Archdiocese of Military Service Delegates see parallels between Hispanic Catholics and Military Catholics


Zack MacKeller shares during a plenary session at Region 4’s Regional Encuentro in Washington, D.C. © USCCB

Zack MacKeller is a 23 year old airman currently volunteering in Young Adult Ministry in Boise, Idaho.  Zack was brought on as a volunteer to serve Young adults who join the military, arrive at a military base, and have no one. They have lost their family and faith community. As an active duty airman and a volunteer of the Archdiocese for Military Services (AMS), he helps and is involved in various activities such as theology on tap, community service projects, and hiking. Approximately one quarter of participants in his ministry are Hispanic/Latino Catholics.

In 2015, the V Encuentro Research estimated that the AMS served 75,000 active duty Hispanic/Latino Catholics in the United States, 33% of the entire active duty Catholic population in the U.S. The AMS was instituted by Pope John Paul II to provide Catholic pastoral ministries and spiritual services to those in the United States Armed Forces. It includes more than 220 installations in 29 countries, patients in 153 V.A. Medical Centers, and federal employees serving outside the boundaries of the USA in 134 countries. The AMS is responsible for more than 1.8 million men, women, and children around the globe. (Archdiocese for Military Services website)

Jose Amaya, Director of Faith Formation for the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA and V Encuentro Chair for the AMS, serves as a panelist during the V National Encuentro in Grapevine, TX. ©USCCB

Bishop Neal J. Buckon, auxilairy for the Archdiocese of Military Services notes the impact of the U.S Military,  “The US Military has been a means for upward mobility for immigrants for many years. Salaries, housing, medical, dental, promotions, citizenship, pensions, and benefits for veterans such as the GI Bill (education). The AMS accompanies our Hispanic service members and their families as they improve their lot in life.”

Jose Amaya, Director of Faith Formation for the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA and V Encuentro Chair for the AMS presented this unique reality as a panelist during the V National Encuentro,

“They are throughout the globe seeking peace, protecting our freedom and everything that we cherish as a national. Now we need to acknowledge that we have Latinos/Hispanic young adults in our military services…We need to support these young adults and their families so they can be strong in their faith, so that when they come back from mission they feel welcome.”

As a volunteer of the Archdiocese of Military Services, Zack Mackeller first participated in an online conference call on the V Encuentro coordinated by Jose Amaya. The online session was offered to ministry leaders and volunteers across the world. After the initial online conference call, they received the five V Encuentro Sessions online through the University of Dayton and were encouraged to visit the peripheries. Minutes before the initial conference call, Zack heard Salvador Carranza, Director of Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of Boise, speaking about the V Encuentro. Zack was intrigued and met with Carranza to discuss Hispanic Ministry, as Zack saw a parallel between the experience of military personnel and that of Hispanic/Latino immigrants.

Zack Mackeller listens to a delegate during Region 12’s Regional Encuentro in Portland, OR.

Zack was then selected to participated as a delegate both in Region 4’s Regional Encuentro representing the Archdiocese of Military Services and in Region 12 where he geographically serves in Boise, Idaho.  During Region 12’s Encuentro MacKeller shared his experience, “I’m enjoying myself, It’s fantastic…There are so many ways to celebrate Christ, to meet Christ, and have Christ come into your heart.” Zack was also one of 10 delegates that participated in the National Event in Grapevine, Texas and is very interested and hopeful for what will happen after the National event. He reflected on his journey,

“When I was first asked to participate in the Encuentro process, I replied ‘but I’m not Hispanic, don’t speak Spanish, nor am I really familiar with the Hispanic experience’. But I participated and from this experience I’ve come to realize that I can relate to Hispanics in so many ways as a service member. I go to a new place and yearn to continue my faith journey and family traditions but many times there’s no welcoming community for me. I’ve discovered that this parallels so many Hispanics as well who struggle with challenges such as immigration and new cultures. During this Encuentro I’ve really been blessed to experience the vibrancy, joy, community, color, and deeply rooted faith of Hispanic culture in so many ways. Plus my Spanish improved from “almost nonexistent” to ‘not quite terrible’.

Dennise Santos who served as a national delegate representing Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada noted,“Many civilian dioceses have never considered that amidst the peripheries of their own parishes lies one behind a gate usually needing support.  The Military Catholic Chapels are a margin within the local diocese, and to witness this revelation come to light with Bishops and leaders of our Church was nothing short of God’s grace working.”

Delegates from the Archdiocese of Military Services at the V Encuentro Photo Booth in Grapevine, TX.

While the V Encuentro helped ministry leaders reach the margins of society, it also helped ministry leaders reflect on their own personal journey and experience. Griselda Escobar, another national delegate from Edwards Air Force Base, shared,

“Having grown up as a migrant farmworker and experiencing life as a military spouse, I have witnessed first-hand the parallel lives both lead. In both, the families migrate often, having to transplant their lives time and time again. One’s identity almost becomes threatened because the celebrations that our ancestors celebrated aren’t celebrated everywhere we go. However, a constant in both is our Catholic faith, a home away from home, a family within a family.  Attending V-Encuentro helped me re-connect with my roots while also serving as a voice for my Catholic Military brothers and sisters. V Encuentro allowed me to encounter the hearts and minds of others who unknowingly experience what military [Hispanic/Latino] Catholics experience, especially the young adults. And just as I once harvested fruit in the fields, with the guidance of our Lord I will now bear fruits in the church; harvesting each with love, faith, and hope.”

When asked about he felt about being selected as a regional and national delegate, Zack MacKeller noted the importance for celebrating our diversity in the Church,

“I’m not Hispanic. For me to be a part of this, I am very fortunate, I am in an awesome position to share this with my other Anglo brothers and sisters, and not  just talk about Hispanics, but also Vietnamese, Filipinos. And the other side, we also have some awesome Polish traditions and bring all that beauty of celebrating Jesus from all around the world and really value that.”

2018 © V Encuentro. Photos by USCCB/ Jose Amaya. All rights reserved.

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