TIPTON — Nearly 400 Hispanic parishioners of the Lafayette, IN diocese gathered for two V Encuentro evangelization retreats — one for Hispanic youth and one for Hispanic adults — at the St. Joseph Retreat & Conference Center on Nov. 11 and Nov. 19. V Encuentro is an initiative launched by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to help the Church in the United States better respond to the ever-growing Hispanic presence, and also help Hispanic Catholics strengthen their Christian identity.
Bishop Timothy L. Doherty attended the Encuentro for adults on Nov. 19. He was the principal celebrant of Mass at the end of the day; concelebrants were Father Gustavo Lopez, associate pastor of All Saints Parish, Logansport, and Father Paul Cochran, pastor of Sorrowful Mother Parish, Wheatfield.
Bishop Doherty said Encuentro is an action of the whole Church, not just Hispanic people.
“At this time in our U.S. Catholic history, the numbers and needs of these people are rather large — and were not directly dealt with in the fourth Encuentro 20 years ago,” Bishop Doherty said.
“I was fortunate to be at a bishops’ meeting a few days before our Encuentro; we (bishops) know and agree that ‘listening’ is our priority.
“The people and parishes who continue the work of Encuentro have been praying and talking for the past two years and they have much to share with me and all of us,” he added.
Dora Tobar, director of the diocesan Office of Family Life and Hispanic Ministry, said Hispanics across the diocese were ready and eager to have an opportunity to grow and share in their faith together. At the parish level, nearly 1,000 leaders participated during an eight-month period leading up to the Encuentros.
“This is the most important ecclesiastic event for the Hispanic community in the last 25 years,” Tobar said.
“The U.S. bishops wanted to reach out to the reality of the Hispanic community — that means Encuentro, the act of reaching out.
“It is the inspiration of Christ’s incarnation to approach this growing community and share their faith and listen to their cries, in order to enter into a communion with their needs, in response to the voice of the Holy Spirit.
“The Encuentro is not merely a single event, but an entire process that has been happening in the Lafayette diocese (and dioceses across the nation) for the past two years and extends from the initiative of the U.S. bishops to the smaller diocesan communities, where the Hispanic families are living or looking for their faith.
“Every single parish in the diocese was invited to form teams of facilitators, delegated by their pastor. Through this effort, delegates were encouraged to go out as missionary disciples, into their communities, and reach those new to the area, those who have quit attending the Church and those who have never been contacted,” she said.
At the adult Encuentro, the delegates took turns sharing their faith encounters, before the assembly, as they shared their most touching moments when they felt they had encountered God.
Tobar said the groups in the parishes were all asked to be mindful of three things:
- What are the major needs of their particular parish?
- What is their way of action and level of commitment to serve their community?
- What kind of blessings have they experienced during the process of the Encuentro?
“There are many beautiful stories about these experiences, which we collected from each parish. What we witnessed was the Holy Spirit working with us, we as Christ’s instruments of salvation,” she said.
Bishop Doherty said the Encuentro provided an opportunity for interaction with groups from other parishes, which represent many national origins. “Parish groups took turns listing the blessings of their Encuentro involvement, which also percolated some perceived needs,” he said.
Tobar said that while some may question the Church’s emphasis on reaching out to the Hispanic population, especially in an increasing effort to offer more Masses in Spanish, it’s important to note that in the last 60 years, the main group of immigrants coming to America has been Hispanic.
“The population growth among the Hispanics in our parishes has been an unexpected surprise and presence for our parishes and our diocese,” Tobar said.
“Because of this, the USCCB recognized the Hispanic presence was going to be impossible to ignore, and the Church sought to find a systematic way to serve this community,” she added.
Tobar said the youth Encuentro, held the previous weekend, was an eye-opening experience for everyone and that while they hoped for 50 participants, more than 60 youth came, many with their families who stayed for the day. Father Michael A. McKinney, pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Rochester, and administrator of St. Anne Parish, Monterey, and St. Ann Parish, Kewanna, led the students in prayer and assisted with the day’s activities. He told the students that events like V Encuentro are important moments for the whole Church, but especially for youth who can feel isolated as a religious minority in their schools and communities. “You might hear people say to you, ‘You are the future of our Church,’” Father McKinney said.“I would actually say that you are the Church and a vital part of the Catholic community,” he exclaimed.
In a day of both small and large group activities, students learned more about their faith, the lives of the saints, and how to encounter Christ and keep him at the center of their daily lives. Jacki Hernandez, a parishioner at St. Boniface in Lafayette, said Encuentros for Hispanic youth like herself are very important to many who feel marginalized in their daily lives.
“This V Encuentro youth retreat for us is important, because it gives us a voice,” Hernandez said.
Veronica Marquez, a parishioner at St. Mary in Anderson and one of the youth leaders at the event, believes the students learned new ways of finding the presence of God in their individual lives.
“I think we all learned that there are many different ways in which God is present in our lives, and that no matter what we may be going through, they will never have to go through it alone,” Marquez said.
“We hope this Encuentro helps the students in their daily lives and that they will remember that even in their darkest moments, they can be assured that someone is there for them and is always watching over them.”
Tobar said the feedback the coordinators received after the retreat about the spiritual needs of the youth was both revealing, and also surprising.
“Our Hispanic youth said they want more religious classes after confirmation, more confession times in Spanish, more classes on how to read the Bible, and more opportunities to talk to their parish priest,” she said.
Marquez also addressed the issues facing Hispanic youth and their need for identity and acceptance, since many are self-conscious about being viewed as a minority.
“Sometimes we feel like we don’t belong here and that we aren’t good enough,” Marquez said. “But being a part of something like this allows us to interact with others who may be feeling the same.
“Together, we find ways to become stronger and prove to others that we have a purpose and that we do matter,” she said.
Patzy Juarez-Franco, a parishioner at Our Lady of the Lakes in Monticello, said the most memorable events of the day for her occurred when the students shared sessions of personal stories, which provided them an opportunity to bond.
“This retreat is important to me and helped open my eyes about why we all need to stay focused and Christ-centered in our daily lives,” Juarez-Franco said. “My faith shapes my life because each day I try to remember to thank God for everything I have. “This retreat helps me learn how to be a better person for my family, friends and others I encounter along the way,” she said.
Father McKinney said some of the youth shared their impressions of the Encuentro with him, after the event.
“I had some of my teens admit that they were not looking forward to this day, but then were glad they came and now feel more excited about being a Catholic,” Father McKinney said.
“Several of my teens also shared how powerful it was to see so many other Catholic Latinos their age, who were just as committed to their faith and to hear the numbers of how many there are in total across the diocese.
“And, I already have heard stories about our teens texting youth from other parishes and developing friendships from the bond they felt from the V Encuentro,” he said.
Bishop Doherty said that moving into the future, it is important to recognize Encuentro as much more than one established population welcoming another.
“I choose to see other people, Hispanic people particularly, reaching out to me and all of us. The Encuentro is a way for me to learn to hear the ‘welcome’ that other people are extending to me.
“The welcome is not my property. Rather, it is Jesus himself who issues the invitation for us to encounter each other. And just as at Pentecost, that invitation comes in every language,” he said.