Encuentro impact bigger than expected, says ENAVE member

The impact of the V Encuentro is bigger than anyone expected, including the US bishops, said Roberto Rojas, a member of the V Encuentro National Team of Accompaniment (ENAVE) and senior advisor for Hispanic Outreach at Catholic Relief Services.

“I don’t think anybody fully understood what it would mean,”

Rojas said during a break in a retreat for Hispanic ministers, gathered at the Redemptorist Renewal Center April 4.

Planning for the V Encuentro began in 2013 and involved gathering input from lay Catholics in every parish – Hispanic or otherwise – in the country. “I think we have really been able to capture the voices of the people in the pews,” he said.

Rojas and Michelle Montez, executive director for the Pastoral Ministries Division in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, led a retreat that helped Hispanic ministers from 10 dioceses -representing Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming – form a mission statement to use as they move forward implementing the goals of regional and national meetings held in 2018.

The Fifth National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry (V Encuentro) was a historic ecclesial or Church gathering of 3,000 Hispanic/Latino Ministry leaders/ delegates from dioceses, ecclesial movements, schools, universities and Catholic organizations from across the country. The first Encuentro occurred in 1972.

A national goal of V Encuentro was to identify Hispanic leaders in Church ministry as Hispanic Catholics continue to increase and integrate themselves into parish, diocesan and national leadership roles. By the middle of this century, demographic trends suggest that Hispanic Catholics will make up the majority of US  Catholics.

Rojas noted that leadership on the elevation of Hispanic leaders to roles in parish, diocesan and national positions will be coming from the more grass roots level.

“We have to celebrate the fact that we have taken the lead ourselves,” Rojas said, acknowledging that such a “Pentecost moment” or lay led effort is “countercultural to how we think of Church in the US.”

This different leadership genesis takes the pressure off the USCCB, although not entirely.

Rojas suggested that the national bishops’ conference could strongly urge dioceses to be more active in their own identifying, training and elevating Hispanic candidates.

He said that as Hispanic leaders earn master’s degrees from Catholic universities, the pool of viable candidates continues to expand, but diocesan leaders never ask those schools for the names of those candidates when looking to fill positions. That needs to change. Dioceses also need to see Hispanic candidates for positions besides those that only typically serve Hispanic Catholics.

“Hispanic Catholics are not separated from the Church…. We fully understand that we are not just serving the Hispanic Catholic in the US,” he said. “We are capable of serving everyone.”

Church leaders also have to work harder to encourage potential Hispanic leaders to consider a call to ministry. Hispanic Catholics “will be the first to admit” that with so few diocesan and national Hispanic ministry leaders as role models, many capable candidates never consider pursuing service to the church, Rojas said.

When bishops and priests invite them to leadership roles, a light goes off in their heads.

“I can begin to see my life in terms of ministry. This is a wake-up call. It becomes important to me to see myself as a Catholic leader,” he added.

With half of the US Catholic population expected to be culturally Hispanic by 2050, the Church leadership would benefit greatly from incorporating Hispanic religious traditions and ways of thought into their overall pastoral and administrative operations.

For example, the expression “Pastoral de Conjunto,” which has grown in popularity with the growth of the national Encuentro movement and Latin American Church councils, doesn’t easily translate into English.

It incorporates themes of collaboration and evangelization, but in the Regional mission statement, is translated into “Communion in Mission.”

“In many of the English documents of the US bishops, they have kept it in the Spanish,” he said.

Hispanic Catholic leaders understand that part of their cultural experiences means going beyond their parish communities and into the larger world.

“Our mission is to transform society,” Rojas added. “We really should be building the Kingdom beyond the boundaries of our Church.”

2019 © Article and photos by MICHAEL BROWN,Catholic Outlook. Republished with permission. All Rights reserved.