By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Hispanic/Latino Catholics transformed an old school gym at diocesan headquarters into a chapel, conference hall, dining room and dance floor for their diocesan convocation of the “Fifth National Encuentro.”
In the hallway outside the gym, children of convocation participants played with dolls, stuffed animals, toys or games. Collectively, these adults and children represent a growing population of the faithful in the Catholic Church. Through the Fifth National Encuentro, or V Encuentro process, the Catholic Church in the U.S. seeks to strengthen the ways in which Hispanics/Latinos respond to the call to the New Evangelization as missionary disciples.
“The diocesan Encuentro (March 17) was an opportunity for the local Hispanic/Latino community to gather together and celebrate the joyful presence of the Risen Christ in their families and our faith communities,” Bishop Thomas Zinkula said. “The people’s voices were heard, and their ideas and recommendations will be taken to the regional Encuentro and from there to the Fifth National Encuentro in September.”
Bishop Zinkula celebrated Mass for the diocesan Encuentro, which drew around 200 Hispanic/Latino Catholics, many of them active in their parishes. Fathers Rudolph Juarez, Joseph Sia and Guillermo Trevino concelebrated the Mass and Fr. Trevino translated the bishop’s homily to Spanish. Jokingly, the bishop asked the assembly whether the priest did a good job of translating. His question drew laughter, including from the translator.
After Mass, Bishop Zinkula accepted requests to pose for photos, dozens of them, as families formed into groups for their portraits. Fr. Trevino snapped some of the photos, taking a few “selfies,” which added him to the portraits. Some families and individuals asked the bishop to bless them; he honored each request.
The bishop stayed for lunch of refried beans, rice, chicken and tortillas and specially made cakes. He watched two young dancers dressed in traditional costumes perform after lunch. Fatima Cabrera, 20, a University of Iowa student from Davenport, and Hugo Garcia, 15, a sophomore at Assumption High School in Davenport, danced with flair, twirling and clicking their heels. Afterwards, Hugo took off his sombrero and gave it to the bishop to place on his head.
“I felt very much at home meeting, interacting and celebrating Mass with the participants at the diocesan Encuentro,” the bishop said. “There were people of all ages, including many young people, which is very encouraging. The atmosphere was joyful, energetic and faith-filled. The church needs to better recognize, embrace and promote the many gifts and talents of the Hispanic community. After this initial, local experience of Encuentro, I am looking forward to attending the Fifth National Encuentro.”
Fr. Trevino will be among the delegates accompanying Bishop Zinkula to that historic, ecclesial gathering in Grapevine, Texas. Fr. Trevino, who serves St. Mary and St. Alphonsus parishes in Davenport and St. Peter Parish in Buffalo, conducted listening sessions during soup suppers at St. Mary’s to get parishioners’ input for V Encuentro.
They identified the need for a spirit of unity in the parish and unity of prayer, Fr. Trevino said. “We have two charismatic prayer groups and Mass in three languages (English, Spanish and Latin).” The people are saying, “We need to pray together as a parish.”
Regarding their concern about unmet needs, Fr. Trevino said: “If their needs are not being met, they will go where needs are being met (in the Protestant churches, for example).” The Encuentro process “is trying to empower the laity. They have to take charge … if they want things done” he added.
The Encuentro consultation process began “with small groups in parishes which have Hispanic Ministry,” said Miguel Moreno, the Davenport Diocese’s coordinator of Multicultural Ministry and a diocesan delegate to the national Encuentro. Representatives to the diocesan Encuentro came from parishes with Hispanic ministry, Catholic Charismatic Renewal and Knights of Columbus.
Victor Alvarez, with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, gave two talks during the diocesan Encuentro. The first focused on the history of Hispanic/Latinos in the U.S., the U.S. bishops’ involvement in that history and background about the previous four Encuentros. The second talk focused on the goals/objectives for V Encuentro. (See sidebar)
Challenges and opportunities
“Sixty percent of all Catholics in the U.S. less than 18 years old are Hispanic/Latino,” said Alvarez. “In other words, we need to respond to the needs of this new culture. They’re not totally Anglo Saxon or totally Latinos. Theirs is a new Catholicism. We’re missing millions of these young people, who prefer attending different Christian denominations (20 percent of them) or becoming secularized (80 percent). The church is not responding to their needs.”
Today, Mass is offered in English or in Spanish, but not in “Spanglish,” observed Alvarez, clinical family therapist specialist with the Domestic Violence, Suicide Program and Homeless program in the Chicago archdiocese. “They need their message in English with a celebration with a Latino touch.”
Alvarez said some directors of youth ministry have asked him why Hispanic/Latino youths aren’t coming to their youth groups. “They don’t fit in,” Alvarez tells them. “They want a Spanglish group.” He also noted that the Hispanic/Latino Catholics in the U.S. come from a mix of cultures. “We Latinos are so diverse. We also need to know what it is to be Catholic and to embrace diversity among Latinos. Once we have that, then all are open to the diversity already here in the United States.”
Response to diocesan Encuentro
Piedad Rangel of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City appreciated participating in small-group discussion at the diocesan Encuentro with her husband Ricardo, a deacon aspirant, and members of St. Joseph Parish in Columbus Junction and St. James Parish in Washington. They discussed what is happening in each parish and what is missing “that we need to support,” she said.
“We need more young people at church, more participation from the people. We need more support groups for couples, young people, families, retirees.” Rangel expressed gratitude that her pastor, Fr. Juarez, is making inroads bringing Anglos and Hispanic/Catholics together. “Having more events like this one brings people together,” she said.
Anthony Chavez, 17, of St. Mary Parish in Oskaloosa invited a friend, Max, 14 to the Encuentro. “I’ve been evangelizing Max (by inviting him to Mass),” said Anthony, who leads a prayer group at his parish and serves on the Diocesan Youth Ministry Committee. “We have to get youths more involved in the church…. I believe in Scriptures and what Jesus said … he wants us to believe in his words … and to put them into action.”
Objectives of V Encuentro
The Fifth National Encuentro, or V Encuentro, is a four-year process and priority activity of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Strategic Plan for 2017-2020. The process seeks to “better serve the fast-growing Hispanic population in dioceses, parishes, ecclesial movements, and other Catholic organizations and institutions” (V Encuentro).
Objectives of the V Encuentro, which will convene at a historic national gathering in September:
• Call all Catholic leaders in the United States to become authentic and joyful missionary disciples by giving witness to God’s Love with a prophetic voice by encountering their Hispanic brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore embracing the cultural diversity in the U.S. church.
• Promote a vision of the church in mission that develops effective pathways to invite, engage and form Hispanic Catholic youth, young adults and families and ecclesial movements to live out their baptismal vocation. This includes the promotion of the vocation to the priesthood and consecrated life.
• Invite all Catholic leaders to engage and accompany Hispanic Catholics, particularly the most vulnerable and those who find themselves in the peripheries of the church and society.
• Identify and promote opportunities for Hispanic Catholic pastoral leaders to serve in leadership positions in the church and in the larger society, and increase the number of lay and ordained ministers directly engaged in the New Evangelization. This will require dioceses and parishes to receive new leaders and those seeking formation to become leaders.
• Stimulate a new wave of faith formation and leadership development initiatives that prepare Hispanic Catholics to share and celebrate the Good News of Jesus Christ and to become leaven for the Reign of God in society.