Tribute For Julio Guzman, Salvadoran Refugee Who Started a Church, Dies at 64

This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

Thirty years ago, Julio Guzman, a refugee from El Salvador, founded an evangelical church — Iglesia Cristiana Buenas Nuevas — in North Bergen, N.J. His wife, Ana Guzman, was co-pastor.

Their congregation grew to include nearly 200 mostly Spanish-speaking worshipers. The couple raised four children to adulthood, but not before they had suffered a grievous trial: the loss of their son Daniel, who died, at 5, of a brain tumor, in 1995.

Another grievous trial was in store for the Guzman family. On April 4, Mr. Guzman died of Covid-19 at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, his family said. He was 64.

Like so many families whose members have been hospitalized during the pandemic, the Guzmans were forbidden to visit. But Mr. Guzman was able to text a final message to his eldest son, William: “I love you. No matter what happens, God always has a plan.”

Mrs. Guzman said, “He never lost his faith.”

Julio Cesar Guzman was born in San Salvador on Sept. 20, 1955. Like so many Salvadorans of his generation Mr. Guzman, at 29, fled the country’s rampant gang violence and headed north, slipping across the U.S. border. He eventually gained legal residency, found work as a welder and became a citizen.

He studied scripture and Hebrew at a school run by a synagogue in Jersey City, and founded Iglesia Buenas Nuevas in 1990, when he married Ana.

Those who knew Mr. Guzman agreed that his most striking quality was humility. He was a short man, powerfully built, with a deep reservoir of warmth, and an outgoing nature.

“His first instinct was to help people,” said Myra Amaya, a goddaughter of Mr. Guzman and close family friend who grew up with his children in North Bergen. “He had a loving heart, and he never judged you,” she continued, “so a lot of people went to him for advice.” He did not, Ms. Amaya said, offer theology as a solution for thorny life problems. His advice was as practical as it was humane.

According to the family, Mr. Guzman’s first visit to Jerusalem, in 2012, was a high point in his life. He began guiding tours of the Holy Land for groups from his congregation, some of whom he baptized or married there.

The couple had recently come home from Israel when the pandemic hit, and Mr. Guzman was among the first religious leaders in his community to recognize the urgency of social distancing. He suspended in-person worship in early March, and moved services online. But he continued counseling people in person. Within a week or so, he began to show symptoms of the virus. They quickly became severe.

“Julio was always there for everyone,” Ms. Amaya said, “but at the end, none of us could be there for him.” Pastor Guzman took a different view: “When God calls you, God calls you,” he texted her.

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