By Berta Mexidor and Linda Reeves
MOBILE – A 16-member delegation from the Diocese of Jackson attended Encuentro of Hispanic and Latino Ministry in October focused on the diverse, dynamic and changing realities of the ever-growing Hispanic/Latino population of the Catholic Church.
The Encuentro held for the Province of Mobile took place Saturday, Oct. 12 in the Archdiocese of Mobile, and it was organized by the Southeast Pastoral Institute (SEPI) headquartered in Miami, an educational and service organization that assists the Catholic bishops of the southeastern United States.
The October meeting carried the theme: “responding with joy to be missionary disciples” and included talks, sessions, sharing, and reflections. Participants represented the Archdiocese of Mobile, Diocese of Biloxi, Diocese of Birmingham and Diocese of Jackson, all part of the Province of Mobile, and the day began with Mass celebrated at St. Catherine Siena in Mobile. Main celebrant Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi, leader of the Archdiocese of Mobile, began the celebration by welcoming all. Concelebrating the Mass were clergy representing the various dioceses of the province.
Father Rafael Capo, director of SEPI delivered the homily of the Mass during the Encuentro in Mobile. He explained that the motto of the national conference was “Missionary Disciples Witnesses of God’s Love,” a theme that is being continually carried forward. “We have not been chosen to keep knowledge for ourselves but to give the message to the whole Church,” he said calling all to action and discipleship.
At the heart of talks, was the final document with strategies and recommendations that came out of the National V Encuentro held in September 2018 called for by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops focused on ways in which the American Church can better respond to the growing population of Spanish-speaker’s presence, inspiring in them the call to evangelization and service. The working document, a result of the Encuentro process, focuses on including evangelization, stewardship and development, ministries to youngsters and adults, immigration, vocations, Catholic education and global solidarity among 13 areas.
This fall, a delegation of U.S. bishops and laypeople visited Rome to share with Pope Francis the same working document that came out of the national Encuentro. Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, spoke to Catholic News Service (CNS) on Sept. 16 while in Rome saying that “Latinos in the United States are excited about their faith.”
According to the most recent census in 2010, the Hispanic population by 2050 could reach 132.8 million in the United States. That projected number would be 30 percent of the American population. The 2010 Census shows that 68 percent of Hispanics are Catholic. The census that is now 10 years old states that the population of Latino/Hispanic in Mississippi is 3.4 percent. Some experts dispute the accuracy of that number due to people in communities hesitating to supply information for the census.
Data from the Pew Research Institute, released in 2016, showed a 129 percent growth in the population of Hispanics in Mississippi since 2000, with around 85,000 Latinos with an average age of 26 in the state.
Jackson is the largest diocese at east of the Mississippi River. Catholics comprise 2.3 percent of the population and are served at 72 parishes and 26 missions and chapels spread across 38,000 square miles. At least 27 parishes offered Mass in Spanish. Bilingual priests, community leaders, and catechists are the source of reaching out to the increasing Spanish population in the state.
At the conclusion of Encuentro, talks shifted to the youngsters, for a consultation based on the conclusions of the Synod of Bishops on “Youth, Faith and Vocational discernment” held in Oct. , 2018, the Pope’s letter, Christus Vivit and the findings about young people from the National V Encuentro.
The opinions were collected generationally: active young leaders working with the Youth Ministry, people under 35 and the rest in a group of parents or laypeople in general concerned about the future of the church in the hands of the new generations no matter their heritage or culture.
Encuentro participants reflected on an inspiring message delivered by Franciscan Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, on a video presentation emphasizing “The mission of Encuentro is evangelization and transmitting the faith to the new generations,” he said.