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: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.


Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash