Marcus Barbosa Guimarães, a priest in the Catholic Church for nearly 30 years, is the new President of the Ecumenical Coordination of Service (Coordenadoria Ecumênica de Serviço: CESE) for the 2015-2018 three-year period. With a PhD from the Pontifical Catholic University (Pontifícia Universidade Católica: PUC) in Rio de Janeiro and an MA from the Pontifical Gregorian University (Rome) – with a concentration on Systematic Theology in ecclesiology and mission – he has always worked closely with parishes constituted as Basic Ecclesial Communities. In 2014, he was invited by the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (Conferência Nacional dos Bispos do Brasil: CNBB) to take up the post of advisor to the Group for Reflection on Ecumenism and Inter-religious Dialogue of the Episcopal Pastoral Commission for Ecumenism. In the following interview, find out how CESE’s new President aims to incorporate these issues into the organization’s agenda.
Can you tell us a little about your personal and professional background before you took on the role of CESE President?
My name is Marcus Barbosa Guimarães, I am 53 years old and I was born on 21 September 1961, in Baixada Fluminense, a municipality in Nova Iguaçu, Rio de Janeiro. On the 11 August, I will have been in the Ministry of Priests for 30 years. I have always worked in Parishes constituted as Basic Ecclesial Communities. I completed my higher education with the Jesuits in Rio de Janeiro (Philosophy) and with the Franciscans in Petrópolis (Theology). I have an MA from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, with a concentration on Systematic Theology in ecclesiology and mission. I did my PhD at PUC in Rio, working on the same perspective as my MA. I lectured at the Paulo VI Philosophical and Theological Institute in Nova Iguaçu, and I am still an Academic Director and Teacher on their Pastoral Theology Course. In the Diocese of Nova Iguaçu, as well as being a Parish Priest, I hold the office of Vicar General. Last year, I was invited by Don Francisco Biasin, a leading bishop of the Pastoral Episcopal Commission, to take up the office of adviser to the Commission on behalf of the CNBB. Since then, alongside the presidency of the CNBB and members of the Commission, we have taken forward several initiatives for training and action towards unity amongst Christians and dialogue between religions, within the sphere of the Catholic Church in Brazil.
What was your first contact with CESE?
I got to know CESE through its countless social projects in this immense country of Brazil. I first came across it through its solidarity activities with the most simple and needy people here in Baixada Fluminense. The signs of the Kingdom of God, spread as seeds that have changed a great many lives and social contexts, are remarkable. I believe in CESE because, first of all, I see it as a concrete expression of the unity of several Christian Churches and religious traditions, and also because it seeks, with great courage, hope and resistance, to fulfil its mission to strengthen numerous civil society organizations, preferably the most popular and grassroots.
What do you think are the principal challenges the organization needs to overcome for political and financial sustainability?
The key is “joint thinking”. Starting with our various religious convictions, from which emerge our commitment to a fairer, more tolerant and environmentally sustainable world, we work as a team. Would you like a better key? I feel that there is an urgent need to continue striving for partnerships with a range of agencies and groups in society and with our churches, who desire to join forces in the struggle for social, political and economic transformation in current times and in the context of the sensitive Brazilian and global situation. What we cannot do is disregard the prophetic voice that reminds first us and then our churches and other sections of society, that the poor are there, that the unjust and unequal reality that surrounds us clamours to both the heavens and the earth of men and women for democracy with justice.
And the main prospects for overcoming these?
I would add the immense value of communicating CESE’s work. We need to publicise it more, to talk about it more, to broadcast the work the organization carries out. We also need to progress in the dialogue and coordination which we can and must carry out through ecumenical practice between our churches towards social ecumenism. The same goes for relationships and dialogue arising from the needs and urgent requirements of our people, who come from different religions, which could be a visible expression of a plural religious coexistence, tolerant and rich in diversity, and one that thus denounces all forms of fundamentalism and violence in the name of religion.
In your time at the CNBB, and now as President of CESE, how do you intend to further strengthen the bonds between religion and the struggle for rights? How important is this relationship in strengthening the field of human rights in current times?
CESE’s mission clearly and centrally sets out the issue and challenge for the 21st century, namely, unity between the Churches and religions for peace in the world, through an approach characterized by privation, solidarity, openness and otherness.
I think the words of Pope Francis during his visit to Turkey, in November 2014, very clearly set out the intrinsic connections between religion and the struggle for rights. There, Pope Francis confirmed that leaders of various churches and religions recognize each other as “brothers and partners on a journey” and take up the “commitment to construct solid peace”. For him there is an urgent need to promote “inter-religious, ecumenical and intercultural dialogue, in order to bring to an end all forms of fundamentalism and terrorism.” He also said: “Fanaticism and fundamentalism, as well as irrational fears which foster misunderstanding and discrimination, need to be countered by the solidarity of all believers. This solidarity must rest on the following pillars: respect for human life and for religious freedom, that is the freedom to worship and to live according to the moral teachings of one’s religion; commitment to ensuring what each person requires for a dignified life; and care for the natural environment.” We will continue along this pathway, illuminated by the best that is in all our churches and religions, on the pathway to Unity, and together we will carry out works of charity and justice!
The election of the Ecumenical Coordination of Service’s (Coordenadoria Ecumênica de Serviço: CESE) new institutional Board of Trustees was held during the organization’s 42nd Annual Assembly (on 11 and 12 June 2015).
In the climate of the June Festivities, CESE held a party to celebrate its 42nd anniversary on Thursday night (June 11) with the theme “I take my hat off to you”. Through this activity, guests were able to demonstrate their support for CESE’s work in strengthening rights in the fields of gender, race, the environment, traditional communities and inter-religious dialogue.