Next Encuentro phase: action by parishes, dioceses on ideas, priorities

By Norma Montenegro Flynn
WASHINGTON (CNS) – A Nearly 3,000 Hispanic ministry leaders, like Dominican Sister Judith Maldonado, have gone back to their parishes and dioceses to share the ideas and fruits of the conversations that took place at the Fifth National Encuentro in Grapevine, Texas.
And as that phase of the multiyear process reached completion, the next phase is aimed at putting into practice the lessons learned and bear fruits.
“This has been like a retreat, the message that we were given at the end is like you have the Holy Spirit, you have to take it with you and you have to be saints, produce fruits of love,” said Sister Maldonado, a member of the Dominican Sisters of the Lady of the Rosary of Fatima. Her order is involved with family ministry serving parishes in Maryland and Texas.
In the next few months, the leadership team of the Fifth National Encuentro, or V Encuentro, will distribute a concluding document listing the main priorities and problems identified across 28 ministry areas; the document will assist dioceses, parishes and national structures in drafting their own pastoral plans according to their own realities and priorities.
The Encuentro’s team of accompaniment, or ENAVE, plans to continue providing support and tracking progress.
“We have achieved things that in some ways we never would have imagined would be possible,” Ken Johnson-Mondragon, V Encuentro’s director of research, told Catholic News Service. “Walls have come down, people have experienced really the joy that Pope Francis talks about.”
The V Encuentro process that began about four years ago has helped thousands of Hispanic ministry leaders engage in faith-filled dialogues among themselves and reach out to those on peripheries. Encuentro has also promoted collaborations within and across dioceses, which is known as ‘pastoral en conjunto,’ and has helped remove the “fear to speak up,” bringing the participants closer to their pastors and bishops, added Johnson-Mondragon.
The V Encuentro also identified and prepared at least 25,000 new Hispanic ministry leaders across the country, and about a third of the leaders engaged were youth and young adults. An estimated 100,000 individuals participated in the process and about 150,000 others were reached on the peripheries.
Another important gain is that the V Encuentro has captured the attention and support of the bishops nationwide. At the gathering, about 125 bishops — Hispanic and non-Hispanic — walked side by side with their diocesan delegations, and about 160 out of 178 Roman Catholic dioceses and archdioceses in the country were represented.
“The Hispanic church is asking for formation, they’re asking for support, they’re asking for direction, so it will be on the part of the bishops and pastors to provide that,” Bishop Oscar Cantu told CNS. Formerly head of the Diocese of Las Cruces, New Mexico, he is now coadjutor bishop of San Jose, California.

What mostly surprised and pleased Bishop Cantu was the size of the gathering — with over 3,000 participants — and like many others, he was energized by the optimism and drive of the attendees.
The top three recommendations that rose up in the Encuentro process are: the need to develop pastoral plans for Hispanic ministry tailored according to the needs of each parish and diocese; the need of the parish community to help strengthen families; and to hire more Hispanic young adults in paid positions of leadership.
The 28 ministry areas addressed by the V Encuentro include those that reach out to youth, young adult, college campuses, immigrants, families, people with disabilities, and the incarcerated, as well as ministries in vocations, pro-life, faith formation and catechesis, justice and peace, and even care for the environment among others.
As a word of advice from Mercy Sister Ana Maria Pineda, who has witnessed all the Encuentros, it is important to connect the previous Encuentros to the current one, while staying focused on the work at hand amid the challenges it might present. “We’re being called to a very special moment in time and we need to step up to the plate to make sure that we are on the side of the poor, on the side of those who can’t protect themselves.” Sister Pineda said.

Hispanic ministry teams exchange pastoral visits

By Berta Mexidor
Sister María Elena Méndez, MGSpS, a coordinator for Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of Jackson visited her colleagues in the Diocese of Fresno, California’s, Migrant Ministry program on September 17-19.
This was the second half of an exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) office of Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees and Travelers (PCMRT). Members of the UCSSB committee make annual visits to dioceses who work with a large population of immigrant and temporary workers. In 2015 Bishop John Manz led a PCMRT visit to the Jackson Diocese. The local Hispanic ministry team took him on a tour of farms and work sites in the Delta so he could experience the reality of life in the rural South.
This year the committee invited Sister Mendez to accompany them to California. Bishop Armando Ochoa and Benito Medrano, coordinator of Hispanic Ministry of the Fresno diocese welcomed the visitors.

Representatives from the University of Detroit Mercy, the UDM Jesuit Community and the Catholic Migrant Farmworker Network also attended.
The guests learned about the work of Fresno diocesan team; went to an Easton, California, vineyard and a dairy in Rosa to visit farmworkers and their families. They also witnessed the efforts of both the Immaculate Mary Eucharistic Missionary sisters (MEMI Sisters) and a community organization called Faith in the Valley. Sister Mendez said she was impressed by how well these organizations collaborated. “Each of the … communities represent a significant strength. Because they collaborate in the office as well as the field they have bonds of friendship and trust that becomes a house built on a foundation of rock.”
During the meetings they had time for a presentation about a basic formation methodology. Father Tom Florek, SJ., from University of Detroit Mercy was the presenter. During those days the visitors talked with adults cathechists and community leaders, joined Mass and enjoyed community gatherings. “We met Christ in the men, women and children we met in the grape fields. The good news was palpable in the hospitality, testimonies, prayers and blessings,” he wrote in a report he prepared about the visit.
Sister Mendez compared the migrant and farmworkers’ situation in Mississippi and California, concluding all of them have much in common “I thanked them for putting food on everyone’s table.” Getting to meet them, she said, affirms the work she does every day “…they called us as a church to encounter people on the periferies and to find ways to educate and evangelize.”
The farmworkers reminded her of these verses from Carlos Rosas’ song, “You are the peasant God who works from sunrise to sunset. I have seen you surrendered, and sweat runs on your face. You are the peasant God who works in the labor.”
“It is my hope that the various participating communities can benefit from what we have learned and further a dialogue that results in greater good for the lives of the farmworkers and their families,” said Sister.

Parish Fair traditions hold steady at St. Elizabeth

CLARKSDALE – The St. Elizabeth Parish Fair celebrated 71 years of fun, school and parish commitment and community-wide participation Tuesday, Sept. 18.
A program from the third fair in 1940 indicates that Father Geoffrey O’Connell first proposed the event. Early fairs included a raffle for a bale of cotton, a barbecue night and the signature meatball and spaghetti supper as well as “nickleodian dances, competitive games and a cake and candy sale,” reads the program.
Currently the fair has one overall chairperson with many chairmen in charge of numerous game booths, horse rides, a silent auction, and the famous delicious “Delta Italian” spaghetti dinner – topped, of course, with yummy meatballs made by the ladies of the parish.
These days, cash has replaced cotton in the raffle. Ticket-holders vied for a $10,000 pot and numerous other prizes.
The Fair’s “coming together” takes months of planning and organizing, ordering booth prizes, cooking and praying for good weather.

CLARKSDALE –Maci and Ellie Kate Flaut enjoy an evening horse ride during the St. Elizabeth Parish Fair Tuesday, Sept. 18. The evening of fun, food and games raises money for the school and parish. (Photos courtesy of Dawn Spinks.)

Will Young decides what to do next at the fair as students play carnival games for big prizes. Stuffed animals are some of the favorites.


Festival celebrates immigrant cultures

By Maureen Smith
TUPELO – On Saturday, September 15, St. James Parish hosted Hispanic Heritage Day which included music, dance, food and a friendly fund-raising competition for the title of Hispanic Queen. The celebration gathered more than 300 people from the parishes of deanery five.
“Our Parish of St. James, began to have this celebration in 2005 for the Independence Day of Mexico. The objective of this event was to spend a family afternoon and share our traditions, with music, dancing – without missing our typical Mexican snacks. Over the years this event has grown a lot and more people have joined,” said Raquel Thompson, coordinator for Hispanic Ministry for St. James. Latinos from New Albany St. Francis, Corinth St. James the Less, Ripley St. Matthew, Pontotoc St. Christopher and the host parish joined in by offering a display of costumes, bringing a dance or musical group, food and drinks typical of their homeland.

“We, as Hispanics in the United States, are proud to share a little of our cultures, customs and traditions that go beyond folk dances, food, etc., so this year we organized it at the deanery level,” explained Thompson. “The goal was to have a meeting of communities to share our faith, promote unity, family integration, inspire our youth and feel the joy of brotherhood that unites us as Latino brothers and sisters in this country, who has welcomed us and feel at home, although we are far from our land,” she continued.
Katia Cruz acted as emcee for the day. At the end of the celebration organizers named a “Hispanic Queen,” conferred on the girl who collected the most money through selling snacks throughout the event. The ladies wore costumes from the countries of origin of their parents. In a short interview with four of the participants, the common denominator was their desire to help their church and therefore their community. Joselyn Acosta, Karen Ruedas, Lorena Benavides and Kaelen López all have dreams for the future as an accountant, nurse and lawyer. The money raised will help all the parishes in the deanery. In the end Kimberly Huerta of New Albany St. Francis was elected as Hispanic Queen 2018, with second place for Daniela Pérez of Corinth and third place for Carolina Acosta of Tupelo.

(Berta Mexidor, Katia Cruz and Raquel Thompson contributed to this story. See more photos in this week’s Catolico.)

Listening sessions

In an effort to advance the healing process and to support our commitment to transparency, Bishop Joseph Kopacz is sponsoring a series of listening sessions open to the community. There will be four sessions to accommodate people all across our Catholic community.

Franciscan Sister Dorothy Heiderscheit will be the facilitator at each session. She is CEO of Southdown Institute of Toronto, Canada. Southdown Institute was founded specifically to address the needs of religious and clergy around mental health and addiction. Sister Dorothy served as a therapist and director of Family Ministry at Catholic Charities of Jackson from 1987 to 2000.

Before you come, we ask that you read the diocesan statement addressing what we do when abuse is reported, what we have done in the past and what we are doing now to prevent abuse in the Diocese of Jackson. It can be found here:

We also ask that you submit questions in advance in writing here: Use the subject “Listening Sessions.”

A Spanish interpreter will be available at each session.

Thursday, Oct. 4, Tupelo St. James Parish, 7 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 5, Cleveland Our Lady of Victories Parish, 6:30 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 6, Madison St. Francis of Assisi Parish, 11 a.m.

Sunday, Oct. 7, Natchez St. Mary Parish, 4:30 p.m.

Feast day fiesta at St. Matthew

RIPLEY – Members of St. Matthew Parish in Ripley celebrated their patron saint on Saturday, Sept. 22. The actual feast is celebrated worldwide on Sept. 21.
Matthew, the evangelist and apostle was a tax collector for the Romans. He coverted to Jesus and after the resurrection, Matthew preached for years in Judea and in nearby countries. San Mateo (in Spanish) is credited for being a patron of bankers and is represented with a book.
The celebration started with Mass, but included dancers from Tupelo St. James Parish who came to share a traditional Aztec drama- dance. “Los Matachines,” usually dance in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The dance represents the fight of good versus evil. At the end good is the winner.

(Katia Cruz contributed to this story)

RIPLEY – Above “Los Matachines,” dancers from Tupelo St James Parish. For more than ten years this group has offered traditional Aztec dance performances around Mississippi. With 40 members including young and adults, the group came to bring color and music to the celebration for the Feast Day of St. Matthew. (Photos courtesy of Madeline Hale)

In right photo: Father Jesuraj Xavier accepts the gifts from the dancers during the Mass. (l-r)Carriying flowers Sindy Vázquez and her mother, Rosario Gonzalez, Brithney, Yaire López and Alma Diaz, the last two are current leaders of the dancers.

Catholic Charities gala event brings star to Jackson

Dan and Joyce Heart wait their turn to meet Caviezel and have their picture made with him. (Photos by Maureen Smith)

Bishop Joseph Kopacz greets Kerry and Pam Minniger. Pam Minniger is the Lay Ecclesial minister for Gluckstadt St. Joseph Parish.

JACKSON – Above, diocesan Chancellor Mary Woodward chats with Peter and Miriam Koury and Yvonne Haydel

Attendees could enjoy a light dinner before the evening's main event.

Catholic Charities COO John Lunardini and Sister Dorothea Sondgeroth greet Tanya Britton. Britton traveled from her home in Tupelo for the event.

Rusty and Yvonne Haydel have their photo made with Caviezel during the reception

WLBT anchor Maggie Wade was the emcee for the evening, providing a personal story about her love for the adoption program run by Catholic Charities. Caveizel spoke about opposing abortion, how playing Christ changed his life and about his own journey to adopt three handicapped children from China.

First day from across the Diocese’s Catholic schools

COLUMBUS – Joseph Baumann, a second-grader at Annunciation School, August 6, gets right to work on the first day of class. All Catholic schools in the Diocese of Jackson are in session. In this back-to-school special edition, get updates on what's new for schools this year including improved curriculum, Catholic identity, character education in athletics and a service project idea that is still building momentum. Stories start on page 6. (Photo by Katie Fenstermacher)

MERIDIAN – Students in Melanie Pressly’s first grade class at St. Patrick School sing a song on their first day back to class. (Photo Virginia Pressly)

MADISON – St. Anthony students Sam Sosa and Campbell Stringer are happy to see each other the first day of school. (Photo courtesy Michele Warnock)

GREENVILLE – Middle school students work off some energy during the first Day of School at St. Joseph School. (Photo by Craig Mandolini)

MADISON – Sister Paula Blouin shows (l-r) Brandon Giuffria, Olanna Chima, Reed Hardy and Sydney Beard, students at Assisi Early Learning Center how to stir hot cheese grits to cool them off. (Photo courtesy of Sister Paula Blouin)

FLOWOOD – Students at St. Paul Early Learning Center find their faces on a classroom chart. (Photo courtesy Susan Irby)

CLARKSDALE – Rylee and brother John Caleb Wood celebrate the St. Elizabeth back to school night theme: Cheering for TEAM SES! (Photo by Mary Evelyn Stonestreet)

MADISON – St. Joseph students get right to work. (Photo courtesy of Terry Casserino.)

JACKSON – Suzan Cox washes Alan Garrison’s feet at the St. Richard sixth grade commissioning ceremony. The graduating class hears the gospel where Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. Teachers and administrators wash their feet and send them back to the school as servant leaders. (Photo by Wendi Shearer )

HOLLY SPRINGS – Holy Family principal Clara Isom high-fives students as they head for class with new backpacks. A Tunica business donated backpacks and school supplies to all the students. (Photo courtesy of Sandra Cirilli )

GREENWOOD – Students at St. Francis of Assisi School participated in the first school Mass of the year through liturgical dance and by acting out the gospel with celebrant Father Camillus Janas, OFM. (Photo by Jackie C. Lewis)

VICKSBURG – The Flashettes dance team and cheerleaders greet Kindergartener Kenneth and Pre-K student Allison Grogan as they walk into St Francis Xavier for their first day of school. (Photo by Kristi Smith)

JACKSON – Sister Thea Bowman students got right to work on their first day.(Photo by Deacon Denzil Lobo)

System-wide accreditation, school improvement enhanced Catholic identity in the works for 2018/2019

By Catherine Cook
JACKSON – Classes are underway in all schools across the Diocese of Jackson. In this edition of Mississippi Catholic, readers can find updates on school accreditation, character education through athletics, how Catholic identity is being enhanced in every school, improvements being made to curriculum, news on school expansions and new administrators.
In addition to new faces, new administrators and new construction, the Office of Catholic Education has begun a system-wide accreditation process to have all 13 Catholic schools accredited by AdvancED, the accrediting agency formed by the merger of the PreK-12 school division of Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and North Central Association (NCA) Commissions on Accreditation and School Improvement in 2006 and later including the Northwest Accreditation Commission (NWAC) making it the largest association of educational professionals in the world. The Diocese of Jackson joins 52 (arch)dioceses and Catholic school systems from across the U.S. already accredited this way..
Stephanie Brown, coordinator of school improvement, is leading this process. Brown worked with the Office of Catholic Education last year on a part-time basis assisting with the ongoing curriculum review and initiating the AdvancED process and began in a full-time capacity in July. She comes to the education office from Madison St. Anthony School where she served as a teacher, the coordinator of religious education, and the assistant principal.
The diocese has a significant history with AdvancED through its affiliation with SACS. Many schools were accredited by SACS during the mid 1970s and 80’s. Natchez Cathedral, Madison St. Joseph and Vicksburg Catholic were accredited by SACS in 1975, Holly Springs Holy Family in 1978, Greenville St. Joseph in 1980, Columbus Annunciation in 1984, Southaven Sacred Heart and Jackson St. Richard in 2004, and Madison St. Anthony in 2012. The four remaining schools that have not been affiliated with AdvancED will be accredited through this system-wide process.
This accreditation process uses a set of rigorous research-based standards to examine individual schools, as well as, the diocese as a system to determine how well the schools and the diocese are meeting the needs of students. Continuous improvement is at the core of this process. All efforts in the accreditation review are directed toward examining data – surveys, achievement scores, classroom observation data, etc. for ongoing improvement of student outcomes. The standards are grouped within three domains: leadership capacity, learning capacity and resources capacity. Additionally, AdvancED partnered with the National Educational Association to incorporate the Catholic School Standards so that we can be assured that the uniqueness of Catholic education is recognized and supported.
The system-wide process began for Catholic schools here last spring with surveys sent to students, parents, and staff at each school.

The results of the surveys indicate that the parent ratings were slightly higher than the AdvancED network average, the middle/high school student ratings were slightly lower than the network average with staff and elementary student ratings slightly lower in some areas and slightly higher in other areas. While this is a cursory view of the diocese a deep dive into the data is available at each school location as reports provide ratings for each of the 53 questions within the five areas of focus. One report presents the five highest scoring items and the five lowest scoring items for each of the stakeholder groups. This data assists the diocese and each school in determining areas that need improvement and areas of strength on which to build. Principals and pastors have received a report of the survey results specific to their school. Once individual schools have determined their areas of focus for improvement we determine how the diocese can support those areas..
Another diocesan-wide effort is Play Like a Champion (PLAC) coordinated by Amy Lipovetsky who came to the diocese from Florida where she served as a district level athletic director. She and her family moved here in 2016, and she serves as youth director at Madison St. Francis of Assisi Parish and coaches middle school volleyball at Madison St. Joseph School. Lipovetsky works with all schools and parishes in our diocese that have athletic programs. Play Like a Champion Today: Character Education through Sports is rooted in Catholic teachings and traditions. The program places emphasis on coaching as a ministry and the role of sports in moral and spiritual development. PLAC provides resources for coaches, parents, and students including prayers and reflections, as well as, information bullying and hazing, handling failure and success and first aid, to name a few. Find out more at

(Catherine Cook is the superintendent of Catholic education for the diocese.)