secretary general of the World Council of Churches, succeeding Philip Potter, a position in which he served until 1992. His seven years in the post saw the Council facing some of the most critical changes in contemporary history, particularly surrounding the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe.
As the main officer of the Council, Castro fostered encounters with people of other faiths and ideological convictions, and offered the open arms of fellowship to evangelicals.
He greatly facilitated the participation and representation of Orthodox churches in all areas of the life of the Council and strongly advocated in favour of “eucharistic hospitality” in his conversations with church leaders and including Pope John Paul II.
A leading ecumenist of the late 20th century, Emilio Castro will be remembered for his unfaltering efforts in bringing together Christian faith and spirituality with radical commitment in the struggles for justice. As he once said: “The struggles to overcome oppressions have economic, social and political manifestations that should be considered on their own merits. But at the root there is a spiritual reality: principalities, powers of evil that need to be combated with spiritual powers and spiritual realities: the power of love, the power of hope, the power of the gospel.”
Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
WCC general secretary