ATTLEBORO, Mass. — Thirty-three years have passed since 1985 when the third National Encuentro (Gathering) of Hispanic Catholics in the United States took place. Since then, the demographics and needs of Hispanic Catholics have changed and that is why it has become necessary to call a new national encounter.
The Encuentro is four-year process which seeks to listen to the voice of the people, form new leaders, evangelize and find the best pastoral practices for Spanish-speaking Catholic communities. It was convened in 2014 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In the last three years, regional, diocesan and parochial teams were trained, and last year the parish consultation process began for five weeks, culminating in a parish Encuentro. Parish delegates were then sent to the diocesan Encuentro last November, and the dioceses then appointed their delegates to attend the regional Encuentro.
On Saturday, March 10, more than 550 delegates from six neighboring dioceses gathered at La Salette Shrine to participate in the Regional Encuentro.
The Archdiocese of Boston, along with the dioceses of Worcester, Fall River and Providence, sent numerous delegations to this regional encounter and the dioceses of Manchester, New Hampshire, and Portland, Maine also participated with smaller delegations.
Sister Patricia Pora, RMS, director of the Hispanic Apostolate of the Diocese of Portland said, “For us it has been difficult to bring many delegates because in our state the governor has authorized the state police to stop cars on highways and ask for documents. People are afraid; they do not want to leave home and some have even moved out of state or returned to their countries,” she shared.
The Archdiocese of Hartford and the diocese of Norwich sent representatives, and they will have a Regional Encounter in the South Region on May 12.
The Regional Encounter marked the third step in this process that has been going on for three years, one which will culminate in September with the V National Encounter, which will take place near Dallas, Texas.
Abelardo Hernandez, a delegate of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Providence, said, “What struck me the most during the whole day of activity was that everything flowed with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. We could feel the love of God that manifested within us as we shared with brothers and sisters from different parishes in dialogues focused on continuing our evangelization.”
“I was delighted by the presence of Cardinal Sean O’Malley. It struck me very much that he spoke in perfect Spanish in humility, with the message of unity, support for the Latino community, and for his many personal testimonies of his life,” Abelardo added.
He also said that he was impacted by the homily of Bishop Edgar Da Cunha of Fall River, calling on us to make a commitment to continue evangelizing together.
For her part, Joselis Reyes of San Miguel Parish said that she most liked the Cardinal’s address when he said, “We should pray and walk toward Jesus, asking God, ‘What do you want from me?’, and realizing if we are in the Church it is to serve.”
Meanwhile, Ricardo Fuentes, a parishioner of Saint Mary’s Parish in Waltham, Mass., said that he liked that he said that everyone is called to a vocation.
“The important thing is that we give ourselves time to look forward to finding our vocation, because that is what today’s society needs,” he said.
Aida Asfura of St. Patrick Parish in Providence said, “I was surprised to have met so many people sharing the different gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to each one. Something very nice and positive was to see that the young people have a lot of enthusiasm and their desire to transmit it to others.”
She said that the event was excellent and well-organized, and offered congratulations to all the organizers.
Rosa Rivas, lay director of the Cursillo said, “The most wonderful thing was to see so many people from different states together reflecting on the faith and discerning on different ways in which the church can better respond to the challenge of Catholics falling away from the Church, with a goal of being missionary disciples and responding to the call of the New Evangelization.”
“The idea that strikes me is that as a Hispanic and Catholic, I must also be part of that process of learning so that I too can be a missionary disciple and help bring home all those who have fallen away or those who, for one reason or another, are not coming to church,” she concluded.
Polo Trujillo, who serves at Holy Ghost Parish and volunteers at the Diocesan Hispanic Family Ministry Team said, “It impacted me that there was representation form every diocese, the welcome they had for everyone, and the very good idea they had of sitting in different seats to get to know each other and exchange our ideas about needs in our dioceses and our parishes.”
He said, “The ideas that almost everyone agreed on was the priority of the young people and all their needs since they are the future of the Catholic Church, not forgetting the family because if there is no family union the values are lost, and always putting God first in everything we do.”
Cristina Méndez from Assumption Parish said, “I am very fortunate to be part of the V Encounter. One idea that I take with me, is that Pope Francis calls us to be missionary disciples, and to evangelize in the peripheries.”
“I was also struck by the Cardinal, with his humility with which he touched our hearts, and Bishop Da Cunha with a challenge to us, ‘What are we waiting for to do the work of the Lord?’”
Genesis Flores of the Diocese of Providence team and All Saints Parish in Woonsocket said, “The testimonies of the young people were the most impressive of the day. Also the idea that led me is that regionally we are all doing our part to improve our Church and our closeness to the people of the periphery.”
Ana Sanchez of the V Encuentro team of Saint Patrick Parish said she was struck by the diversity and commitment of the community and dedication for the service of God, with all motivated working as a team for the same goal.
“It was a long day of service but by concentrating on one thing at a time we did not feel the day go by. We all wanted to give more of ourselves,” she said.
Even though the fifth Encounter is still in process, many fruits are already being seen in several of the dioceses that have participated. The Diocese of Manchester, for example, now has a person serving in the Bishop’s Cabinet, with an assistant dedicated full-time to the Multicultural and Hispanic Ministry. This was not the reality just a couple of years ago.
The Diocese of Providence now has a person working in the Pastoral Familiar Hispana (Hispanic Family Ministry). And the process of the fifth Encuentro has improved communication among many diocesan offices resulting in greater pastoral collaboration.
At the parish level, as a result of the consultations of the fifth Encuentro, Rev. James Ruggieri, pastor of St Patrick’s Parish, decided to increase the scope and intensity of his hospitality ministry.
“Our new Hospitality Ministers will now be dedicated to reaching out to the new people who come to visit the parish, giving them a card along with a New Testament, taking their information and inviting them to download the My Parish app to their cell phone, to encourage them to be connected to it,” Father Ruggieri said.
“Later during the week they will call them to say hello, ask them how they are, strengthen the relationship, and follow them up by inviting them to return.” he added.
The V Encuentro has already been a success in many places. It is inspiring a new generation of leaders and fostering a space to develop creative ways of evangelizing and reaching out to those on the peripheries of our parishes and community.