The Rev. Oscar Bolioli, 83, a prominent Uruguayan Methodist leader and former staff of the U.S. National Council of Churches, died June 18 in his native country after an illness.
He presided over the Methodist Church in Uruguay from 1975-1979, 2002-2008 and 2012-2016.
Bolioli acquired his theological training at the Evangelical Higher Institute of Theological Studies, an ecumenical institution in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He was later ordained as an elder in the Methodist Church of Uruguay.
He had a long history as an ecclesiastical leader in Latin America, heading important positions at nationaland international levels.
He served as secretary of the Latin American Union of Ecumenical Youth and the Commission on Evangelism and Mission of the World Council of Churches. He also served on the boards of Evangelical Methodist Churches of Latin America and the Caribbean and the Crandon Institute and was president of the Evangelical Hospital of the Federation of Evangelical Churches of Uruguay.
During his first term as president of the Methodist Church in Uruguay, dictator regimes ruled that South American country. Many social and community leaders, including pastors and laity of Christian churches, suffered imprisonment, exile, torture and disappearances.
During this period of political difficulty, Bolioli, "assumed the representation in Uruguay of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and helped those who got free that needed to leave the country. He distributed among relatives of political prisoners aid sent by the Swedish Parliament, and managed visit of religious leaders to political detainees," said a report by the city of Montevideo, Uruguay, in 2013 when he was recognized as an exemplary citizen.
Between 1982 and 2000, Bolioli was the director of the Latin American and Caribbean Department of the National Council of Church of Christ in the USA and of the Church World Service, based in New York. In this role, he supervised support projects to the region and had prominent participation in the process of mediation carried out in the case of the Cuban child Elián González.
In 2003, he retired and returned to Uruguay, where he was then elected for a third term as president of the Methodist church.
That same year, Bolioli was distinguished as "Citizen Illustrious of Montevideo" by Ana Olivera, the city’s mayor, in recognition of his work in terms of peace, justice and reconciliation. The resolution stated that, "men like Bolioli are not only necessary, but because of their honesty, humanity and ability to work, are an example to make known and follow."
Bolioli represented Uruguayan Methodists at the United Methodist 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon. Since 2016, he served as a member of the executive council and national board of life and mission of the Methodist Church in Uruguay.
His funeral was held June 20 at the Central Methodist Church in Montevideo. He is survived by Stella Bolioli, his wife of 57 years, and four children.
Reactions in Latin America
Bolioli was one of several men and women who forged Methodism in South America — including Emilio Castro, José Míguez Bonino, Bishop Federico Jose Pagura and Mortimer Arias — and “have passed to be with the Lord” in the last few years, noted the Rev. Luis de Souza Cardoso, leader of the Buenos Aires regional office of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
In "A Strange Strain of Audacious," Bishop Sante Uberto Barbieri wrote about the history of great Methodist leaders who spread the faith in England and America as “giants of the gospel and of Methodism.” If Barbieri wrote today, Souza Cardoso said, “Pastor Oscar Bolioli would be on his list of giants of the gospel and Methodism.”
“Pastor Oscar Bolioli shared the vigor of that generation and framed his time with the testimony of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God by the Methodist tradition,” he said. “His struggle for human rights and his untiring work for ecumenical relations are testimony to a life dedicated to the Gospel, to others and to life.”
In a public letter, the Rev. Jorge Zijlstra, president of the Latin American Council of Churches, described Bolioli as "a servant of the Kingdom, commitment to the Lord who called him to His service and who today called him to His presence ... We give thanks for his testimony of life and ministry.”
The Rev. Milton Mejia, the council’s top executive, called for prayer and solidarity with the family and Uruguayan Methodism.
"The ecumenical vocation of Pastor Oscar Bolioli will continue to endure throughout our region since we learned from his commitment with a gospel that announces hope and a full life, defends human rights and works for a peace that is the fruit of justice,” he said.
“Oscar Bolioli represented Latin American Methodism at the highest levels of the religious world and beyond,” said the Rev. Edgar Avitia, executive secretary in Mission Relationships for Latin America and the Caribbean for Global Ministries.
“He was a point of reference in the ecumenical world with a long and important trajectory,” he said. “Among the Methodist people, he was a very respected and wise leader. Oscar, with iron fortitude and boldness and supreme intelligence, faced the powerful from all their trenches in favor of human rights.”
The Rev. Gustavo Vasquez is the director of Hispanic/Latino Communications at United Methodist Communications. You can reach Vazquez at (615)742-5111 or [email protected]