GRAPEVINE, Texas — Increased opportunities for faith formation, the strengthening of families and developing more paid positions in Hispanic youth and young adult ministries were among the priorities identified at the National Fifth Encuentro Sept. 20-23 in Grapevine, Texas.
Through a process of missionary work, consultation, leadership development and community building, the Encuentro sought to develop better ways in which the Catholic Church responds to Hispanic Catholics in parishes around the country and to strengthen them as leaders and missionary disciples.
About 3,200 diocesan delegates, bishops and representatives from ecclesial movements and Catholic organizations participated over four days to discern the priority issues for Hispanic ministry currently and for years to come. The national gathering was the culmination of a multi-year effort.
The V Encuentro surpassed its goal of identifying and preparing 25,000 new ministry leaders.
In addition to the priorities of formation, families and ministries, another important goal of the Encuentro is developing initiatives that promote and create new pathways of leadership for young adults.
“The experience of the Encuentro surpassed all my expectations,” said Guzman Carriquiry Lecour, the Vatican’s secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. He encouraged attendees to continue being committed to their ministries and expand their leadership and outreach.
“What I bring to my diocese is this drive, this happiness and emotion that we carry after this gathering and looking at so many people involved in the same mission,” said Ricardo Luzondo from the Archdiocese of San Antonio.
Hispanics represent about 40 percent of U.S. Catholics and nearly 60 percent of millennial Catholics, according to research from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.
In some sessions, representatives for the 14 episcopal regions — in which the dioceses of the United States are geographically divided — reported the results of the small-group consultations. The task was to highlight the areas that most need accompaniment, along with obstacles for Hispanic Catholics in 28 ministerial areas such as vocations, evangelization, Catholic education, family life and immigration.
Among the most pressing issues is outreach to youth and young adults and creating spaces within their communities where they be heard, engaged, and supported in taking leadership roles.
Other recurring issues included the contributions of “Dreamers,” or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients”; supporting Hispanic women in leadership roles; the continued role of a missionary Church that reaches out to others; more access to leadership positions at all levels; and to reach out to, mentor and guide young adults as ministry leaders.
Unlike previous Encuentros in which a national pastoral plan was developed following the national gathering, the results of the Fifth Encuentro, or V Encuentro, will be compiled into a final document to be shared with all dioceses, so parishes and dioceses can utilize it to reinforce and strengthen their Hispanic ministry groups.
‘A future of hope’
On the opening day of the Encuentro, about 3,000 Hispanic ministry leaders cheered as they welcomed representatives for the 14 episcopal regions approaching the stage and carrying the same crosses and colorful banners that accompanied their gatherings during the multi-year process of discernment and consultation that began at their parishes. The crosses were placed on the stage by the bishops who served as chairs for each region.
Pope Francis captivated the audience with a video message that was received with a standing ovation.
“I see that the Fifth Encuentro is a concrete way for the Church in the U.S. to respond to the challenge of going beyond what is comfortable, business as usual, and to become a leaven of communion for all those who seek a future of hope, especially young people and families that live in the peripheries of society,” the pontiff said.
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, welcomed the crowd and addressed the need for healing and accountability sparked by the clerical sex abuse scandal.
“Amidst this darkness the Encuentro is a light that shines and illuminates the way forward. The enthusiasm, compassion, the love and the joy of the Encuentro process is a means of grace. A gift to us as we rebuild the Church,” the cardinal told participants.
The ‘hour of the laity’
Hispanic Catholic leaders are living an important moment in the history of the Catholic Church in the U.S. and are called to rise and continue the work of building the Church, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez said at the closing Mass Sept. 23.
“The Encuentro has made us see our missionary reality and responsibility as Hispanic Catholics in the United States,” he said. “But most important, the Encuentro has made us reflect on the personal ‘encounter’ with Jesus Christ.”
Archbishop Gomez reminded the faithful that they’re missionary disciples on a journey, just like those who walked with Jesus in Galilee and Jerusalem, as well as St. Juan Diego, who was entrusted with the mission of building the Church in the Americas.
“You are the children of Our Lady of Guadalupe in our present times; you are the spiritual heirs of Juan Diego… The mission that was entrusted to him, is now entrusted to you,” Archbishop Gomez said. “I believe that this moment in the Church — is the hour of the laity. It is the time for saints. He is calling the lay faithful to work together with the bishops to renew and rebuild His Church. Not only in this country, but throughout the continents of the Americas.”
>> Five decades of encuentros
Remembering the nearly five
decades of encuentros in the United States, Mercy Sister Ana Maria
Pineda, a theologian at Santa Clara University in California, called the
Texas gathering a historic moment.
“We are the elders and the
offspring of the sacred history woven with the many threads of the past
and the present and looking toward the future,” she said. “We recall the
past and how God has traveled with us throughout these many decades as
Catholic Hispanics, Latinos.”
Sister Pineda has participated in
all the encuentros since 1972, when the first Encuentro took place in
Washington. During that very first gathering, priests, bishops and lay
leaders proposed significant ways to attend to the pastoral needs of
In 1977, the second Encuentro was held in
Washington with the theme of “Pueblo de Dios en Marcha” (“People of God
“In my memory, it is like a Pentecost moment,”
Sister Pineda recalled. That year about 1,200 Hispanic Catholic leaders
reflected on issues such as evangelization, ministries, human rights,
education and political responsibility.
Sister Pineda described it
as a turning point in which they shared joy, sorrow, neglect and hope.
They were drawn together as a Hispanic community and became aware of the
unique contributions they offered to society and the Church. In turn,
the Church was motivated to respond more authentically to the needs of
that growing community.
The third Encuentro, in 1985, focused on
youth, the poor and human dignity, and led to the creation of a national
pastoral plan for Hispanic ministry.
Encuentro 2000 embraced the
many culturally diverse communities in the United States and the
cultural and religious contributions that also enrich the Church, Sister