October 5, 2017 // Diocese

Latinos challenged to become missionary disciples at V Encuentro

By Leo Patiño

The diocesan-level gathering for V Encuentro, a discernment process involving the Hispanic U.S. Catholic Church, took place Saturday, Sept. 30 at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Warsaw.

Representatives from Latino parishes across the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend met at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Warsaw Sept. 30 as part of a national process, directed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, to determine the ways the church should respond to Latinos and how Latinos can embrace missionary discipleship. Participants celebrated Mass with Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades during the day-long gathering. — Bob List

The Encuentro movement is nothing new within the Catholic Church of the United States. In fact, the first Encuentro was introduced in 1972. There have been four previous Encuentros, with the fifth currently in progress and lasting until the fall of 2018. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops initiated the Encuentros after identifying a need to address the growing Hispanic/Latino population in the United States. Alejandro Aguilera-Titus, assistant director of Hispanic Affairs for the USCCB, stated, “The main objective is to find new ways of responding to the Hispanic/Latino presence and for Hispanics/Latinos to better respond as missionary disciples in service to the entire church.”

The day started with a welcome to all participants, and an opening prayer. There were four main topics, and within those four main topics were two small-group sessions. The first topic title was “Taking the First Step;” the second, “Becoming Involved,” with a small-group session afterward. The third was “Accompanying,” and the final, “Bearing Fruits.” In the final topic the participants were encouraged to identify areas of priority that they felt needed to be included in the pastoral plan that is developed by the USCCB subsequent to each Encuentro. The overall consensus of those participating in the process in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend was the need to focus on the youth, because they are no longer the future church but rather the dominant body that makes up the church. Another major consensus was the importance of family and maintaining a firm faith within the home.

The first topic of the day, “Taking the First Step,” was presented by Dr. Fanny Tabares. Tabares spoke of how all people form an integral part of the project of God for the plan of salvation. She pointed to the patriarch Abraham, noting how God called him away from his home and his family in Gen. 12: 1-9, as a comparison to the experience of the immigrant in America today and how they leave behind their families and their homes to seek a better opportunity in a place where language, culture and life is different from the one they know.

Tabares encouraged the participants to listen for God’s call and to allow the Holy Spirit to work within them to improve the church. She spoke of how one needs to take that initial step in the discernment of God’s will by allowing oneself to take the first step in an introduction, forgiving, listening, or even showing mercy, just like the Father has shown his children mercy. The mission starts with taking the first step and trusting that God will guide us in fulfilling his plan.

Not only is the Catholic Church in the United States very diverse, 60 percent of American Catholics under 18 years of age are Hispanic or Latino — a fact whose importance resonated throughout the sessions. There was a strong presence of youth and young adults participating in the V Encuentro and Enid Roman de Jesus, director of Hispanic Ministry for the diocese, stated that she felt an enthusiasm with the youth turnout.

“I hope that the youth realize that they are the bridge that we have been waiting for, we have to put aside the notion that the youth are the future of the church, they are the church right now and we need to train them to take positions within the church of leadership to feel at home when they are in their parish,” she said.

Another topic discussed was the benefit of ministering to one’s brothers and sisters. Esther Terry, from St. Joseph Parish in South Bend, spoke about how her small group went out and ministered to people in their homes and how that was impactful, and motivational to see. Other participants shared stories of their ministry to people in their homes, especially for the elderly and those who don’t have a mode of transportation, and how they have seen some return to Mass and Communion. Maxi Edmundo Valdez from Our Lady of Guadalupe shared that, “We discovered the importance of the Hispanic culture and how we still have the values of taking care of our own, our elderly and our parents. We see so many people abandoned, we experienced the joy they felt when we were with them.”

Mass was celebrated at midday for the participants of V Encuentro, by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades. He spoke about how he was recently in Oklahoma to celebrate the first American-born priest to be martyred and beatified, Father Stanley Francis Rother, who was born in Oklahoma. Father Rother was martyred in Guatemala, where he served for many years. Before his death he was able to learn the indigenous native language and the culture of the people, and they loved him for it. He defended the faith and he defended the people, which ultimately led to his death. Bishop Rhoades said Father Rother was an example of how to live as missionary disciples.

Bishop Rhoades also pointed out how the parable of drawing in the net is similar to the parable of the weeds in the Gospel of St. Mathew, Chapter 13. “The net reminds us that the first activity of the church should to be its mission: to be fishers of men,” he said. He called those present to reflect on this mission and to live like missionary disciples. He spoke of how the need to know and feel the great love that God has for us and that when we do, we will discover a peace and joy in our lives. He encouraged the congregation, once they experience that peace and joy, to share then with others through evangelization.

Bishop Rhoades spoke about the saint whose feast day was celebrated on the day of the Encuentro, St. Jerome, and how he taught that one should to get to know Christ through the Holy Scriptures. He shared a quote from St. Jerome: “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Bishop encouraged the reading of Scripture not like a thing of the past, but rather as the Word of God directed to us now.

Anthony Castañeda and Estefania Herrera, youths from St. Patrick Church, Ligonier, were asked what they thought about the quote from St. Jerome. Castañeda said, “The answers to all of our problems can be found in Scripture. I have realized that every message I read is an answer to my prayers or a problem that I am faced with.” Herrera added that, “I think that there is a response to everything. God allows us to come to him if we seek him and he responds in his moment and in his time. As I go to Mass every Sunday I feel I learn more and more about the Bible.” The bishop said he hoped that everyone present would feel inspired to live and share their faith with joy and fervor, and that the Blessed Mother Mary and St. Jerome would intercede on their behalf and on behalf of the diocesan Encuentro.

The next step is to take the information gathered at the diocesan level and prepare a diocesan document that includes the suggestions and ideas the community has voiced. The document will be presented next year at the regional Encuentro, and then at a national-level Encuentro gathering. Then participants will wait to hear from the USCCB what direction the church will take or guidance it will provide regarding Hispanics in the U.S. Catholic Church for years to come. However, participants at the diocesan Encuentro voiced enthusiasm and optimism for the future.

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