International Peacemaker from Portugal

Nini_picMs. Maria Eduarda Castanheira

Until it joined the European Union in 1986, Portugal was considered one of the poorer nations of Europe. Since that time it has enjoyed a fair measure of prosperity and economic success coupled with a more progressive political agenda. The Catholic Church in Portugal has enjoyed a sort of historic privilege due partly to the fact that so many profess adherence to it. Some 84% or more of the population professes to being Roman Catholic. Laws restricting the practice of non-Catholic religious traditions were in force as recently as 1976.

Presbyterians in Portugal can trace their roots back to 1838, but the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Portugal (IEPP) as a denomination has only existed since 1958. It is a tiny minority denomination, with only about 3000 members, 25 congregations, and a dozen or so pastors. Nevertheless, the IEPP is heavily involved with social justice issues across Portugal.

Because of proximity and similar circumstances, the IEPP and the Evangelical Church in Spain maintain very close ties, even sending students to each other’s seminaries. Maria Castanheira, who prefers the nickname “Nini,” is one such person. Nini began her studies at the seminary in Portugal, and finished at the seminary in Spain. She currently serves as the pastor of a congregation while she completes the ordination process. Each seminary graduate is precious in this tiny denomination which does not have enough clergy to go around. Those it has must often take a second or third job to be able to make enough to support themselves.

Prior to entering seminary, Nini opened her own language school and taught Portuguese to missionaries from various denominations for 11 years. She speaks Spanish and English as well. Nini is particularly well versed with the needs of a populace traditionally considered poor, and can speak on children’s issues and immigration as well. Like neighboring Spain, Portugal is learning to deal constructively and fairly with its immigrant population, comprised primarily of people from its historic African colonies of Mozambique, Angola, the Azores, and Cape Verde as well as others.

International Peacemakers will be in the United States from September 26 to October 20.

To request a visit by Nini Castanheira to your presbytery, synod, seminary or college, please fill out and return the request form (PDF) by June 15 by e-mail to, by fax at 502-569-8115, or by mail to Debby Vial, International Peacemakers, 100 Witherspoon Street, Room 3229, Louisville, KY 40202-1396. For more information on Nini and the other International Peacemakers, please call 888-728-7228, extension 5702 (Debby Vial) or 5786 (Bryan Reiff).

Written by Bryan Reiff.

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