By Jay Nies
“This is a momentous, historic moment in the history of the Church in the United States,” Bishop John R. Gaydos proclaimed in Spanish to about 150 Catholic leaders who are committed to deepening and sharing their faith.
He was referring to the implementation phase of V Encuentro, a four-year process of renewing the faith and active participation of Hispanic Catholics throughout the United States.
Bishop Gaydos offered the closing Mass in Spanish for an Aug. 27 day of recollection and presentation on the V Encuentro process.
Most who attended are lay leaders in 10 parishes in the diocese that have significant Hispanic populations and well organized ministries to serve them.
“You and your families and your communities are indispensable to this Encuentro process,” Bishop Gaydos emphasized in his homily. “May this ongoing encounter with our brothers and sisters in Christ lead us to become ever-more truly the missionary disciples, the witnesses of God’s love that we are called to be.”
Throughout the day, Enrique Castro, diocesan director of Hispanic and Cross-Cultural Ministries, reminded the people that V Encuentro — the fifth and by far the most ambitious and comprehensive gathering of Hispanic Catholics in the United States over the past 45 years — is everyone’s responsibility.
“Who leads the Encuentro? The Holy Spirit!” said Mr. Castro. “Who is going to participate? The whole Church! Who is going to make it happen? We all are.”
“Encuentro” is Spanish for “encounter,” “gathering” or “coming together.”
In the context of the V Encuentro, it refers to a personal encounter with Jesus Christ that motivates people to want to serve Him by serving others, especially people who are poor, vulnerable and marginalized.
V Encuentro is a four-year process of reflection and action within the Church and a call for all Catholics — particularly those who are from Hispanic countries or who are children or grandchildren of Hispanic immigrants — to become missionary disciples.
“It’s not a one-time event,” Mr. Castro noted. “It’s a process with very clear objectives.”
Those objectives include: finding effective ways of responding to and engaging Hispanic Catholics, helping them reach the full potential they received at baptism, developing interculturally competent Catholic lay leaders within Hispanic communities, creating a framework for more inclusive ministries in parishes, and reaching out to the people on the margins.
“The question really is: how can we do better?” said Mr. Castro.
The answer will be discovered through intense consultation in parishes throughout the United States.
“Witnesses of God’s Love”
Throughout the Aug. 27 day of recollection, participants learned about and discussed the prominent role Hispanic Catholics have been making in this country throughout its history.
“We rejoice in the legacy of faith that has been passed down to us,” Bishop Gaydos noted. “But we now also want to engage all of our brothers and sisters in the approaching moment of New Evangelization, to assure the continued growth of the Catholic faith in our midst.”
“Hispanic” is a general term for Spanish-speaking people from countries in Central and South America.
Most Hispanics — also referred to as Latinos and Latinas— in the 38 counties of the Jefferson City diocese are from Mexico, although about 40 percent are from El Salvador.
There are also some from Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Puerto Rico and several other countries.
All of the dioceses in the United States, including thousands of parishes, Catholic schools and Church organizations, are taking part in V Encuentro process.
The theme is “Missionary Disciples: Witnesses of God’s Love.”
Rooted in the story of the two disciples who met up with Jesus on the Road to Emmaus after His resurrection (Luke 24:13-32 and Mark 16:12-13), the Encuentro involves a call to personal encounter with Jesus, and the inevitable, enthusiastic sharing of His Good News.
“We encounter Christ first,” Mr. Castro noted. “Then we go and proclaim the Good News and give hope to others.
“Like the disciples who met Jesus on the road,” he said, “our hearts are also burning at our encounter with the Lord, and that leads us into an encounter with ‘the other.’”
“Here and now”
Following three years of preparation throughout the United States, this consultation will begin in parishes in 2017.
It will move to the diocesan level later in the year, progress to the regional level in 2018, and will culminate with a national gathering in 2019.
“Over the next four years, we want to reach a million Catholics,” said Mr. Castro. “This V Encuentro journey is calling us to reach out beyond ourselves.”
The Roman Catholic bishops of the United States called for the V Encuentro process to take place in light of some very important trends in this country and the Church, specifically in light of the New Evangelization.
The 2010 Census indicated that there are more than 53 million Hispanics living in the United States.
It is predicted that by 2030, one-third of the U.S. population will be Hispanic.
Hispanics account for 71 percent of the growth of the Catholic population in this country since 1960.
About 68 percent of the Hispanics in this country identify as Roman Catholics.
They currently make up about 40 percent of the Catholic Church here.
More than half of the Catholics under 25 in the United States — including about 60 percent of those under 18 — are Hispanic.
But surveys indicate only about 30 percent are actively engaged in the practice of their faith. Many of the other 70 percent are deterred by the demands of work, as well as language and cultural barriers, said Mr. Castro.
An estimated 200,000 Hispanics call Missouri home, including an estimated 25,000 to 35,000 within the boundaries of the Jefferson City diocese.
“This presents us with a tremendous opportunity, and also with a tremendous challenge,” said Mr. Castro. “We’re talking not just about the future of the Church, but a very significant part of its here and now.”
Laying the groundwork
Mr. Castro was part of the regional V Encuentro team that trained the diocesan teams for the dioceses in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska on how to implement the V Encuentro process.
The national team created the materials that each diocese will use, and helped prepare each of the regional V Encuentro teams for the 14 geographical regions in this country.
Representatives from the dioceses in the four states that make up Region IX gathered in Kansas City earlier this year to learn how to help prepare the V Encuentro parish teams in their homes dioceses.
Early next year, Hispanic Catholics will gather either by parish or by clusters of parishes to take part in a five-session process of evangelization and consultation.
Topics will include: “Called to a Loving Encounter with Jesus”; “With Words and Actions: Do it!”; “Walking Together with Jesus”; “Bearing Fruits of New Life”; and “Celebrating the Joy of Being Missionary Disciples.”
All of the learning materials are in Spanish and English, depending on the needs of each parish, school, ecclesial movement, Catholic organization, institution, ministry and diocese that takes part in the process.
“All of this will help us discern the ways in which the Church in the United States can better respond to the Hispanic/Latino presence and strength the ways in which Hispanics/Latinos respond to the call to the New Evangelization as missionary disciples serving the entire Church,” said Mr. Castro.
“It will also help a lot of the Hispanic people appreciate all the efforts that have been made in order for us to arrive at this point in our history,” he noted.
Likewise, Anglos and other non-Hispanic Catholics will hopefully come to a better understanding of the inherent diversity of the Church, he said.
Call to encounter
Mr. Castro noted that V Encuentro a call to prayer and specific action.
“We’re going to reach out not just to our friends or people we’re comfortable with but also the people Pope Francis refers to as ‘those on the peripheries,’” he noted. “We’re being called to reach out and serve those who are active in their parishes along with those who are inactive for whatever reason.
“Although young people are a priority, we want to reach all Hispanics from all generations — not just the old and not just the young,” he said. “Anyone. Everyone. Whoever God loves. Whoever does not know that God loves them. Whether they speak Spanish or English or both. That’s who we want to reach.”
He emphasized that V Encuentro is part of what must be a never-ending process — the continual returning to the essence of Christianity: an encounter with Christ.
“And through that, we encounter others and come to be even more convinced that we are the Church, and we need to respond to our baptismal calling, actively and urgently in our everyday lives,” he said.
“We’re not called to be passive Catholics but Catholics who are active in the larger community,” he said.