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World church head hails ‘bishop of the poor’ for Paraguay poll win


The World Council of Churches’ general secretary, the Rev. Samuel Kobia, has congratulated Fernando Lugo, the former Roman Catholic bishop of San Pedro, on his victory in Paraguay’s recent presidential election.

"We have been moved by your statements, both during the election campaign and after being elected, that reflect the rich tradition of a Latin American Christianity that has struggled to follow Jesus amidst a reality marked by inequality and injustice," Kobia said in a message to Lugo published on 30 April.

Lugo, dubbed the "bishop of the poor", won the presidential election on 20 April with promises to redistribute income and undertake land reform. His success represents a break with the political tradition of Paraguay, where the Colorado Party has ruled for 61 years.

"Your commitment to the poorest and most excluded in Paraguay, especially peasants and indigenous people, has laid a foundation that under your presidency, the whole of the Paraguayan people will be able to build a society that reduces the gap between rich and poor and addresses corruption with honesty and transparency," Kobia stated.

Lugo will be inaugurated as president on 15 August. He resigned as bishop of San Pedro in 2005, and gained national attention the following year when he led a mass demonstration against the government of Nicanor Duarte Frutos.

The WCC groups 349 churches around the world, principally Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant. The Catholic Church is not a member of the council but its serves on some WCC committees and cooperates with the council on a number of programmes.

Lugo announced in December 2006 that he intended to run for the presidency, and became the candidate of the Patriotic Alliance for Change, a coalition of political parties and other groups from across the political spectrum.

After announcing his intention to stand for the presidency, Lugo petitioned Pope Benedict XVI to be allowed to return to the status of a lay person. The Vatican refused, saying ordination is a lifelong sacrament, but suspended Lugo from exercising a priestly ministry.

The Paraguayan Catholic bishops’ conference made no official statement after the elections, but the country’s ABC newspaper quoted Bishop Adalberto Martinez Flores of San Pedro, secretary of the conference, as saying it "accepts and acknowledges the victory of Lugo as president-elect of Paraguay", the Catholic News Service reported.

(c) Ecumenical News International