The fruits of the V National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry, a multiyear process of pastoral discernment that led to a national gathering last September, are already apparent as Catholics in the United States are answering the call to mission. The following examples from my own New England region illustrate how Hispanic Catholics—who represent 40 percent of U.S. Catholics—are becoming missionary disciples.
“It helped me to leave the comfort of my parish and to go out and try to form more youth groups around the diocese,” Franco says. “One should go out and look for young people, not simply wait in your parish for them to magically appear.”
What most impacted Franco was witnessing the needs of young Hispanics in Rhode Island. “My parish has three youth groups, but through the Encuentro I came to realize that many parishes do not have even one,” she says. This led Franco to get involved in a new parish, Holy Spirit, where she organized a youth group for Spanish speakers and where she hopes to form another for English-speaking youth.
At the same St. Patrick’s parish, German Cruz was inspired to reach out to help youths in need who may not even be involved in the parish. “The V Encuentro was the door to beginning an evangelization project for youths with needs in the community,” he says. “The leaders of the group and our pastor realized that we needed to work really hard to reach young people on the peripheries.”
“At the V Encuentro I found the answer to what my heart felt and what God had been asking me to do,” which is to reach out to young people who feel alone, Cruz says. He organized a retreat that was attended by 47 people. A second retreat attracted 130 youths and the third 152, he says, adding that almost half of these youths had never gone to any parish.
Rubelcy Herrera learned during the Encuentro of the great need for family ministry. Through the Office of Hispanic Ministry in the Diocese of Providence, he began to work in a new diocesan family ministry with a team of four people and the support of his wife, Karen. They have since organized four couples’ encounters—the most recent in March 2019 attended by 129 couples—and are organizing the first retreat for couples in February 2020.
“The most immediate impact on the diocesan level was the integration of the different communities getting to know each other as one Church,” Herrera says.
Herrera has great hopes for the follow-up to the V Encuentro that began this fall. “I hope that all the resolutions that we reached can be achieved so that our Latino communities are enriched and can support the needs of the Church in the United States,” he says.
Meanwhile, in the Diocese of Worcester, Mass., Father Hugo Cano says his bishop, Robert J. McManus, was “very impressed with the charisma, energy and faith of the Hispanic people.” After learning of the conclusions and diocesan priorities that came out of the V Encuentro process, Bishop McManus created a full-time position of director of Hispanic Ministry, filled by Father Cano.
Father Cano has established a Center for Hispanic Ministry in the diocese, home to 46,000 Hispanic Catholics in 13 parishes. “This helped a lot with the integration of Hispanic communities within the Church,” says Father Cano, who was one of six Colombian seminarians to come to study in the United States 12 years ago.
Before the V Encuentro, Deacon Ramón Andrade worked for Catholic Charities and as a volunteer for the Hispanic community of his parish, St. Anne-St. Augustin, in the Diocese of Manchester, N.H., which has 22,500 Hispanic Catholics. Andrade shared with his bishop, Peter A. Libasci, the needs presented during the V Encuentro. In response, the bishop created a Multicultural Office, making Andrade the director with an assistant, both full time.
“After we returned from the Encuentro, we began the Cursillo ecclesial movement and are working on forming a school for leaders,” Andrade says. “Leadership in the parish has increased and we have noticed a rise in the number of couples who are looking to marry in the Church, and we now have a team for marriage preparation in one parish.”
The document with the conclusions of the V Encuentro is scheduled to be released in October and will include a message from Pope Francis.
The V Encuentro, which began with preparatory meetings in March 2015, seems to be accomplishing its aim: to inject energy into the life of the Church, inspiring a wave of new leaders, motivating collaboration between ministries and generating new evangelization and accompaniment initiatives at the parish, diocesan, regional and national levels. Nonetheless, the biggest challenge will be that dioceses provide sufficient resources and make significant investments to go along with the desire for service that the V Encuentro generated.
The process of forming missionary disciples continues.
Featured Image: V Encuentro teams representing Region 1 (New England) participated in leadership training at the Immaculate Conception Renewal Center in Putnam, Conn., in May 2015, kicking off the grassroots part of the process. (Courtesy of S. Cuéllar/U.S.)