Eighty delegates throughout the Archdiocese of New Orleans met Dec. 2 at the Hispanic Apostolate to discuss the role of Latinos in the Catholic Church at a diocesan V Encuentro meeting, the last local meeting before a regional V Encuentro Feb. 22-24 in Miami.
Dominican Father Sergio Serrano, director of the Hispanic Apostolate, said the local phase of the almost two-year V Encuentro effort was to “create first an encounter, then reaching out to people and then a welcoming of people on the peripheries of the parish who have never participated. … This was a missionary event.”
“Encuentro means encounter – an encounter with Christ,” he said. “What I have encountered in church, I am to go out and share and invite others to experience with me.”
Participating parishes were charged to hold five sessions to discern how their parish ministries successfully reached local Latinos and what could be done better.
Each parish had a working document to complete and then share Dec. 2 to finalize recommendations in one document to send to the regional meeting.
“It is a time for affirming the positive presence and groups working in the parish to help Latinos and how we can accompany them more,” Father Serrano said. “It was also to create an awareness for Latino members that it is their duty to invite young Latinos to be deacons and priests and religious. It’s an awakening – letting parishioners know how they should be participants in Catholic Church life.”
Out of the seven or so parishes that sent representatives, several ideas surfaced. Jesus Rodriguez, an Ascension of Our Lord in LaPlace youth leader, said knocking on neighborhood doors the past six months during its parish Encuentro effort led to doubling attendance at its Spanish Mass to 100.
“It’s been a great thing for our church,” Rodriguez said.
Archbishop in the house
Archbishop Gregory Aymond is a lead bishop for the southeast region which includes Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee and North and South Carolina, said Father Rafael Capó, executive director of the Southeast Pastoral Institute (SEPI) of the U.S. bishops’ Southeast Regional Office for Hispanic Ministry, the anchor institution for V Encuentro.
“There’s lot of excitement and enthusiasm” surrounding the V Encuentro process, Father Capó said. “People are sharing their challenges, hopes and ideas for what can be done. … This is a moment for Hispanics to become leaders, because the numbers call for it.”
Archbishop Aymond participated in the V Encuentro meeting to hear how local parishes are answering the Latino needs in ways that are: prophetic (how witness is being given to Gospel values); urgent (relating urgent steps that need to be taken – such as reaching out to youth); long-term foundational goals (strengthening Latino vocations, being more efficient in giving talent, time and treasure to parishes); global (how the Hispanic community is spreading throughout the archdiocese and its effects on the community, archdiocese and Catholic Church itself); and achievable with existing resources.
He heard the positive activities and resources that the Latino community recognizes in the archdiocese such as sacramental preparation in Spanish; the observance of Marian feasts, especially Our Lady of Guadalupe, of all Latino countries; and how his concerted effort to have more Latino and Spanish-speaking priests was positively received.
What participants sought was more preparation for seminarians (Spanish language help) and parish leaders to work with the Hispanic community, more confession opportunities in Spanish, more Spanish Holy Hour opportunities and more compassion from parish workers to help immigrants and those who don’t speak English well.
Specific priorities resulting from this diocesan gathering included: better outreach and more activities and resources for youth and young adults (involving them in the celebration of the Mass), engaged and married couples and families; and opening more doors for Hispanics to participate in the parish.
Opening space in Catholic schools for Hispanic youth was another concern. Father Serrano said the Hispanic Apostolate now has scholarship money to help Hispanic families keep children in Catholic schools.
Archbishop Aymond heard their needs, thanked them for their practical suggestions and reiterated that archdiocesan offices exist to provide help.
“Just about everything you mention connects with the work of the synod,” Archbishop Aymond said. “It’s going to be very helpful when we bring this together.”
Archbishop Aymond challenged participants to become Spanish-speaking volunteers to assist archdiocesan offices without Spanish speakers.
“We need to find a way to bridge the gap between you – the community – and the departments of the archdiocese. I think that this is one way we can move forward.”
Archbishop Aymond said it’s important to have input at the national level.
“The Archdiocese of New Orleans has an important voice at the table, and what you are saying tonight is an important voice,” he said.
Father Serrano expects V Encuentro to change how Latinos are welcomed and involved in the Catholic Church.
“I think it will make the church grow in the faith experience of what the Hispanic community is bringing from their own countries and also how the members of our congregations can increase due to growth of Hispanic communities,” Father Serrano said. “The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has counted people 25 and younger and discovered that 57 percent are Hispanic. I think it is highly important to understand this figure.
“If we don’t welcome the Latinos, if we treat them as strangers in the Catholic Church, we are going to lose a big population of Catholics. … Several large dioceses in the United States are composed of 50 percent or more of Hispanics (Miami, Los Angeles, Dallas). We haven’t seen that happen in New Orleans yet, but because Hispanics don’t feel welcome in the Catholic Church – many are going to Evangelical churches. We are not prepared to receive them.”
Beyond the diocese
Father Serrano and three local delegates will attend the Regional V Encuentro in Miami to share their recommendations and action plan.
Once the National Encuentro, composed of 30 dioceses, is completed Sept. 20-23 in Texas, the USCCB will assess the suggestions and develop an action plan for dioceses and parishes nationwide.
From past Encuentros, the USCCB responded to the needs of Latinos by establishing SEPI, Spanish Masses at the parish level and Hispanic ministries for Latinos at the archdiocesan level. The last national plan for Latinos dates to a document from then III Encuentro in 1985, Father Capó said, making it long overdue to create another guideline.
“The church is discovering that this moment in the church, in the history of the U.S., is not just a moment on how we can better serve Hispanics,” Father Capó said. “But, in many places, Hispanics are a majority of the Catholic population, so (V Encuentro) is a call for the church to empower the Hispanic community so they can serve and evangelize everybody, not just Hispanics.”
Christine Bordelon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.