The V National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry not only revived Lily Morales’ faith but empowered her to fight for her dreams and rights.
She attended the V Encuentro, which means fifth encounter, as coordinator of the Hispanic Ministry office of the diocese of Austin, Texas. Not only was she inspired by young people at the V Encuentro looking for ways to renew the Catholic Church in the United States, but she also found solidarity with other young parish leaders with the same immigration status she has.
Morales is one of more than 800,000 Dreamers, young people who live in the United States under the limbo created by the DACA program, which offers temporary immigration status to people who came to the country without documents when they were minors. From the beginning of the V Encuentro, Morales felt the call to advocate for the Dreamers, and during the process she realized how important it is to be in community to strengthen her faith.
The V Encuentro held last September in Grapevine, Texas, was attended by more than 3,000 Catholic leaders from all over the country—including more than 600 young adults between 18 to 39 years old—hundreds of religious and more than 120 bishops.
“In the V Encuentro, a process was designed that really prioritized young people and invited their leadership…the V Encuentro had a preferential option for young people,” said Alejandro Aguilera-Titus, national coordinator of the V Encuentro in an interview with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “The young people had a meeting with the bishops, engaged in a deep and sincere conversation, and saw a new reality, where the bishops accompanied our people, especially the youth, in a closer way.”
“The bishops sat down to have dinner with us and for Latinos it is very important to share dinner with the family,” said Aide Cuenca Narvaez, a student and member of the Campus Ministry at Cabrini University in Pennsylvania, who felt inspired and motivated by the support of the bishops. “It was an opportunity to raise our voices, share our concerns, tell them what we expect from the Church, and basically, tell them that we want to continue walking in our faith, discovering it and strengthening it; but we can’t do it if they are not willing to walk with us.”
Of the 71 million people who identify themselves as Catholics in the United States, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate and Pew Research Center, about 40 percent are Latinos.
The V Encuentro, an initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, began its preliminary planning in February 2014 and the process of pastoral discernment, reflection, consultation and mission throughout the country in 2017, which culminated with the national meeting last September. The V Encuentro will conclude in 2020 when the teachings, recommendations and best pastoral practices will begin to be implemented at the national, regional, diocesan and parish levels. In February of this year a book will be published with the conclusions of the V Encuentro.
During the V National Encuentro, delegates discussed challenges, opportunities and priority strategies, and discerned 10 of the 28 ministerial areas of importance for the future of Hispanic ministry. The most important areas were how to respond to the issue of immigration, faith formation, Hispanic youth ministry, leadership development and pastoral training.
Gabriela Karaszewski, 44, the director of Young Adult and Campus Ministry in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Texas, also felt energized by the V Encuentro. “We have to be Catholics in action and not sit in an office,” she says. “We are a church going out and we have to be the first to go out to the peripheries, not to lecture but to listen to the reality of others and accompany them.”
Karaszewski hopes that the V Encuentro will help establish a youth ministry in each parish. New York, Los Angeles and Houston have the highest number of youth programs in their parishes, but the percentage of youth programs is still low compared to other ministries. She revealed that of the 150 parishes in her archdiocese, only half have a program for young adults. “The Church has to offer young people a space,” she says. “We have to consider that the majority of active young adults are professionals and 75 percent are citizens or documented Hispanics and 25 percent are undocumented.”
Juan Pablo Padilla, coordinator of Hispanic Youth Ministry and Youth and Young Adults in the Archdiocese of Chicago, says that the V Encuentro reveals the reality of the people. “We discovered that there are many Dreamers and if we do not give them the space and confidence, they will go unnoticed. They are bicultural and bilingual young people, who live in two worlds and at the same time live in the shadows and with the uncertainty of DACA,” he says.
Another concern of Hispanic ministries is young people who are at risk, belong to gangs or suffer violence in their homes or schools. “We realized the value of young adult ministry and how young people can find their identity and a better sense in their lives being part of these groups,” he adds.
During the V Encuentro, Padilla was a panelist at the plenary session, “A Church that Bears Fruit,” in which he said, “We need to see more women in leadership positions, offer college-level formation so young people can serve better in leadership roles and we need adequate budgets to help us do our job.”
Another panelist, Edith Avila Olea, coordinator of young professionals for Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Joliet, Ill., said, “The V Encuentro has been a process of inspiration and hope for Latinos and it is our responsibility as a team to respond to that personal call, listen to their needs and take action.”
Avila, who works in the areas of immigration, refugees and the ministry of restorative justice, says that these areas are of greater importance and opportunities for the Latino community to get involved as it becomes the majority population in the Catholic Church. “We have to take responsibility for our Church, we have to invest in it and I hope one day our diocesan offices will reflect the Church we serve,” she said.
Maryknoll was also present at the V Encuentro. “It is a beacon of hope for Hispanics and for the Catholic Church of the United States,” said Deacon Leonel Yoque, coordinator of the Maryknoll Missionary Disciples team. “Latinos bring their culture and faith and that richness must be shared. I hope that the V Encuentro will be the realization of a collaborative ministry, where we can work together to bring the Good News.”
Yoque adds that the V Encuentro helps discern the signs of the times and how the Hispanic community can respond to this reality. At the same time, he says, it invites us to transform ourselves and to echo the voice of Pope Francis, who tells us that all baptized are missionary disciples.
Lily Morales left the V Encuentro convinced Hispanics have the responsibility to evangelize and invite more parishioners to the parish: “Our task is to continue creating bridges of solidarity between different generations and cultures, and work together to continue living the encounter.”
Featured Image: Delegates José Amaya and Lia Salinas carry the cross at the opening of the V Encuentro in Grapevine, Texas. (G. Soria/U.S.)