Archbishop of Canterbury visits Guatemala, El Salvador on the first two of four stops during Central America visit

By ENS Staff
Posted Jun 7, 2024

On June 5, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby visited the office of Cristosal, a human rights organization headquartered in San Salvador, El Salvador, and led by Executive Director Noah Bullock. El Salvador was the second of four stops on the archbishop’s tour of Central America. Photo: Courtesy of Cristosal

[Episcopal News Service] In his second of two stops on a four-country tour of Central America, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby visited the San Salvador, El Salvador-based office of Cristosal, a human-rights organization with Anglican-Episcopal roots. There he met the staff and heard firsthand the stories of victims of rights abuses.

“Work with victims is the work of God and is worth its weight in gold,” Welby said during the June 5 visit. “Your love for people who are traumatized, who have been victims of horrible, unspeakable things, in which it feels like all of humanity is gone from those who oppress them, that is the work of God, and it’s worth its weight in gold.”

Cristosal works directly with victims of human rights violations, raises awareness of human rights issues and promotes democratic rule of law in Central America. The organization began 20 years ago as an Anglican-Episcopal partnership and continues to receive some support from Anglicans and Episcopalians. What began in an Anglican church in San Salvador has grown to include a presence in Guatemala and Honduras.

“Cristosal was founded with the Anglican Church, and our first human rights office was in the Anglican Church. … [t]hat is the heart of our work: to accompany victims and defend their rights. That is a spirit that we inherited from the church,” Executive Director Noah Bullock said.

Welby’s 12-day trip to Central American began with stops in Guatemala and El Salvador and will take him to Panama and Costa Rica. Anglican dioceses in those four countries, along with Nicaragua, make up the Anglican Church of Central America. El Salvador’s bishop, the Most Rev. Juan David Alvarado Melgar, is the province’s primate.

With the exception of Costa Rica, the dioceses previously had been part of The Episcopal Church. In 1997, General Convention approved a covenant agreement that gave the dioceses autonomy to form a new province.

Among those traveling with Welby throughout Central America are his wife, Caroline, Melgar and Pennsylvania Bishop Daniel Gutiérrez.

It was Welby’s first official visit to El Salvador, where he participated in a pilgrimage to sites connected to Saint Oscar Romero, including the small chapel where he was assassinated in 1980 for speaking out against injustice and violence. The delegation also visited Romero’s home and the crypt in the city’s Metropolitan Cathedral where he is buried.

Welby said the visit left him “moved beyond words.” He described Romero as “an inspiration, a deeply Christian man who loved the Lord Jesus Christ, and because of that, loved the poor and loved his fellow human beings. And for that he gave his life.”

The archbishop then led an ecumenical prayer for peace at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, also in San Salvador, and later that day the delegation visited the University of Central America, where they learned about the murder of six Jesuit priests and two women at the university on Nov. 16, 1989, during the Salvadorian Civil War.

The next day Welby preached and presided at a Eucharist in El Maizal, where he also planted the first tree in the Anglican Communion Forest in Central America.

The Communion Forest was launched at the Lambeth Conference in 2022 with the aim of increasing Anglican tree growing and ecosystem conservation activities by provinces, dioceses and churches around the world.

Welby’s visit to Central America began May 31 in Guatemala, where he met with the country’s president, Bernardo Arévalo, who took office in January. They discussed the effects of climate change on poor communities, as well as issues of reconciliation and sustainability.

He and other delegation members also participated in a variety of worship services. He led and preached at a prayer service at the Episcopal Cathedral of Santiago Apostol in the capital, Guatemala City, and took part in a service with the Anglican community of St. Alban in the highlands town of Antigua.

Welby also presided and preached at a Eucharist at the Episcopal Church of Santa Cruz del Monte Calvario in the town of Balanya, where congregants mostly are members of Indigenous communities.

According to information provided by the archbishop’s office, Indigenous communities make up half of Guatemala’s population but tend to suffer disproportionately from poverty and malnutrition, with less access to healthcare, educational opportunities and employment.

Welby also visited the Jesuit-run Casa del Migrante (Migrant House) in Guatemala City, which provides services to some of the many people migrating north toward Mexico and the United States.

He described sitting at the feet of a man who with his family had spent four months walking from Venezuela. “His young children were holding my hand,” Welby said. “My heart was cracking with the grief of a world where this is necessary. But he was in the care of Casa del Migrante, he was surrounded by love. May God give fruit to this love.”

He also heard about issues that are important to Guatemalans, including LGBTQ+ rights, climate change, migration and democracy, during a breakfast hosted by the British ambassador to Guatemala and Honduras, Nick Whittingham.