By Tom Tracy
MIAMI (CNS) – The head of Catholic Relief Services told several hundred Hispanic leaders from the U.S. Southeast recently that they are a vital part of the church’s future “global voice” and missionary discipleship.
“The statement you see on signs all the time now is ‘when you see something, say something,’ and to be a missionary disciple it is ‘when you see something, do something,'” said Sean Callahan, president and CEO of CRS, the U.S. Catholic Church’s overseas relief and development agency.
“We need to be seen as the doers, and there is a great opportunity right now for the Catholic Church to come together and be more of a force for right and for justice in a country of people who want justice,” he said.
Callahan, a 28-year veteran of CRS in his second year of leadership at the Baltimore-based agency, spoke Feb. 23 to more than 340 mostly Hispanic leaders gathered from among some 30 dioceses that are part of the Southeastern Regional Encuentro comprising church’s episcopal regions V and XIV.
A delegation from the Diocese of Jackson attended, taking with them the results of parish-level and diocesan gatherings identifying the priorities of the Diocese of Jackson. One of the delegates, Danna Johnson from Pontotoc St. Christopher Parish, said faith formation remains critical.
“In the area of ‘leadership development and pastoral training,’ the strategy that was identified as a region is to increase programs of pastoral formation for Latinos in both languages (English and Spanish) or more, depending on the needs of each parish,” said Johnson. “The online theological education program in Spanish CAMINO and in English STEP from the University of Notre Dame is one of the most successful pastoral programs in the region. Dioceses from South Carolina and Lexington, Kentucky, have implemented these programs and are getting great results. I am excited that this regional strategy is connected with one of the priorities of Pastoral Plan of our Diocese of Jackson, which is ‘the life-long formation of intentional disciples,'” Johnson added.
Groups from all across region five met in Miami February 22-24 at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish’s sprawling complex just west of Miami International Airport.
Since 2015, CRS has been one of four major sponsors of the encuentro, which is described as the most important and comprehensive initiative in Hispanic ministry ever undertaken by the Catholic Church in the United States. The initiative involves an estimated 1 million pastoral leaders, 175 dioceses and numerous church organizations, parishes and lay ecclesial movements.
Now that parish- and diocesan-level encuentros have taken place, regional encuentros will be going on around the country through June. What has been an overall four-year process of reflection and action will culminate with the U.S. Catholic Church’s Fifth National Encuentro, or “V Encuentro,” to be held Sept. 20-23 in Grapevine, Texas.
The U.S. church’s First National Encuentro was in 1972. For the upcoming V Encuentro, 163 dioceses and archdioceses and more than 2,500 parishes across the country are involved.
Callahan told the Florida Catholic, Miami’s archdiocesan newspaper, that the gathering in South Florida represented a significant moment of encounter for CRS and U.S. Hispanic Catholic leadership, and that CRS is interested in listening as the encuentro participants discuss and define their future role as Hispanic Catholics in America.
“This is the first encuentro we have been so involved with this intimately,” he said. “As we have seen the U.S. becoming more and more Hispanic, we thought it would be important for us to understand what people feel the direction of the church should be, and then how can we be a part of it,” he said.
“And one of the strengths (of this partnership) is bringing the voice of the American people overseas to people in difficult situations and letting people know that they are not alone and that people here care about them and share that solidity,” he said of the work of CRS. “We want to see where that part of the church comes out in this encuentro process.”
“In many cases, people are being forced out from where they are, and our job is to allow people to stay where they want to stay with safety and security for their family with the right to employment,” he said. “The Northern Triangle is one area that we really want to intervene and reduce violence and give people other opportunities,” Callahan said of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Venezuela, he added, is a key country where there is a lot of turmoil, the inflation has gone up, the people are in a dire situation, “and so we work with Caritas International and Caritas Venezuela as a lead organization so we can provide greater assistance to the people of Venezuela,” he said.
CRS now works in some 110 countries and assists 137 million people annually, he noted, adding that large scale migration trends from Africa into Europe will continue to be a source of humanitarian challenges in the coming decades.
(Tracy writes for the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Miami.)