Guatemalan Lutheran Church’s Álvarez on the Importance of LWF Membership

ILUGUA General Coordinator Rev. José Pilar Álvarez Cabrera. Photo: LWF/M. Haas
ILUGUA General Coordinator Rev. José Pilar Álvarez Cabrera. Photo: LWF/M. Haas

Greater Visibility of Advocacy and Human Rights Work

(LWI) – The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) accepted the Guatemalan Lutheran Church (ILUGUA) into membership at the June 2014 Council meeting in Indonesia, bringing the total number of churches in the global Lutheran communion to 144. The LWF has a long history of close accompaniment of the churches and people of Central America and an active Department for World Service program in the region.

In an interview with Lutheran World Information, ILUGUA General Coordinator Rev. José Pilar Álvarez Cabrera talks about the importance of membership in the LWF and the church’s role in defending and advocating for human rights in the Central American country. ILUGUA is a member of the Ecumenical Christian Council of Guatemala, an alliance of Catholic, Episcopal (Anglicans), Evangelical and Reformed churches, which collaborates in several areas of work including advocacy on human rights at regional and international levels.

What difference does full membership in the LWF make to ILUGUA and its congregations?

The ILUGUA is a diaconal church, whose main task is to accompany and support indigenous and peasant communities in the eastern region of Guatemala and to defend human rights. For this work, ILUGUA is persecuted, threatened, vilified and criminalized. In ILUGUA, we feel very happy to be accepted as members of the global communion of Lutheran churches. This is of great strength, faith and hope for our work, and gives security and protection to our lives and our diaconal mission.

We are also an open and inclusive fellowship in the region of Guatemala and LWF membership opens up many possibilities and opportunities to be united in prayer, in faith, in the sacrament, as well as solidarity and communication with churches that are also members worldwide. We are an ecumenical church and membership in the LWF reaffirms our Lutheran identity in the Latin American context within which urgent actions and initiatives of a prophetic church are required to defend life, promote peace and seek justice. LWF membership means that we are not alone in our mission; we are accompanied and supported jointly by the global communion.

Are there additional benefits to membership?

Firstly, our diaconal work is recognized and supported by the global Lutheran communion. Communications, campaigns, and prayers reach us and we are listened to and valued in our spirituality. We are recipients of solidarity and the same source of solidarity for life, justice and peace.

Membership also strengthens and legitimizes our task as human rights defenders within rural and indigenous communities who resist peacefully in defence of life, land and natural resources in the territories we inhabit. Another benefit is that it makes our pastoral work much more visible to the world and the work of advocacy, which is very important in developing our work in defending human rights, and in this way, deters threats and risks to our lives.

As a former affiliated LWF church, why was full membership so important to you?

Our church has been an affiliated member of the LWF and seeking membership was a process that took several years. ILUGUA has worked on the recovery of historical memory and systematization of the violations of human rights in the region of Zacapa. We also work hard in the defence and protection of the “Granadillas” mountains in the highlands of Merendón, and have denounced for years the destruction of forests and water sources for communities.

We are working on the bill for the mountains of Granadillas and other mountains of the massif of Merendón to be protected as Protective Springs Reserve. ILUGUA, under the protection of human rights to food, also develops processes for sustainable agriculture, food sovereignty and water rights. For this work, our pastors and church members are being criminalized, threatened, maligned, intimidated and imprisoned. This is why ILUGUA sought membership with greater intensity, and requires the protection and solidarity of the global Lutheran communion.