CETALC considers regional issues in theological education in Latin America

By Clara Villatoro
Posted Oct 26, 2016

[Episcopal News Service] Following an August retreat in Panama with representatives from the different regions of Latin America and the Caribbean, Episcopal and Anglican leaders in theological education are clear that training must include analysis of regional problems so that clergy can perform quality pastoral work.

The Commission of Theological Education for Latin America and the Caribbean (CETALC) is clear that it wants to carry out pastoral work responding to the needs of each region. To achieve this, the first challenge lies in the preparation of clergy and lay members, say the commission’s members.

“Seminaries can’t focus on just one thing; theology must be integrated with the current reality, with everything that touches our society. The pastoral care has to move in diverse fields and attempt, through the message of the gospel, to nurture, change and transform society. But for that [to happen], good training is needed,” said Dominican Republic Bishop Julio Holguín, CETALC’s president.

As the first step toward putting the training on the right path, following the late summer gathering, the members of CETALC have agreed to standardize the curriculum throughout Latin America

“We feel that since we are one Church, the path of theological education cannot be pursued in a fragmented way. Creating a process of action and reflection [by] visualizing the challenges we face in this century can help us to create a broader perspective and to respond as a bloc,” said the Rev. Eduardo Chinchilla, who represents the Episcopal Church of Costa Rica’s representative on CETALC.

The CETALC representative also talked about the challenges of being Episcopalian in a Latin American context, which remains overwhelmingly Roman Catholic and patriarchal.

In many regions, the influence of other religious denominations is reflected in the Anglican and Episcopal churches. In other communities, however, clergy can be seen struggling to maintain Episcopal identity but forgetting the context in which they are evolving, said Holguín

Concerning this challenge, one of the great agreements in the last meeting of CETALC was the future publication of a book on the history of Anglicanism throughout Latin America and the Caribbean “to be used as a textbook throughout the Church,” said Chinchilla.

The Episcopal Church’s ninth province includes seven dioceses across the Caribbean and Central and South America. In addition to the Episcopal dioceses, CETALC also includes members from the Anglican Churches in Central America, or IARCA, its Spanish acronym.

Greater presence of women

The Episcopal Church has been very revolutionary in opening up to historically marginalized groups such as women and the LGBT community. However, the presence of women in the theological education is recent in Latin America.

“For me, one of the important points of the last meeting is that there were women in charge of theological education representing some countries. In the past, in that meeting you only saw men, but on this occasion there was more of a presence of women,” said the Rev. Glenda McQueen, the Episcopal Church’s staff officer for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Cuba, Mexico, El Salvador and Brazil have women priests as directors of theological education.

“On my work team I’m the only woman, but I’ve never felt that they treat me differently. They support my work and appreciate my qualities,” said the Rev. Irma Guerra de Alvarado, director of theological education for El Salvador.

In fact, her work in El Salvador right now is very important, since the Anglican-Episcopal Church of El Salvador plans to open its first seminary in El Salvador in 2017, and the training of future generations is in her hands.

Guerra was the first female Salvadoran priest trained and ordained in San Salvador. “There aren’t many of us, but we hope that with [more] opportunities for training in the country, the number of [women] clergy and lay women will increase,” she said.

Holguín recognized that in Latin American culture—where machismo is deeply rooted—the path for Episcopal women hasn’t been easy, but there has been progress, he said.

“There’s still a lot to fight for, especially in some areas of South America, because full ordination of women hasn’t been achieved; but we’ve made progress, and there’s no turning back. It’s clear that ministry and pastoral work is a task for men and women. We are all equally called [to ordained ministry],” he said.

Social Reality and Training

Today more than ever, Latin America and the Caribbean face social problems such as poverty, migration, violence, unemployment, political crisis, etc. CETALC believes that clergy and laypersons must be prepared to respond to these problems through faith and pastoral work. To that end, it hopes to reform and standardize all curricula of the region. Meanwhile, the commission continues in its efforts to extend educational opportunities via grants.

McQueen explained that grants planned in six categories would continue to be awarded. These range from individual grants to visit the Holy Land, research scholarships, grants to dioceses and even some financial support for education by province.

According to Chinchilla, the provinces have also decided to share training resources. In fact, the possibility was raised of exchanges of instructors and students, as well as of bibliographic resources. Brazil has already made its resource database, in Spanish and Portuguese, available to all participating seminaries through its web page.

Holguín said he hopes that these efforts will contribute to improved pastoral work in Latin America and the Caribbean. However, he recognizes that given the reality of the countries in the region, trained clergy often emigrate to the United States or other countries.

“We’re glad that our clergy are welcomed in the United States. We observe with satisfaction that many serve the Latino community there. Although ideally, they would also find good opportunities in their own countries,” he said.

CETALC has been operating since the 1970s and has assisted in training hundreds of deacons and priests. A study focused on the impact of theological education in Latin America is underway, with the final report expected at the end of the year.

— Clara Villatoro is a freelance writer based in El Salvador.