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Unity in diversity, Hispanic presence changes face of Church in U.S.
October 18, 2018
GRAPEVINE, TEXAS — A huge procession of people carrying banners and crosses led the opening ceremony of the V Encuentro Sept. 20, as Hispanic Catholic delegates from 14 regions in the United States gathered in celebration, sharing how the process has so far influenced their parishes, dioceses and regions.
The national V Encuentro (Spanish for gathering, but in the spirit of “encounter”) comes after four-years of grassroots consultations. Hispanic Catholics (lay, religious and clergy) have been meeting at the parish, diocesan and regional levels to express and articulate their needs, concerns and talents and using the see, judge and act process as a methodology inherited from Pope John XXIII in his encyclical “Mater et Magistra”. More than 3,000 Hispanic Catholics met at the Gaylord Convention Center outside Dallas from Sept. 20 to 23. They shared what they have experienced the past couple of years: how they have reached Hispanic Catholics on the peripheries, how they have inspired young leaders, how they organize their Hispanic ministries, and much more. The next steps to be developed in two years will include an evaluation of the process, discerning of the results and building on the mission and actions for the future.
Though the demographics of the local Encuentros varied, the national gathering was intentional with its attendees, calling for a group to reflect the Church’s future tapestry: 30 percent are those younger than 35; 30 percent are new or emerging leaders;
30 percent are seasoned leaders, and 10 percent is staff.
A recent consultation report shows that there are 23,000 U.S.born Hispanic Catholics for every U.S.born Hispanic priest, and that 55 percent of Catholics younger than 14 are Hispanic.
At the V Encuentro there were 11 delegates from the Diocese of Metuchen. They were led by Bishop James Checchio, Father Timothy A. Christy, Sister Ruth Bolarte and Father Juan C. Gaviria. Others included: Angelina Rodríguez and Agustina Arias from Bernardsville; Ruth Collazo from Carteret; Hernando Patiño, and Isabel Esparza from Flemington; and Bertha Franco and Nelson Mejia from Perth Amboy. For Rodríguez, a Paraguayan from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Bernardsville, meeting with people from parishes all over the country has been a great experience and she called the event a “New Pentecost,” as they shared how they have been called to put together their talents and experiences in the Church.”
Another member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Arias, an Ecuadorian, said “she and her group were excited to exchange information, learning from others while also sharing “what we bring for our diocese to here, and learning about the concerns of other Latino Catholics-why they are not present at the church celebrations or why they are leaving the parishes.”
Mercy Sister Ana María Pineda, an associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University (Calif.) has been involved in four of the five national gatherings.
She reviewed the accomplishments of each past Encuentro, and said “it always has been a time of grace where Hispanics realized how together they could shape our existing realities and that of our future.”
Following an address by Sister Ana Maria, San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo García Siller, led a welcoming prayer and following Pineda’s address, told the roomful of delegates, “You are right to be heartbroken by the faults of your shepherds.” He added: “let us pray to God for the victims of the crimes that led to this crisis. Do everything you can for the healing of the victims of these abuses and pray also for the perpetrators and for us, your shepherds.”
Pope Francis made a surprise appearance on the ballroom’s many large screens to offer a personal blessing to those participating in the V Encuentro. He said he was “overjoyed” to speak with the bishops and delegates.
“I see that the V Encuentro is a concrete way for the Church in the United States to respond to the challenge of going beyond what is comfortable, business as usual, to become a leaven of communion for all those who seek a future of hope, especially young people and families that live in the peripheries of society,” the Holy Father told attendees.
“The process has also been an instrument of grace that led to a conversion of heart for many people, and above all…a pastoral conversion through the encounter with one another, of course, in the adoration of Jesus Christ,” he added.
In the video, the pope said he is “aware of the contribution that the Hispanic community offers to the life of the nation, and I pray that the V Encuentro continues to contribute to the renewal of society and the ministry of the
Church in the U.S.”
To thunderous applause, the pope closed by saying: “Go forward!”
The first day concluded with chants that ended emphasizing Encuentro themes. “Quién es el pueblo de Dios?” (“Who are the people of God?”), the emcees asked, encouraging the crowd to respond “Nosotros” (‘We are”). They then led the crowd in accepting Pope Francis’ call for missionary discipleship, repeating “Somos una iglesia en salida” (We are a church that goes forth”).
Dinner With Bishops
On Sept. 21, 700 young adults got the opportunity to meet the 130 bishops who attended V Encuentro and eat dinner with them.
Esparza, from the Diocese of Metuchen, said: “God made his love so apparent for little me. How blessed we were today to encounter Christ in our neighbor, some strangers from our own diocese who became friends, others from across the nation. I am left with hope and gratitude to see what tomorrow brings and I expressed that and many other things to the bishops.”
Some bishops concluded that the next generation wants to do something for the Church and they were very connected and very dedicated and inspiring. They added that even if we have different positions, different roles, we are the body of Christ and
only together can we arrive to build their dreams.
The next steps may include a deep discerning of the Encuentro conclusions by bishops, clergy and lay leaders in order to develop the findings of the process.
The Encuentro concluded with a banquet and music as an expression of the happiness and joy that marks the Hispanic/Latino culture all over the world.
Father Gaviria is coordinator of the diocesan Hispanic Lay Formation
By Father Juan Carlos Gaviria, Correspondent