V Encuentro, a balm for the Church in the United States

It was time to celebrate the faith and joy of the Risen Christ, even in the midst of the tribulations that the Church is currently experiencing.

This is how one can define the experience lived by many at the national V Encuentro of Hispanic Ministry that was held Sept. 20-23 in Grapevine, Texas.

“I have not found depressed, or sad people,” said Dr. Guzmán Carriquiri, Secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, who came from Rome to be part of this event. “I have found disciples of God who have recognized his presence and company and have expressed all their joy and hope.”

Dr. Carriquiri defined the V Encuentro as a “balm” in the midst of a suffering Church. The event brought together around 3,000 Hispanic leaders from 159 dioceses in the United States and 157 bishops who listened to ideas and were encouraged by their people.

The National V Encuentro of Hispanic Ministry is the result of a consultation process that was convened in 2014 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops States (USCCB) and began in early 2017. The consultations were held on three different levels: parochial, diocesan and regional before reaching the National Encuentro in Texas. This process consisted of four stages outlined in Pope Francis’ Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium: Taking the first step, being involved and supportive, bearing fruit and rejoicing.

I have found disciples of God who have recognized his presence and company and have expressed all their joy and hope.”

For Alfonso Lara, Hispanic Director of Evangelization for the Archdiocese of Denver, leading his delegation was “very positive.” The delegates traveled 16 hours to Grapevine, an experience that created a fraternal atmosphere among them.

“Having participated in V Encuentro has helped them identify the reality and needs of the Church in the U.S,” said Lara “We all experienced a beautiful Church event. We achieved the goal of being inclusive in this sense.”

There were days of hard work, conferences, panels, and regional and ministerial group dialogues in which Hispanic Catholics from around the U.S. had the opportunity to express their opinions, concerns, and proposals about Hispanic ministry. In the group dialogues, the delegates followed the See-Judge-Act scheme.

Many of the V Encuentro delegates and attendees were of Anglo descent, who were seen wearing headsets to hear simultaneous Spanish-English translation, seeking to better understand the Hispanic Community and to rejoice with them in faith.

Hope for the Church

There are 52 million documented Hispanics in the U.S., of whom 68 percent are Catholic. From those, 60 percent are millennials. If the uncertain number of undocumented Hispanics were to be included in this statistic, the figure would be greater, said Dr. Hosffman Ospino, a Colombian associate professor of Hispanic Ministry and Religious Education at Boston College and member of the organizing committee of the event.

We all experienced a beautiful Church event. We achieved the goal of being inclusive in this sense.”

Dr. Ospino described V Encuentro as “a wonderful experience. It has given us the opportunity to take the pulse of the Catholic Church in the United States. There is a lot of rejoicing and new voices are emerging from our communities,” he said in one of the panels.

On the other hand, Boston archbishop Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley said in a heartfelt homily during the September 22 Mass: “Love knows no borders. Disciples love the foreigners. They become brothers and sisters. We are not orphans. We have a Father who loves us.”

Attention to the Youth

A topic that was constantly touched upon was the need to offer creative ways to bring the Gospel to young people.

“We should be open to listening to young people’s ideas,” said Brittany Koepke García, Coordinator of Hispanic Youth Ministry of the Diocese of Knoxville, during one of the plenary sessions. For this reason, around 700 delegates under the age of 35 participated in a dinner with the bishops who attended V Encuentro Sept. 22.

“To be face by face with all the bishops was very emotional,” said Alejandra Bravo, Director of Hispanic Youth Ministry for the Archdiocese of Denver. “Not only did they listen to us, they also shared with us … knowing that they took time [to be with us] even after such a long day fills my heart with joy and hope and it urges me to be perseverant and to continue with the mission of evangelizing and loving others,” said Bravo.

Disciples and missionaries

One of the most exciting moments of V Encuentro was when the delegates saw a video message from Pope Francis at the opening ceremony.

“I am glad to see that V Encuentro, in continuity with the previous Encuentros, recognizes and values the specific gifts that Hispanic Catholics offer today and will continue to offer in the future to the Church in their country,” said the pontiff. “I know that the process of this V Encuentro comforted many immigrants who live in fear and uncertainty … it has given them a greater sense of community, friendship, support. It has also been an instrument of grace that led to the conversion of the hearts of many people.”

During his homily at the V Encuentro closing Mass, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles urged the attendees to follow St. Juan Diego’s example, who was a layman and to whom the Virgin of Guadalupe entrusted the mission of asking to build a church. “[She appeared] not to a priest, bishop or a religious order member, but to a layman like you,” he said.

In a similar way, Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas invited Hispanic people to not only be disciples, but also to evangelize in this country. “If we have experienced what it is to be accompanied, we can better understand the call to accompany others,” he said.

Thus, between songs, liturgical celebrations, conversations, conferences and panels, the V Encuentro was celebrated, and it was described by Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio, Texas and member of the organizing committee as “a caress of God. … These have been conversations from the heart.”

COMING UP: Seeking justice, transparency and accountability, archdiocese voluntarily enters agreement with Colorado attorney general

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Seeking justice, transparency and accountability, archdiocese voluntarily enters agreement with Colorado attorney general

Initiatives include independent investigation and independent reparations program

Mark Haas

With a desire to “shine the bright light of transparency” on the tragedy of sexual abuse of minors within the Church, Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila has announced that the three Colorado dioceses have voluntarily partnered with Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser to conduct an independent review of the dioceses’ files and policies related to the sexual abuse of children.

In a joint news conference on February 19 at the attorney general’s office, it was also announced that the three dioceses will voluntarily fund an independent reparations program for survivors of such abuse.

“The damage inflicted upon young people and their families by sexual abuse, especially when it’s committed by a trusted person like a priest, is profound,” said Archbishop Aquila. “While this process will certainly include painful moments and cannot ever fully restore what was lost, we pray that it will at least begin the healing process.”

It is well known that child sexual abuse is a societal problem that demands attention and action,” said Weiser. “I am pleased the Church has recognized the need for transparency and reparations for victims.”

Discussions for these two initiatives began last year with former Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, and then finalized recently with Weiser. Both Coffman and Weiser praised the dioceses’ willingness to address this issue.

“It is well known that child sexual abuse is a societal problem that demands attention and action,” said Weiser. “I am pleased the Church has recognized the need for transparency and reparations for victims.”

Coffman added: “Childhood sexual abuse is not specific to one institution or to the Catholic Church. The spotlight is on the Catholic Church, but this abuse is indicative of what has happened in other institutions. We want to shine a light on what has happened.

“[The dioceses] demonstrated their commitment to acknowledging past abuse by priests and moving forward with honesty and accountability.”

The independent file review will be handled by Robert Toyer, a former U.S. Attorney for Colorado. His final report is expected to be released in the fall of 2019 and will include a list of diocesan priests with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minors, along with a review of the dioceses’ handling of the allegations. The report will also include an evaluation of the dioceses’ current policies and procedures, something that was not included in other states’ reviews, such as the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report.

“We in Colorado have found our own way in the wake of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report,” said Weiser. “We have a set of dioceses here who came to the table to develop appropriate solutions that are collaborative, committed to transparency and put victims first.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, alongside Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, speaks during a press conference announcing a comprehensive joint agreement with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office to conduct an independent review of the dioceses’ files and policies related to the sexual abuse of children at the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center on February 19, 2019, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Archdiocese of Denver)

“This is not a criminal investigation. This is an independent inquiry with the full cooperation of the Catholic Church,” said Weiser.

Since 1991, the Archdiocese of Denver has had a policy of mandatory reporting of all allegations to local authorities. The procedures were further strengthened by the 2002 Dallas Charter to include comprehensive background checks, zero-tolerance policies, safe environment training, and training for children as well.

“This independent file review presents an opportunity for an honest and fair evaluation of the Church in Colorado’s historical handling of the sexual abuse of minors by priests,” said Archbishop Aquila.  “We are confident in the steps we have taken to address this issue and that there are no priests in active ministry currently under investigation.”

We have a set of dioceses here who came to the table to develop appropriate solutions that are collaborative, committed to transparency and put victims first.”

The independent reparations program will be run by two nationally recognized claims administration experts, Kenneth R. Feinberg and Camille S. Biros, who will review individual cases and make financial awards to victims who elect to participate. The victims are free to accept or reject the award, but the Colorado dioceses are bound by what the administrators decide.

The program will have oversight provided by an independent committee chaired by former U.S. Senator Hank Brown. More details will be announced in the coming months, and the program will officially open closer to the release of the final report.

This is similar to a program instituted by former Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput in 2006. Archbishop Aquila said it is important for local Catholics to know the program will be funded by archdiocesan reserves, with no money being taken from ministries or charities at parishes, annual diocesan appeals, or Catholic Charities.

“With humility and repentance, we hope the programs announced today offer a path to healing for survivors and their families,” Archbishop Aquila said.

And acknowledging how painful this has been for everyone in the Church, Archbishop Aquila said he hopes this is step towards restoring confidence among the faithful.

“Helping people to restore their trust, to live their faith, that is essential,” said Archbishop Aquila. “And to help them have a deeper encounter with Jesus Christ, so that is my goal in all of this. I know that healing is possible in Jesus Christ.”

For a copy of the full agreement and a detailed FAQ, visit archden.org/promise.