By: Rev. Juan Carlos Gaviria

Almost 200 Hispanic Catholics from throughout the Diocese of Metuchen gained further inspiration for their work as “missionary disciples” — evangelizers of the Catholic faith in their local communities — when they met for the diocesan Encuentro, or “Encounter,” on October 14 at St. Joseph parish in North Plainfield, New Jersey.

To deepen their commitment to the New Evangelization, the full-day event included speakers, music, and small group discussions.

The Diocesan Encuentro was part of the “Fifth Encounter,” a national initiative called by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in which the Catholic Church gathers with Hispanic/Latino Catholics, the fastest-growing Catholic community in the United States.

Referring to their efforts to date, Bishop James F. Checchio told the Hispanic/Latino missionary disciples, “Thank you to each and every one of you for what you’re doing. For me it is the seed of a beautiful thing for our whole diocese. The Hispanic/Latino community has such a beautiful contribution to make in the Catholic Church.  Few days ago I spent some time in Rome and met the Holy Father and we speak about the Encounter and I can tell you, He is very happy with this whole process.”  Bishop Checchio blessed small crosses for the people and talked with the participants of the Encounter.

Participants were also welcomed by Rev. Timothy Christy, Moderator of the Curia and Vicar for Evangelization and Communications, and Sister Ruth Bolarte, Executive Director of the Pastoral Life Department.  Father Christy also welcomed the assistants and said that as he spent 17 years in a very diverse community, in St. Magdalen of Pazzi in Flemington, and that he knows the catholic values of the Latino community (including piety and happiness) as well as their contributions for the whole catholic community at the diocese.

Father Juan Carlos Gaviria, who was recently appointed Coordinator of Hispanic Lay Formation at the Diocese as well as Parochial Vicar at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Bernardsville, led the prayer at the beginning of the Encounter, inviting participants to be disciples of the love of God.  The choir of Bernardsville (lead by Delmín Ríos), follow the prayer singing “Nuestra Alegría” (Our Happiness), one the main songs of the V Encounter.

Hernando Patiño, lay minister and lector at St. Magdalen of Pazzi, Flemington, gave a very detailed presentation about the realities of the Latino ministry at the diocese as well as an overview about the goals of the V Encounter.  He spoke passionately, urging the crowd to keep doing what missionary disciples are supposed to do —go out as the face of the Catholic Church and bring people closer to God and the Church.  He received a resounding round of applause from the attendees.

Then, people were divide in small groups (about 10 per table) and were assigned specific subjects to identity obstacles and possible solutions.  Two tables were dedicated just for participation of young adults (18-35 years old).  The main themes were:

  • Family Life: challenges faced by catholic matrimonies, the families and their participation in parish life.
  • Faith Formation: ministerial formation (liturgy, pastoral care), enrichment and leadership formation.
  • Social Justice: dignity of the human person, issues of immigration, life protection, solidarity and poverty.
  • Communication: assessment of the reception and use of mass media at the parish and the diocese.
  • Vocations: call to the priesthood, religious life and permanent diaconate.

After lunch, they heard the conclusions of the deliberations and also were surprised by a play called “The Way of Emmaus” (presented by “El Sembrador” or “the Sower”, a theatre group from St. Joseph parish in North Plainfield) that recreated the gospel passage of St. Luke 24.


Oscar Echevarría from Immaculate Conception Parish in Somerville said “we are concerned about how to include and retain the next generation of Catholics to participate in the Church.  I am a father of two boys and I want them to be great Catholics.”  Sister Silvia Serrano, from Visitation parish in New Brunswick, New Jersey, mentioned some problems of evangelization at the parish community level, including the need of more motivation of Latino parishioners, as well as more commitment from them to take advantage of the faith formation opportunities (as many of the Latinos have two or three jobs and do not dedicate time for family life or faith formation).  Deacon Cesar Augusto Ortega, from St. Joseph parish, North Plainfield, mentioned that it is necessary to increase spiritual direction for people and families, as all good work in catholic teaching starts at the family level.”  Also for Angelina Rodríguez, lector at Our lady of Perpetual Help parish, Bernardsville, young and young adults need to be included in Latino youth groups and participate in Bilingual masses, as sometimes they do not feel welcome by the established traditional catholic community.

The Diocesan Encounter was finished by a Rite of anointing of the sick and blessing, leaded by Father Walter Wiktorek and Father Juan Carlos Gaviria.

In April 18, 2018 a Regional Encounter will take place in Trenton with participation of delegates of the diocese of Metuchen as well as people from region III that includes 241 parishes serving Latino communities, from dioceses and archdioceses of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.   A National Encounter will take place on September 20-23, 2018 at Grapevine, Texas.