Remembering the Rev. Oscar Bolioli, Methodist and Human Rights Leader from Uruguay
By Elliott Wright*
The Rev. Oscar Bolioli, three-time president of the Evangelical Church of Uruguay, long-time ecumenical leader, and champion for social justice died on June 18 at the age of 83, according to messages received by the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries. He had stepped down as the Methodist leader in Uruguay last year.
“We join with the Evangelical Methodist Church in Uruguay and the international ecumenical community in giving thanks to God for the life and witness of Oscar Bolioli,” said Thomas Kemper, chief executive of Global Ministries, the global mission agency of the United Methodist Church, and a friend of Bolioli. “He was a man of courage, patience, and steadfast faith.”
In the 1970s, Bolioli became a target of the then military government of Uruguay for standing up for the rights of political detainees and their families during his five-year term (1974–1979) as president (comparable to bishop) of the small Uruguayan Methodist church. Press accounts at the time indicate that he felt vulnerable and left his country when he no longer had the protection of the high visibility church role.
He moved to the United States with his family, and for two decades he was affiliated with the Latin American and Caribbean work of the National Council of Churches Christ in the USA and the related humanitarian agency, Church World Service. He was active in the global Methodist connection, serving on the Council of Evangelical Methodist Churches of Latin America and the Caribbean (CIEMAL).
"Oscar Bolioli was a great leader in world Methodism,” said Jim Winkler, a United Methodist who is currently the president and CEO of the National Council of Churches, upon hearing of Bolioli’s death. “The council gives thanks for the witness he provided. On a personal level, I have wonderful memories of the mentoring Oscar provided for me as a mission intern with the General Board of Global Ministries."
Bolioli returned to Uruguay in 2002 at the age of 68 to resume the leadership of the Methodist community there. He served as president until 2008, and was then reelected in 2012 for a term ending in 2016.
After going back to Uruguay, the pastor became something of a hero for his earlier resistance to military rule and his support of human rights across Latin America. He was declared an “Illustrious Citizen” by the Intendance (mayor) of Montevideo, the capital city.
Bolioli became widely known during his years of ecumenical service for his insistence on economic policy and practice that would benefit indigenous people in Latin America and the Caribbean. He also advocated full, responsible accounting of charitable contributions to economic development projects.
Bolioli is survived by his wife, Stella; four adult children, Sylvia, Eduardo, Sergio, and Alvaro, and numerous grandchildren.
*Elliott Wright is information consultant for Global Ministries.