Spanish-speaking Catholic faithful and diocesan representatives from three states will head to the University of Notre Dame next month to refine the singular voice with which they will speak at the V Encuentro national gathering this fall in Grapevine, Texas.
V Encuentro is the fifth national Encuentro process that has been undertaken in the U.S. Others happened in 1972, 1977, 1985 and 2000, in a similarly organized manner that begins with conversations at the parish level that grow into diocesan, then regional, then national conversations of the experiences and needs of the Hispanic Catholic faithful. A document created from the discussions will influence the development of guidelines for the future of Hispanic ministry in dioceses across the country.
Although all five Encuentro processes have hoped to encourage and prepare Hispanic Catholics for pastoral leadership, each has proceeded toward that goal via a different emphasis: V Encuentro has been convened in the context of the New Evangelization and emphasizes the importance of involving young, second- and third-generation Latinos in Pope Francis’ missionary mandate.
Representatives from 11 Hispanic parishes in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend began the process over a year ago. In February they came together, to share their parish community’s answers to questions such as, “What is our vision for the Church in our region?” “What is our common ground?” and “What things can we do to further our participation in the Church?”
At the Region 7 Encuentro gathering June 8-10, representatives from the diocesan-level Encuentros will dive deeper into the answers to those questions and form a consensus with representatives from the other four dioceses in Indiana — Lafayette-in-Indiana, Evansville, Gary and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis — as well as all the dioceses of Wisconsin and Illinois.
One topic Hispanic Catholics in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend brought up that may be pursued at the regional gathering is the concern that Christ’s call to evangelization has fallen by the wayside in many Hispanic faith communities.
According to Enid Román de Jesús, Hispanic Ministry coordinator for the diocese and the Region 7 Encuentro chairman, “the missionary aspect of our call to discipleship, Catholics, has been diluted — especially in the rural areas. People have turned more and more to secular beliefs. There’s a lack of understanding about who we are as Catholics and where we are. We need to instill the idea that we are the Church Christ established, and that He charged us with going out as missionaries to build our communities in the faith. This is the message of Pope Francis: That we are to go out to the peripheries.”
Among the testimonies on this topic was that of Esther Terry from St. Joseph Parish, South Bend: She spoke about how her small group went out and ministered to people in their homes and how that was impactful, and motivational to see.
At the diocesan gathering there was an overall consensus among participants, most of whom were age 30 or older, that the focus of Hispanic ministry should be placed on young people: They are no longer only the future Church, it was noted, but the dominant body that makes up the Church. Another consensus emerged around the importance of family and maintaining a firm faith within the home, both of which participants said should be promoted within the context of the Catholic faith.
A third topic discussed at length and tagged as the primary area of pastoral concern was the need for assistance for undocumented immigrants and for those participating in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals federal program.
Although local Hispanic Catholics have embraced the Encuentro process with joy and commitment, in every Encuentro region this conviction is being greatly challenged, Román said, by an increased risk of deportation under the current presidential administration. As a result, many of the delegates who continue participating in V Encuentro gatherings do so with a far greater degree of faith than those involved in previous Encuentros.
In addition to moments for prayer and small-group discussions, the agenda for regional gathering will be broken down into the same four “moments” that were deemed crucial to the process at the beginning and have been repeated at each stage.
Moment No. 1, “Taking the First Step,” will be an opening Mass celebrated by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades at 6 p.m. Friday, June 8, in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, and to which members of the public are warmly invited. On Saturday, June 9, the diocesan representatives will be addressed on the topics of Moment No. 2 – Becoming Involved; No. 3 – Accompanying; and on Sunday, June 10, No. 4 — Bearing Fruit.
Group discussions will provide delegates with the opportunity to compare opinions and priorities on the opportunities and challenges available for Hispanics in the Church in light of the New Evangelization; establish regional and pastoral priorities for the national discussion; and outline and clarify national recommendations for direction and action.
Each region will also report on an assigned area of concern to the Catholic Church. Region 7 has been discussing how Catholic education might respond to the needs of Hispanic Catholics, and how Hispanic Catholics might receive the response and engage.
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