Central American bishops visit New York, Church Center

September 7, 2011

Bishops from the Iglesia Anglicana de la Region Central de America (IARCA) on Sept. 7, the first of three days of meetings in New York, visited the Episcopal Church Center, participating in the noon Eucharist and meeting with and briefing staff on the state of the church in their respective countries.

"We're here not just as individuals but as a province," said Bishop of Costa Rica Hector Monterroso, provincial secretary of IARCA, during the briefing. "Twelve years ago we became a province; the church in our area is alive. It's a very strong community of faith.

"Central America is diverse in linguistics, ethnic and cultural ways … This is probably our most valued treasure."

Monterroso is accompanied by Bishop of Guatemala Armando Guerra Soria, primate of IARCA, Bishop of Panama Julio Murray, vice president of IARCA – who presided and preached, respectively, at the Sept. 7 Eucharist – and Bishop of El Salvador Martin Barahona.

In the Episcopal Church of Guatemala, the hope in the next six to seven years, Guerra said, is to create "two new dioceses out of the present one."

"It's not easy. For us a bad economy means poverty," he said. "But the vision of creating a new diocese has brought tremendous energy into the diocese."

In Panama, "the hub of the Americas," as Murray described it, the focus is on congregational development, "identifying gifts and talents," to raise up leaders; and to move from dependency to interdependency, for example, the church is working with parishes on empowering communities through sustainable food production. And through its mission work, the church also is working with indigenous people and "campesinos," or peasant farmers.

In El Salvador, the church started a program for at-risk youth, Barahona said, in a country where the rate of the "disintigration of the family is too high," and is working with 500 young people.

"It is very dangerous, but we have to do it," he said.

Barahona shared that there is a 3,000-capacity jail in El Salvador holding 9,000 young people.

One of the focuses of the church in Costa Rica is to expand its presence to the Pacific Coast, where more than 100,000 Americans live, and where residents are asking for a church presence, said Monterroso, adding that the church is present in the Central Valley region and on the Caribbean side.

The church also is working to encourage Christian and theological education and to "increase Christian testimony through service," he said.

The four bishops also stressed the importance of companion relationshiops, both diocesan and parish, and their mutual benefits.

Throughout their visit, the bishops were scheduled to meet with representatives of the Episcopal Church Foundation, Episcopal Relief & Development, United Thank Offering, Jubilee Ministries, Trinity Wall Street, and the bishops of the Diocese of New York.

Formed in 1998, IARCA comprises the dioceses of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama. The Episcopal Church has been in a "covenant partnership" with the province since its creation. More information about the history of the relationship between the province and the Episcopal Church and the covenant partnership is here.