Colombia: Bridging a Divided Church


by Pierre Shantz

Since Martin Luther initiated a reformation in the 16th century, Catholics and Protestants have argued and fought, sometimes to the death, about whose church shall lead us to salvation.  In many contexts it is impossible to hold an ecumenical service because one tradition will not recognize the other.  

Colombia is no different. Resentment on both sides has caused a great divide between the two.  The Catholic Church has held the reins of religious and state power, excluding the Protestants.  Up until 1991 the Colombian constitution recognized the Catholic Church as the only church.  

Meanwhile, entering Latin America with a message that Catholics are idol worshipers, Protestants have managed to make the word “Christian” synonymous with “Protestant.” The Protestant church used a theology of resignation as a political strategy to counter the spiritual awakening of Liberation theology.

In the past several years efforts at reconciliation have borne some fruit.  Anabaptist churches in Colombia and the Catholic Conference of Bishops have held meetings, sharing statements of apology and recognizing hurt.

Recently CPT-Colombia hosted a delegation of leaders from the Colombian Mennonite Church and a mix of priests, scholastics and candidates from the Basilian community of Colombia.  Both groups are part of CPT’s support community, yet we wondered whether these Catholics and Protestants would integrate.

The first day or so we didn’t see much interaction happening.  But on the trip to a rural area, the delegation quickly joined together in planning a time of prayer with the community they were visiting.  Then in the evening both Mennonites and Catholics laughed together, sang songs and poked fun at each other, sharing stereotypical jokes about each others’ churches.

“I was expecting a bunch of old, bald, robe-wearing stuffy priests,” said one of the Mennonites. “I was expecting Bible thumping religious fanatics,” said one of the Basilians.

Amidst the healthy humor, participants took seriously their common faith and understanding that God is Love and on the side of Justice.

The delegation ended with a public action incorporating aspects of both traditions.  Both Pastor and Priest prayed for and blessed the bread that everyone shared.  

In the end, Catholics and Protestants in Colombia still go to different churches, and maybe still eye each other with scepticism.  But this delegation of 14 Mennonites and Basilians overcame stereotypes and shared the true identity of who we all are as followers of Jesus Christ.