V Encuentro blesses the U.S. Catholic Church

You attended the regional V Encuentro gathering in Miami last week as the lead bishop for the southeast region of the United States. Can you explain what the meeting was all about?

In Spanish, Encuentro means “encounter,” and, in this case, we are talking about an “encounter with Christ.” The “V” is the Roman numeral for “five,” meaning this is the fifth Encuentro that the U.S. bishops have called for as a way to examine what the pastoral needs are for Latino Catholics and how the U.S. church currently is caring for them and what it can do better. I attended the regional V Encuentro meeting in Miami with Father Sergio Serrano, a Dominican priest who is head of the archdiocesan Hispanic Apostolate, and two local delegates – Jesus Rodriguez and Paula Belanger. Dioceses from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky each sent delegations to the Miami meeting, and the three days were extremely fruitful.

What kind of preparation went into the meeting on the part of the Archdiocese of New Orleans?

Father Sergio and the Hispanic Apostolate have done a tremendous amount of grassroots planning. There are about 13 parishes in the archdiocese that have a significant presence of Latino Catholics, and we know the numbers continue to grow. Each of those parishes held five sessions on their own to discern how effective their parish ministries are in reaching Latino Catholics and what they could be doing better. Each of those parishes developed a “working document” last year, and then they sent representatives to an archdiocesan-wide meeting in early December. I attended that meeting with about 80 members of the Latino community, and there was great discussion about a variety of topics. One of the key goals to surface from that meeting was to create an awareness about Latino Catholics that they have a responsibility to nurture a culture of vocations by inviting young Latinos to be priests, deacons and religious.

Is V Encuentro a structured process?

Yes. It looked at parish effectiveness for Latino Catholics in four major areas. Are parishes “prophetic” (how witness is being given to Gospel values)? What are the “urgent” needs (urgent steps that need to be taken now, such as reaching out to youth)? What are our “long-term foundational goals” (increasing Latino vocations, being more efficient in the stewardship of time, talent and treasure)? And what are the “global” issues facing the church and Latino Catholics (how the Latino community is expanding in terms of numbers and influence)?

What did you hear locally?

We heard a lot of good things. More Latino Catholics are participating in stewardship efforts and in catechetical training programs to become lectors, readers and greeters. There has been a growth in leadership among Latino Catholics. We are doing a good job in sacramental preparation in Spanish. We celebrate many Marian feast days according to the customs of various Latino countries. We are bringing more Spanish-speaking priests into the archdiocese. Some of the things that came up as needs were making a concerted effort to build a culture of local, Hispanic vocations. We also want to provide more Spanish-language training for seminarians and parish leaders so they can better serve the Latino community. There is a need to minister to families; some family members live here in the U.S. while other members remain in their country of origin. That creates a special ministry challenge. The delegates also asked for greater availability of Spanish-language confessions and holy hours and greater compassion from parish staffs when dealing with people who don’t speak English well. I think we need to have better outreach and offer more activities to Latino youth and young adults and involve them in the celebration of the Mass. One of the concerns I’ve had is making our Catholic schools more financially accessible to Latino children. We need to keep them in Catholic schools. We must motivate Latino Catholics to feel as though they belong in our local archdiocese.

Do many of these Encuentro goals match up with the archdiocesan synod goals?

Yes, they do. And it amazes me how the regional gathering in Miami identified many of these same needs. One thing I would love to see coming out of the V Encuentro process is to have more Spanish-speaking Catholics volunteer their time and expertise with our staff in the various archdiocesan offices that don’t have people who are conversant in Spanish. Having those volunteers would allow us to bridge the gap between the Latino community and the ministries of the archdiocese.

What will happen next?

All the input from the southeast regional Encuentro in Miami will be put together into one document, and then the national V Encuentro will be held Sept. 20-23 in Grapevine, Texas, near Dallas to help the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops create a comprehensive plan for ministry for the next several years. If we do not welcome our Latino brothers and sisters with open arms, we will lose them to other churches, especially Evangelical churches. In several large dioceses such as Miami, Los Angeles and Dallas, Latinos represent the majority of Catholics. This is a moment in the church’s history that calls for the church to empower the Latino community, not just to evangelize themselves, but the entire church.

Questions for Archbishop Gregory Aymond may be sent to clarionherald@clarionherald.org.

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