V Encuentro Deepens Commitment to Family Ministry

Photo provided by Mario Martinez.

We are Mario and Paola Martinez. We have been married for 12 years and have four beautiful children.  Camila is 11, Dario is 8, Mateo is 4, and Valeria is 3.  We currently serve as the Co-Directors of the Office of Marriage and Family Life Ministry in the Diocese of San Bernardino, in California.  Four years ago, in September of 2015, we traveled to Philadelphia filled with joy and anticipation with our young children to The World Meeting of Families. The day before the start of the World Meeting of Families, we joined 143 other Hispanic Catholic leaders who work in family ministry in the United States and Latin America, to reflect on the opportunities and challenges that Hispanic families face in our continent. This gathering convened by the USCCB was known as the Primer Encuentro Hispano-Latino Americano de Familias (First Encounter of Hispanic and Latin American Families). The dialogue that took place at this historic gathering served to prepare us for the upcoming National V Encuentro process, for which our Bishop Gerald Barnes, was one of the lead agents.

Photo provided by Mario Martinez.

At this gathering, we were also blessed to serve as La Familia Custodia de La Cruz de los Encuentros (The Custodial Family of The Cross of the Encounters).  This cross was blessed by Pope Francis during his trip to Philadelphia and traveled to dioceses throughout the United States, during the entire V Encuentro process, and was present at the national Encuentro gathering in Grapevine, Texas in September of 2018.  Our children still remember this most special day, where we processed with the cross through the streets of Philadelphia with our beloved Bishops and other Hispanic Catholic leaders from across the country.

Living the V Encuentro process at all levels (parish level, diocesan level, regional level, and national level) has been a gift to our marriage, our family life, and our ministry.  It has taught us how to be better listeners, how to better accompany one another and the families of our diocese during the challenging times of their journey.  The process has also served to open the doors for new ministries to emerge that address the needs of our people.  One of the areas which was highlighted across the country was the need to offer formation for all ages on the vocations of marriage and family life.  This finding encouraged the establishment of the Office of Marriage and Family Life Ministry here in our Diocese of San Bernardino as of July 1, 2019.


Photo by Patricia Jiménez/V Encuentro. ©

Shortly after the establishment of the office, we received an unexpected phone call from Alejandro Aguilera-Titus, Director of Hispanic Affairs for the USCCB and National Coordinator for the V Encuentro, that would impact our lives profoundly.  We were invited to be a part of a delegation that would participate in a V Encuentro Pilgrimage to the Holy See from September 11 through September 19, 2019, to deliver the Proceedings and Conclusions of the V Encuentro to different leaders and staff of various Vatican offices, and to The Holy Father, Pope Francis.

Photo by Mario Martinez. ©

One experience during our pilgrimage that truly impacted us, was meeting with Cardinal Kevin Farrell, head of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, a ministry that is very close to our hearts.  Among other areas, his office is responsible for the pastoral care of the family, and the organization of the World Meeting of Families which takes place every three years (next one will be in Rome on June 2021).  We were able to share with him about the work we are doing for families, with many passionate collaborators, here in our Diocese through The Office of Marriage and Family Life Ministry, and he was very pleased and encouraged by what we shared. Meeting him was indeed a gift.

Mario and Paola Martinez with Cardinal Ferrell. Photo by Mario Martinez © 2019.The culminating event of our entire pilgrimage was undoubtedly our encounter with Pope Francis.  That Wednesday morning, September the 18th ,we attended the Pope’s audience, where we not only received his apostolic blessing, but it was extended to our families and community back home as well.  Immediately following the audience, we were escorted to the front steps of Saint Peter’s Basilica, where we huddled together, and waited for The Holy Father to make his way to our group.  Words cannot express the excitement we felt, and the many thoughts that raced through our mind of what we wanted to say.  Once he was in front of us, his radiant smile and tender gaze filled our hearts with joy!  One of the first things that we were able to tell him, was “Santo Padre, lo amamos!” (Holy Father, we love you!), to which he responded, “Y oran por mi?” (and do you pray for me?) to which we all emphatically said “Si!” (yes!).  We then let him know that we came representing “los matrimonios” (marriage) to which he said

Marriage… marriage is the foundation of society, but today people change spouses like they change shirts. It’s about fidelity.

Photo by Vatican Photographic Service of L’Osservatore Romano © 2019.

We will forever cherish the words he shared with us.  He concluded his encounter with us, by asking us to pray for him.

The pilgrimage, and the entire V Encuentro process has truly been a time of grace in our lives.  The Encuentro has deepened our commitment to serving the families of our Diocese and our own family.  It has helped us rejoice for the gift of our Domestic Church, our local Church of San Bernardino, and the Universal Church. It has been an extraordinary moment in our lives, for we are an ordinary married couple living an ordinary family life, striving to achieve holiness. The Encuentro has truly been a call to love our neighbor, and to love each other; it has been a call to holiness.  Our experience just goes to show, that God blesses his children “…far more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20), and all we can do is be thankful and praise Him for such infinite love and generosity. As a V Encentro family we pray that the V Encuentro process continues to bear many fruits in our lives and in the lives of all families.

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