Last month the church bells in the National Cathedral in Asunción, Paraguay, tolled briefly. They called anxious citizens to prayer during the tense moments that marked the ouster of 34-year dictator Alfredo Stroessner by General Andres Rodriguez.

And according to Tom Kent, a Southern Baptist missionary physician in Asunción, most people are continuing in a “prayerful, hopeful attitude” in the weeks following the coup.

Rodríguez has settled into the presidential palace, promising a return to democracy and greater respect for human rights, including religious liberty. Paraguay is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, and in his “inaugural address,” Rodríguez pledged to “[defend] our Roman Catholic religion.” Archbishop Ismael Rolon of Asuncion, a long-time critic of Stroessner, has already met with Rodriguez and publicly embraced him.

Nina Shea, executive director of the Washington-based Puebla Institute, a lay Catholic human rights agency, acknowledges “there has been liberalization already.” But she remains skeptical about prospects for wide-ranging reforms, given Rodríguez’s alleged links to corruption and drug trafficking under Stroessner.

Protestant Reaction

Currently, about 2.5 percent of Paraguay’s population is Protestant; the largest denominations consist of Mennonites, Lutherans, and Baptists. Some Protestants are concerned that the new regime will give preferential treatment to the Catholic church, while others think Rodríguez’s favorable statement about Catholics was meant to begin healing the breach between the government and the Catholic church.

Jim Reapsome, editor of Evangelical Missions Quarterly, noted that “the door has always been open to missions” in Paraguay. Mennonite Brethren Harold Ens said Paraguayan Mennonites ...

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