Encuentro empowers Latino Catholics in U.S.

Luis Guerra, 25, and two of his friends got a surprise last summer in Las Vegas when a couple of doors were shut in their faces as they tried to evangelize. But the news wasn’t all bad. The Catholic young adults also had successes as they shared their faith as part of the Fifth National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry (V Encuentro) process.

“We had a few who actually liked us going and talking about the Gospel,” said Guerra, a member of St. Anne Parish in Las Vegas. Now in its fifth and final year, the V Encuentro process has sought to find new ways of responding to the Hispanic/Latino presence in the Church and for that population to respond better as missionary disciples. As Guerra has attended meetings in his parish and diocese, and as he’s gone out and evangelized, he’s felt he has a voice in the Church and wants to reach out to other younger Catholics.

“It just overwhelmed me that there are other young adults and teens who are looking for God and they’re not getting heard,” he said.

The Encuentro

Inspired by Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), the V Encuentro process was convened by the U.S. bishops in 2013. While seeking to reach some of the estimated 30 million U.S. Hispanics/Latinos who identify as Catholic, leaders of the process also hope to raise up new Church leaders from parishes, campus ministries and other Catholic organizations when it culminates in a national meeting in September.

In parish and diocesan programs last year, more than 250,000 Catholics participated, and many learned to evangelize friends and neighbors for the first time. “The V Encuentro has put the ministry of the Church among Hispanics at the center of conversation in dioceses all over the country,” said Bishop Nelson J. Perez of Cleveland, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Hispanic Affairs subcommittee overseeing the V Encuentro process. “Since the V Encuentro process has started, [parishes] have begun to celebrate Masses in Spanish, so we’ve seen growth in the pastoral ministry with outreach to Hispanics across the country,” he said. It also has “created an incredible vast communication network that did not exist three years ago. People are coming together sharing, talking, networking, working together.” And this, he noted, will last beyond the V Encuentro. “That’s an incredible fruit.”

Impact of Immigration Issues on Participation
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Aguilera-Titus
While immigration is a concern for many Americans, it’s likely a source of anxiety for Hispanics/Latinos participating in the Fifth National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry (V Encuentro), according to Alejandro Aguilera-Titus, V Encuentro national coordinator.

That network has formed through the process, which includes evangelization, leadership development, building unity, Catholic identity, consultation of challenges and discernment of pastoral challenges and strategies, said Alejandro Aguilera-Titus, V Encuentro national coordinator.

The first Encuentro in 1972 helped Hispanics/Latinos express to the Church their needs, aspirations and contributions. Encuentros in 1977, 1985 and 2000 were aimed at articulating the Church’s response and Hispanics/Latinos’ response to the Church, identifying community and celebrating the U.S. Church’s cultural diversity.

V Encuentro is targeting Catholic Hispanic/Latino young people and families not active in their faith, Aguilera-Titus said. Second- and third-generation and professional young adults tend to have less Catholic identity, while some new immigrants aren’t engaged because they’re unaware of Hispanic/Latino ministry, he said.

Through involving young, second- and third-generation Hispanics/Latinos, V Encuentro leaders hope to identify 20,000 new leaders to serve the Church, replacing the lay ecclesial leaders likely to retire within the next 10 years, Aguilera-Titus said.

Implementing ‘Joy’

Last year at their parishes, V Encuentro participants learned about Pope Francis’ five-step evangelization process. Those who’ve learned to evangelize can now teach other Catholics, said Estela Villagrán-Manancero, co-chair of the team coordinating the V Encuentro process and Latino ministry director for the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese. Aguilera-Titus agreed: “V Encuentro is really giving a gift to the Church in terms of providing the experience of implementing ‘Joy of the Gospel’ in the Church in the United States.”

Almost 94 percent of the 178 Latin-rite U.S. dioceses are participating in Encuentro. After meetings in 14 episcopal regions early this year, 3,000 delegates selected at those meetings will participate in the national event Sept. 20-23 in Grapevine, Texas, said Ken Johnson-Mondragón, coordinator of research in the Consultation for V Encuentro. A third of the delegates will be young adults, ages 18-35, he said. V Encuentro leaders already see fruit from the process, including greater involvement in youth ministry and increased sacrament participation, Aguilera-Titus said. Registration for the event opens Feb. 20.

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Participants’ evangelization efforts also have been successful, Johnson-Mondragón said. And since engaging in the process, 280 parishes that had no Hispanic/Latino ministry have begun offering it, he said.

V Encuentro has been about conversion — of Church leadership, Catholics who for the first time have felt the love of the Church, and the Church herself, Aguilera-Titus said.

“A transforming process is already having major impact on the life of the Church,” he said. “What is happening is unbelievable. The level of enthusiasm, of commitment on the part of these leaders to the Church and to the ministry of the Church has left many leaders and bishops just amazed.”

Susan Klemond writes from Minnesota.