By Norma Montenegro Flynn
WASHINGTON (CNS) – The National Fifth Encuentro of Hispanic Latino Ministry has inspired Alicia Carrillo to “smell like sheep,” echoing Pope Francis urging pastoral workers to get out and be among the people.
She is one of the 20,000 new Hispanic Catholic ministry leaders that the encuentro process aims to identify and train.
Carrillo, a Mexican middle-aged woman and a single mother, answered the call to be a missionary disciple when her parish priest picked her to lead a group visiting parishioners no longer attending Mass in their neighborhood in Ligonier, Indiana. The town has a high Hispanic immigrant population, predominantly Mexican.
“This experience has taught me to go on, to continue reaching out to people and as Pope Francis said, to smell like sheep, to be among those rejected by others,” Carrillo said in Spanish. “Like the image of the merciful Jesus carrying a lamb on his shoulders, we must see the needs of others, their suffering, their weariness.”
An introvert who deflects any attention, Carrillo never imagined she would address a crowd of nearly 200 ministry leaders from Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin at their Region VII encuentro held in June at the University of Notre Dame. She was a delegate representing the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana.
Identifying and forming new leaders like Alicia, particularly among youth and young adults, has been a priority from the start according to members of ENAVE, the V Encuentro’s National Team of Accompaniment, represented by 42 national and regional Catholic organizations that serve Hispanics.
“These are the leaders we hope to find through the encuentro; who may not necessarily feel they are prepared, but they have received the call and they have recognized this is a call for them from God, and they would have to acquire the skills and the abilities they need to serve better,” said Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Alberto Rojas, chairman of the Region VII encuentro.
Engaging and preparing leaders to be the voices of their parish communities who can bring up their needs to church and government authorities is essential, Bishop Rojas added in an interview with Catholic News Service.
Although Hispanics represent about 40 percent of U.S. Catholics overall and 54 percent of millennial Catholics, those numbers are not reflected in leadership roles.
“We are very aware that Hispanics/Latinos are underrepresented in every category and level of pastoral leaders in the church, with the possible exception of parish volunteers,” said Ken Johnson-Mondragon, national coordinator of research for the National Fifth Encuentro, or V Encuentro, and an ENAVE member.
“Given the demographic shifts taking place in the Catholic Church in the U.S., this represents a significant problem, and the V Encuentro seeks to both engage new leaders directly and inspire young Catholics to visualize a life in ministry, whether consecrated or lay,” he added.
The total number of new leaders participating in the encuentro process is not yet available, however, about 47,000 people have participated in diocesan encuentros, as reported by 144 dioceses across the country.
An initial survey conducted last summer, also shows that that up to 26,000 people from about 2,400 parishes were trained in 142 participating dioceses. However, the survey does not specify the number of new leaders, according to the V Encuentro’s research team.
Through mission, consultation and community building, what has been a multiyear encuentro process seeks to establish ways in which the Catholic Church can respond to the Hispanic presence in parishes around the country. The recommendations that emerge at the national level will provide a basis for a pastoral plan for Hispanic ministry in the U.S.
About 3,000 new and seasoned leaders, like Carrillo, will be selected to participate in the national gathering, slated for September, in Grapevine, Texas.
Seeing how much people appreciated a word of encouragement amid their suffering, motivated Carrillo to continue serving and inviting others to return to the church. “I told myself, it’s time to stop watching TV at home while there are others who are alone and suffering so much.”
She also encourages others to pray for those who suffer even if they do not welcome their outreach, and to pray rather than criticize.