Fruits of V Encuentro nourishing spirit of laypersons, bishops alike

October 9, 2018

Lázaro Contreras, director for Hispanic Ministry for the Archdiocese, speaks on a national panel sharing the results of regional discussions at the V Encuentro. Photo by James Ramos/Herald.

GRAPEVINE — The National V Encuentro unfolded with God’s perfect timing Sept. 20 to 23, lifting up more than 3,200 mostly Hispanic lay ministers and 150 bishops from across the country who consoled the crowd and in turn were comforted themselves with thunderous chants of “We love you!”

Although years in the making after regional meetings, the national conference, which translates to Fifth Encounter, came amidst the devastation of the sexual abuse crisis with Pope Francis calling bishops to convene.

However, the conference’s message of penance, forgiveness, and pledges to solve the issue and keep the mission of Christ alive brought palpably positive cheers from Hispanics, who represent about 40 percent of the U.S. Catholic Church.

“My friends, we know that this is also a time of pain in our mother Church... As bishops, we have fallen short of what God expects of His shepherds,” said Daniel Cardinal DiNardo in his opening remarks as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to a filled-to-capacity ballroom.

“For this, we again ask forgiveness from both the Lord and those who have been harmed, and from you, the People of God. May God grant us the wisdom and resolve to reform and renew His Church.”

“Amid this darkness, the Encuentro is a light... a gift to us as we rebuild the Church,” Cardinal DiNardo said.

The dream of the pope

Pope Francis sent a personalized video shown to participants on giant screens around the ballroom.

“You encounter each other and walk in hope,” he said, becoming the first among many speakers during the conference to use the word “peripheries,” as in bringing the young, struggling families and the poor living on the fringes of society into the Church.

Representing Pope Francis, Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Christoph Pierre remained at the conference throughout the four days, giving opening remarks that Thursday and serving in the closing Sunday Mass.

“You are part of the dream of Pope Francis, to be a missionary Church,” Archbishop Pierre said. “Those in the United States and others are called to leave and go out of their comfort zone and reach out with the love of Christ enthusiastically.”

Although much of the Encuentro was in Spanish, many of the speakers and the official programs “Missionary Disciples: Witnesses of God’s Love” were bilingual. While encouraged to keep their language and culture alive, participants were also asked to share those gifts with the entire Church to become unified as one.

‘We need to encounter everyone’

Among the more than 100 delegates from Houston and 500-plus from Texas were mother and daughter Georgina and Thalia Romero.

Georgina Romero, who came from Nicaragua 32 years ago, now is director of Hispanic Ministry and Spanish CCE coordinator at Holy Family Church in Missouri City, bringing families together to share catechism and stewardship at the Church.

“We have to work hard for the future of the Church. We need to encounter everyone — young, old, families, immigrants. We are all the Church, and we have much to celebrate,” she said.

Her daughter Thalia, born in Houston, said her mother serves as a strong role model for her to follow the Catholic faith and now she works in the Archdiocese’s Office of Hispanic Ministry.

“My family helped mold me, but the bridge goes both ways — young people need to come to Church and the Church needs to welcome them. We are the fruit of catechism,” Thalia said.

Many of the breakout sessions, where delegates dialogued by region and by topics, did focus on how to overcome obstacles and how Hispanics can bring their gifts to full potential in the U.S. Church and society as a whole.

Part of its goal was to identify and prepare 25,000 new ministry leaders and to provide education and formation.
“I do find it a bit offensive for people to say, ‘Latinos are coming to maturity’ when we’ve been here for at least 500 years,” said speaker Hosffman Ospino, Ph.D., associate professor of theology and religious education and director of graduate programs in Hispanic Ministry at Boston College.

While 47 million out of 52 million Hispanics in the United States are American citizens, one of the barriers concerned undocumented immigrants who did not attend the conference because of fear about speaking out in public and being detained or deported.

Sister Norma Pimentel, MJ, executive director of the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in Brownsville, spoke as a panelist about organizing a community response to the surge of immigrant families seeking asylum in the United States.

As of January 2017, the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, has welcomed more than 71,000 individuals from 31 countries.

“We were there to help them when they really needed the Church. We received them with their children, and we embraced them with all their pain,” Sister Pimentel said.

Participant Angel Barrera, project coordinator for the Center for Ministry Development, a 40-year-old nonprofit organization based in Washington state, said, “Much of what Hispanics go through is also how they see the life of Jesus. In the Christmas posadas, the family goes to different places and is rejected, being told there is no room. Jesus is rejected.”

“Yes, making and selling tamales for the Church is part of the culture, but that’s not all there is. Our hope is when people look at us, they’re seeing God,” he said.

Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus since 2000, told the crowd, “You have many gifts to give. One of the continuing miracles of Our Lady of Guadalupe is the millions of Guadalupanos who can help shape our country.” Guadalupanos are men and women of parish-based organizations devoted to community service in the name of the Virgen de Guadalupe, patron saint of the Americas.

Children of Our Lady

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez also held up the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe appearing in 1531 to St. Juan Diego, who was entrusted with building the Church in a new land.

“Jesus trusted the mission of His Church in the New World to a layperson, not to a priest, not to a bishop… You are the children of Our Lady of Guadalupe in our present times. You are the spiritual heirs of Juan Diego.”

Archbishop concluded, “The mission that was entrusted to him is now entrusted to you.”

“¡Viva Cristo Rey!” he said with the crowd responding loudly “¡Viva!”

Several speakers also mentioned how the Encuentro is bearing much fruit, with seeds being planted for the future of the Church. In lighter moments, nonetheless illuminating, people from the audience began bringing up apples, oranges, bananas and a pear to the stage. One speaker said he was waiting on a “sandia,” watermelon, while another said he was hoping for a papaya or mango.

Another insight, a bit more personal that resonated with many attending, came from Archbishop Oscar Cantú, a Houston native in transition from being the Bishop of Las Cruces, New Mexico to the newly appointed Coadjutor-elect of San Jose, California.

“When I was growing up, it was a liability being Hispanic and we were meant to feel that in society. But when I was in the seminary, a sister told me, ‘you are bilingual, you know two cultures. You will be a gift to the Church.’”

Cantú said, “That was the first time I had ever heard that. So I tell you, you are a blessing to the Church. May you never forget that.”

A focus on the young people

San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller said, “A special highlight of the National V Encuentro was the participation of hundreds of young adults who brought us hope with their enthusiasm and courage, witness of faith and commitment to the Church.”

On Sept. 21, some 750 Catholic young adults were buzzing with excitement as they sat down for dinner with a cross section of the 150 bishops like García-Siller attending the V Encuentro.

The U.S. papal nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Pierre joined Cardinal DiNardo and Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB vice president, at the special invite-only event, which featured a panel discussion about the Hispanic and Latino young adult Church.

Guillermo Gil, a 21-year-old parishioner at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe, said he appreciated his encounter with the bishop of Reno.

The Reno bishop said that the youth “need to be in the Church,” and that “a lot of people were missing from the youth, and they needed to have a voice.”

Various conversations at each table could be heard, with some asking how a bishop was appointed, or how parish pastors were chosen, while others brought up the current sexual abuse crisis and asked how they were handling the issues.

A beautiful dialogue

“It was a beautiful experience to be with the young people in dialogue,” Archbishop García-Siller said. “Sometimes we think the youth are self-centered or in their own little world. But they are connected. They want to do something for the next generation.”

Young people made up at least one-third of the delegates attending the conference.

Speaking of those at his table, he said “all of them are working and active in the Church, so the V Encuentro has been helping them to articulate, not for themselves only but for others, especially the bishops, how we need to work together in this making up of the Catholic Church.”

Gabriela Karaszewski, who was seated next to Cardinal DiNardo, said the cardinal was “energized” by the meeting with the young people. At her table, the young people shared their realities with the cardinal, including a young adult in the U.S. without documents, who expressed his gratitude to the cardinal for his efforts to support the “Dreamers,” the recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Karaszewski, the director of the Office of Young Adult and Campus Ministry of the Archdiocese, said “this moment with the bishops and young people is the most exciting moment of the whole weekend. Young peoples are privileged to sit with bishops, and I think bishops value the time that they had listening to them.”

Twenty-six-year-old Jessica Cruz, a parishioner at St. Paul Catholic Church in Nassau Bay, admitted never thinking she’d be a part of something like the V Encuentro.

“As migrant DACA recipient from another country,” she said, “[the V Encuentro] experience was unforgettable” and “it’s part of history” and “is part of our lives.” She likened the bishops to the Apostles that followed Christ.
“Seeing people from all over the country that are in love with God, that are facing difficulties but are willing to fight for their Church, that want to stay with the Apostles in spite of what is going on right now ... it gives hope that not everything is lost” Cruz said.

She also compared the faithful, including the bishops, to Elijah, who experienced hardship and found refuge in the angel who came to comfort him.

“It was as if an angel came to feed all of us through this Encuentro,” she said. “The bishops and their words were our oasis, and we were their oasis.”

Cruz said her favorite part “was celebrating each Eucharist with different people with different cultures and so many bishops, all together as one, as a Universal Church.” It’s hard to imagine this physically sometimes, she said, even though this happens supernaturally at each Mass.

At her home parish of St. Paul, she said Father Wencil Pavlovsky “really supports” their evangelization efforts, “but there is always room for growth.” Since the V Encuentro, she said she continues to be more alert to the needs of those around her, both at her parish and even at work, even more so than before. She said she looks forward to focusing her work in supporting “a culture of vocations” in the Church and, inspired by the pope’s call to walk with others, she hopes to help teens to discern their vocation.

Gil, of Sacred Heart, said he appreciated the efforts of his pastor, Father Philip Wilhite, and parish Hispanic ministry leader Manuel Gonzalez, especially for giving him and other young adults the “opportunity to grow.” Gil said he looks forward to continuing ministries at his home parish that support second- and third-generation Hispanics in his community, offering aid to those young adults who may not identify with the culture of their parents because they were born in the States, or other issues.

“Since I started attending the V Encuentro, I realized that many times we Hispanics are the ones who put a divide between American and Latin culture,” Daniel Becerra, a 25-year-old who attends Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Houston, said. “I began to be more careful about how I related to the Americans and what I could do to be a bridge between the two cultures. Since we young adults are the bridge in the United States Church to unite us more as a Catholic Church.”

Gil said that after meeting with other young adults, like Cruz and Becerra, in the Archdiocese throughout the Encuentro process as well as attending the V Encuentro, Gil understands that “we have a voice in our Archdiocese, and it keeps growing.”

Archbishop García-Siller prays that he and his brother bishops continue to hear that voice and “we welcome their energy, their gifts and talents for the service of the entire Church.”

In the next few months, the leadership team of V Encuentro will distribute a concluding document listing main priorities and problems identified across 28 ministry areas to be shared with dioceses and parishes.