By Father Joseph Sia
For The Catholic Messenger
Four representatives from the Diocese of Davenport — Miguel Moreno, Sister Irene Munoz, Father Dennis Martin and myself — attended the regional planning workshop for the “Fifth National Encuentro,” a multicultural summit to be held in 2018. The location is yet to be determined.
The workshop took place Oct. 13-15 at Creighton University Retreat Center in Griswold, Iowa. Other attendees were from 13 other dioceses in the Heartland States Region. These are the dioceses in Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas. Bishop Richard Pates of the Diocese of Des Moines joined us for Mass and a morning session on our second day there. Similar workshops are being held in other regions of the United States. Between now and 2018, other meetings and workshops will take place at different levels (parish, diocesan, regional) to disseminate information and train leaders and representatives for the national Encuentro.
Planning for the Encuentro in 2018 was not the only objective of the workshop. That was what I found interesting and refreshing about the time we spent in Griswold. A lot of us have become so used to attending meetings to “plan” for an event — to assign tasks, to iron out details, to worry about things going wrong, to make sure there is a Plan B, etc. These are important and necessary steps, especially when it is a national conference that we are talking about, but in these early stages we focused on the process of walking towards the Encuentro.
The theological-pastoral vision of the process for the fifth Encuentro was presented as such: first, listen to the call of God; and then understand one’s identity as a Catholic, incorporating one’s culture in that identity, but always remembering that we are living that Catholicism in the 21st century United States; and then know that we are being sent as missionary disciples in the New Evangelization; and be ready to experience the love of God in that Encuentro.
The first activity of the workshop was a presentation on the history of the Encuentro, from the first one held in 1972 in Washington, D.C., until the most recent one held in 2000 in Los Angeles. That helped set the tone for the workshop; i.e., that we were there to begin the walk together and to share the experiences of our journeys so far. The next presentation was on the history of Catholicism in the American continent, beginning with the arrival of the Spanish missionaries to the “New World,” the spread of Catholicism in Central and South America and in Mexico and the United States.
After these presentations, we were led in a Lectio Divina on the story of the Appearance on the Road to Emmaus from the Gospel of Luke. It was a reminder that in this planning process we are like the two disciples of Jesus who were walking on that road, and how we would also like our hearts to be burning with zeal! After that prayer, we discussed how we could invite others to experience Jesus, specifically at the Encuentro.
While the workshop participants were Hispanic ministers; e.g., priests, sisters and laity who work with Hispanic Catholics, it was pointed out that this Encuentro is for all Catholics in the United States. It will be a gathering of the diverse expressions of the Catholic Church in a unifying time and place for an intimate experience of one another and, most importantly, of God. It is hoped that this event will allow the Catholic Church in the United States to reflect on its past, analyze its present situation and carry on with re-energized hope to the future. Our church is a pilgrim church. We are moving; we are migrating. I hope that many of us will be excited to participate in this process of journeying towards the fifth national Encuentro in 2018!
(Fr. Sia is pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Columbus Junction and sacramental minister of St. Joseph Parish in West Liberty.)