NEW YORK – When the Rev Oscar Bolioli first served as President of the Methodist Church of Uruguay in the 1970s, the country’s military regime tried to expel him because of the church’s support for families of political prisoners and its outspokenness on human rights issues.
Eventually, as the end of his term neared, he moved to the United States, knowing that he would be in danger once he left the highly visible church post.
But now, after 22 years with the US National Council of Churches, the 68-year-old pastor is returning to his roots. In March, he again became President of the Methodist Church of Uruguay, an unpaid position similar to that of bishop. This time, he brings along two decades of experience with churches and social issues in Central and Latin America and the Caribbean.
The Rev Bolioli was a teenager when he made his personal commitment to the church, later attending Union Theological Seminary in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He was working in an ecumenical position when the 1973 military coup occurred in Uruguay. “We, as a country, had never had that experience, so we didn’t know how to handle an abusive situation,” he recalled.
With many Methodist pastors and lay people in prison, he found himself “in the middle of a critical situation” and did his best, as the denomination’s President from 1974 to 1979, to lead the church in advocating for the religious care of political prisoners and for protection of their families.
When he arrived in the US, he thought he might take a congregation, but decided to work for the New York Council of Churches. After determining he could still not return to Uruguay, he became Director of the Latin America and Caribbean Department of the National Council of Churches and Church World Service, its humanitarian agency, in 1981. He remained in that position for 18 years before becoming the council’s Associate General Secretary for International Relations. He retired from the agency in February this year. – United Methodist News Service