Jodi Marlin
November 15, 2016 // Local

V Encuentro — National process returns to build the parish of the future

Jodi Marlin

By Jodi Marlin

A process that aims to support the U.S. Catholic Church and its faithful by encouraging, uplifting and equipping a rapidly growing member group — that of Hispanics — will be repeated in 2016-18.

According to Pew Research, Hispanics make up 42 percent of the Catholic population in the country. Sixty percent of Catholic youths in the U.S. are Hispanic, which indicates that in the near future the face of the Catholic Church in America will be largely Hispanic. That’s why a primary outcome of the V Encuentro process is to discern pastoral practices and priorities that impact the quality of ministry among Hispanic Catholics, under the leadership of the U.S. bishops.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops explains that the “Encuentro” process — the word means “encounter” — is a two-year process of missionary activity, consultation, leadership development and pastoral discernment in parishes, dioceses and episcopal regions that culminates with a national event. The main objective is to discern the way in which the Church in the United States responds to the Hispanic presence and, in turn, to strengthen the way in which Hispanics respond as a Church.

Encuentros have taken place several times in the past. In 1972, the first one allowed U.S. Catholic Hispanics to gain visibility and to express their needs, aspirations and contributions as baptized persons and members of the Church. The second Encuentro, in 1977, allowed participants to identify themselves as a community that is diverse, yet unified by a common faith, history, culture and language. According to the USCCB, they also discerned a way of being a Church based on the ecclesiology of communion and a preferential option for the poor and those who have fallen away.

In 1985, III Encuentro allowed for the articulation of a clear direction of the Church’s response to the Hispanic presence, as well as Hispanics’ response as an integral part of that Church. This vision was recorded in the National Pastoral Plan for Hispanic Ministry. The most recent Encuentro, which took place in 2000, allowed U.S. Hispanic Catholics to host and share the experience and mission of Encuentro with all the cultures and races that make up the Church in the United States.

V Encuentro, the fifth iteration of the process, will encourage U.S. Hispanic Catholics to continue their walk as God’s people and to discern pastoral priorities and strategies that are most appropriate to the present time.

“This is our time to ask: What is our role in our Church, and how do we achieve cohesion? How do we participate in the New Evangelization?” summarized Enid Roman, director of Hispanic ministry for the diocese.

As with the fourth Encuentro, the first level of preparation takes place at the parish. This is where the conversations will begin, said Roman. In the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend this will begin on Dec. 3, when teams of representatives from each parish with a Hispanic ministry will gather at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Warsaw. There, they will receive training in how to organize and run parish-level Encuentros in the spring for fellow Hispanics who are interested and have the potential to carry their Church forward.

On Sept. 30, these parish Encuentro groups and others from across the Midwest will gather for a regional Encuentro that takes place at the University of Notre Dame. Finally, in 2018, Encuentro groups from across the country will gather in Grapevine, Texas, for a culminating event at which the salient needs and resources identified at the local and regional level will be discussed and incorporated into a plan for the future.

“We’ll discuss how we see the future and, as Hispanic missionary disciples, where we’re going as a Church. What is the plan? What are the goals? A summary of this conversation will then be presented as an open letter to the U.S. bishops,” said Roman, who added that the bishops, in turn, will use the document as a blueprint for the next several years of Hispanic ministry in the U.S.

In addition to the initial Encuentro processes that will take place in parishes of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend that have Hispanic ministries, two will also be held in English; one at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne and the other at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in South Bend. This will allow second- and third-generation Hispanics who are dominate in English, and therefore may not attend a Hispanic parish, to participate in Encuentro as well.

It’s time, Roman believes, for Hispanics to step up and take responsibility for their faith and the function of their Church in the new millennium.

“Our people ask everything from our priests, from our pope. But every baptized person has a responsibility to get out there and be a witness to God’s love. These sessions will ingrain in them how to be a witness; how to get out into the community and invite people back into Church. We want to be witnesses, and experienced evangelists; we want to start a reaction of love.”

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