In South America
The Waldensian Church of the Rio de La Plata has approximately 40 communities and 15,000 members shared between Uruguay and Argentina.
The first Waldensian colonists from Italy arrived in South America in 1856, during the years of a serious economic crisis that caused millions of Italians to emigrate overseas. The first pastor, Miguel Morel, arrived in 1860, which was a sign that the community was establishing itself and intending to stay on the new continent. The Waldensian Colony in Uruguay built their first church and high school in 1888. At the beginning of the XX century, when Italian immigration reached its historical peak, the church also established itself in Buenos Aires, Argentina. During the 1950’s millions of Argentines and Uruguayans moved from the countryside into the cities. This phenomenon caused a crisis within the Church as it had been organized on a rural model that closely identified the agricultural colony with the Waldensian community.
A second element that had a dramatic influence on the life of the Waldensian Church of the Rio de La Plata was the military dictatorships during the 1970’s and ‘80’s. During those tempestuous times the small Waldensian community had to reaffirm the principle of separation between church and state and defend its freedom to preach the Gospel that are the foundations of Waldensian tradition. “The Church, founded on the principles of the Gospel, stands on the observance of its confession of faith and ordinances, without expecting privileges from the temporal power and without consenting to interference or restrictions on its own organization by civil society,” the Synod of 1977 solemnly affirmed.
At the turn of the new century the problems of the Waldensian Church of the Rio de La Plata were primarily linked to the severe economic situation of the region. From this emerged a strong commitment to social programs. Exclusively with its own resources and voluntary donations, the Church manages four homes for the elderly, two homes for children, two centers for the challenged, and a hospital. Historically, service to one’s neighbor has been a distinctive trait of the Waldensian witness. The growing poverty that today has hit the greater part of the population of South American countries engenders feelings of desperation and loss of dignity. It is in this difficult context that the Waldensian churches of the Rio de La Plata announce their hope in Christ and witness to the love of God.