Regional Encuentros gain momentum as national event looms

Regional meetings are the latest phase of a multiyear preparation process for “V Encuentro,” or the Fifth National Encuentro, to be held Sept. 20-23 in Grapevine, Texas. Previous national encuentros were held in 1972, 1977, 1985 and 2000.
First came parish-level encuentros, then diocesan gatherings and now the regional meetings. A team from the Diocese of Jackson attended the regional meeting held in Miami, Florida, earlier this year and will also attend the national gathering. As the regional meetings progress, some common themes and messages are emerging. What follows are brief overviews of several other regional V Encuentro meetings.

Answer call to discipleship by addressing church’s needs, delegates told
SAN ANTONIO (CNS) – Answer the call to missionary discipleship by addressing the needs of your church. Meet young people where they are and just listen. Improve catechetical resources and prepare future leaders. These were some of the strategies discussed by more than 800 delegates representing 18 Catholic dioceses in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, as they participated in a bilingual three-day Region X encuentro in San Antonio April 13-15.
“What is the Holy Spirit calling us to at this moment as a region?” asked Ken Johnson-Mondragon, the Fifth National Encuentro’s research coordinator, as he presented to delegates in San Antonio a regional working document based on diocesan findings. He added that the conversations among participants while using the document as a discernment tool were most important.
The delegates worked in about 80 small groups to talk about challenges, opportunities and successful practices in areas like evangelization and mission, faith formation and catechesis, youth, family ministry, immigration and theology. Their recommendations will be presented before the national encuentro in Grapevine.
According to the working document, Hispanic Catholics make up 6 million of the estimated 8.4 million Catholics living in the U.S. church’s episcopal Region X. Some dioceses in the region, like Beaumont and Fort Worth, Texas, Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Little Rock, Arkansas, have seen their Hispanic population increase more than 100 percent between 2006 and 2016.

All Catholics have duty to ‘walk with’ their neighbors, bishop says
ALEXANDRIA, Minn. (CNS) – The energetic spirit of the 200-plus people who gathered in Alexandria April 13 and 14 for the Region VIII encuentro captured the heart of St. Cloud’s Bishop Donald J. Kettler. The event was one of the year’s highlights for him, he said during a presentation to the gathering. Later in an interview with The Visitor, St. Cloud’s diocesan newspaper, he said that he was impressed with the “willingness among the people to develop their faith and share their faith. That evangelization spirit is here. I like their enthusiasm and their interest. … There really is an energy here.”
The regional encuentro had seven areas of ministry focus drawn from input given at the diocesan level: leadership development and pastoral training, families, youth and young adults, evangelization and mission, faith formation and catechesis, liturgy and spirituality, and immigration.
In addition to Bishop Kettler, other bishops attending were Auxiliary Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens of St. Paul and Minneapolis and Bishop Robert D. Gruss of Rapid City, South Dakota.

Hispanic Catholics seen as the emerging ‘voice, conscience’ of church
PHOENIX (CNS) – Hispanic Catholics are being called “to be the ecclesial voice and conscience of the church in the U.S.,” said Hosffman Ospino, a leading expert on the intersection of Catholicism and Latino culture. “When the Hispanic Catholic community speaks, the church speaks,” he told participants in Phoenix for the Southwestern Regional Encuentro.
The Colombian-born Ospino, the final keynote speaker at the gathering, is an associate professor of theology and religious education at Boston College. He is a member of the leadership team for the V Encuentro.
The Feb. 23-25 regional in Phoenix drew about 480 delegates from 10 Catholic dioceses in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, which are in the U.S. church’s episcopal Region XIII. The delegates reviewed the diocesan reports and discussed recommendations for consideration in Grapevine in September. Ospino spoke only in Spanish; there was simultaneous translation of his remarks. His topic was “Bearing Fruit,” on the beneficial effects of the integration of Spanish-speaking Catholics into American church life.

Áreas pastorales y estrategias que compartimos con la región sureste

Por Hermana María Elena Méndez, MGSpS
WINONA – El 18 de noviembre, el equipo de ministerio hispano y las personas delegadas de la diócesis: Susana Becerril, María Isamar Mazy y Danna Johnson se reunieron para discernir tres prioridades que la diócesis de Jackson comparte con las 30 diócesis de los nueve estados que componen el sureste (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina y Tennessee).
Antes de llegar a una determinación, revisaron las siete áreas de prioridad para los hispanos que surgieron del proceso del V Encuentro desde el proceso en las parroquias, y luego, en los encuentros diocesanos.
Las áreas diocesanas a las que llegaron, incluyendo las áreas del Plan Pastoral Diocesano fueron: Evangelización: proclamar a Jesucristo y nuestra fe Católica, Crear comunidades acogedoras y reconciliadoras, facilitar la formación permanente de los discípulos comprometidos, promoción vocacional, pastoral social, familiar y juvenil.
Antes de llegar a las conclusiones, de forma personal, cada persona eligió tres de las siete áreas que consideraba que eran compartidas con la región sureste. Después de dialogar, ver las que teníamos en común y justificar en las que no coincidíamos, llegamos a la conclusión de las tres áreas siguientes con dos estrategias para cada una.
1. Evangelización: proclamar a Jesucristo y nuestra fe Católica
– Que haya retiros de Evangelización y seguimiento
– Continuar visitando a los alejados para invitarlos a participar en la comunidad eclesial
2. Pastoral Familiar
– Seguir apoyando a los Movimientos que trabajan con la familia, trabajar con la oficina diocesana en relación con la vida familiar juvenil y vocacional
– Trabajar en conjunto oficinas de Educación en la fe, pastoral juvenil, escuelas católicas para que los niños y jóvenes hispanos sean más atendidos en el área religiosa y académica
3. Facilitar la formación permanente de los discípulos comprometidos
– Continuar formando catequistas adultos para que puedan ayudar a formar a otros para servir a Dios
– Que el ministerio hispano facilite los programas de formación (Escuela de ministerios y talleres de formación)

Pero éstas estrategias no podían ser compartidas con la Región, si antes no eran aprobadas por nuestro Obispo Joseph Kopacz quien, después de revisarlas, las aprobó. Sabemos que hay otras necesidades en nuestra comunidad hispana que requieren atención, como son los niños-as y jóvenes, pero si por ahora trabajamos en lo que respecta a nuestra fe, la familia y la formación de liderazgo, poco a poco podemos ir dando respuesta a necesidades específicas de cada grupo.
Es importante que cada uno/a pongamos a trabajar nuestros dones y talentos en la comunidad parroquial a la que cada uno/a pertenecemos para dar respuesta a éstas y otras necesidades.


Encuentro’s hope: nationwide impact

The trend has been clear for a long time. Hispanic and Latino Catholics make up the fastest-growing ethnic group in the U.S. Catholic Church – continuing the long tradition of a church that embraces newcomers as brothers and sisters in Christ.

That’s true in the Archdiocese of New York, where Hispanics and Latinos are estimated at 43 percent of the Catholic population, and it’s true in the major population centers of the country, such as Los Angeles, South Florida, the border areas of Texas and many other places.

A recent report by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University commissioned by the U.S. bishops shows that more than half of millennial-generation Catholics born in 1982 or later are Hispanic or Latino.

So, it’s exciting to watch a major effort unfold, with the aim of bringing Hispanic and Latino Catholics closer to the church at every level and encouraging them toward leadership now and in the future.

An initiative of the U.S. bishops, V Encuentro, as it’s called, is the Fifth National Encuentro (Encounter), a synod-like process designed to prepare the church to better recognize and promote the gifts and talents that this growing community of Hispanic/Latino Catholics has to share with the church and society.

Preparations began last year, with training sessions for parish leaders, who will help organize parish encuentros throughout the archdiocese through June. Participating parishes also will take part in a one-day archdiocesan-wide Encuentro later in the year, followed by a regional Encuentro in June 2018 in Albany. The national V Encuentro is set for Sept. 20-23, 2018, in Grapevine, Texas, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

The theme is “Missionary Disciples: Witness of God’s Love,” and it’s expected that more than 7 million Catholics will be involved at some level, with more than 5,000 parishes participating in the process.

Those are impressive numbers, and if they hold up – and we have no reason to think they won’t – it would be a major home run for the church and for its Hispanic/Latino members.

Here in the Archdiocese of New York, the process is being shepherded by the extremely capable Wanda Vasquez, the director of the Office of Hispanic Ministry, who’s been a dedicated and hard-working member of the archdiocesan leadership team for many years.

She sees V Encuentro as an opportunity to “build a culture of encuentro,” where parishioners can “enter a relationship with Jesus Christ, collaborate with each other” and reach out to those who have fallen away from the church.

“As Pope Francis has taught us in the ‘Joy of the Gospel,’ we need to get out of our comfort zones, go into the peripheries and reach out to those who have gone astray, especially those who are in high-risk situations,” she said, after a recent training session for parish leaders held at Fordham University.

Vasquez, and other organizers, hope the Encuentro process will yield an increase in vocations of Latinos to the priesthood, religious life and permanent diaconate; create a group of Latino leaders for the church; bring an increase in the percentage of Latino students enrolling at Catholic schools; as well as an increase Latinos’ sense of belonging and stewardship in the U.S. church.

From what we’ve seen so far, the passion and commitment is there. We pray that the results will reflect that, too.

(“Building ‘a culture of encuentro’” was first printed in the March 30 issue of Catholic New York, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New York. Teams across the Diocese of Jackson are working on the V Encuentro here. The effort dovetails perfectly with the new diocesan Pastoral Priorites.)