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

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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: Historical clarity and today’s Catholic contentions

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One of the curiosities of the 21st-century Catholic debate is that many Catholic traditionalists (especially integralists) and a high percentage of Catholic progressives make the same mistake in analyzing the cause of today’s contentions within the Church — or to vary the old fallacy taught in Logic 101, they think in terms of post Concilium ergo propter Concilium [everything that’s happened after the Council has happened because of the Council]. And inside that fallacy is a common misreading of modern Catholic history. The traditionalists insist that everything was fine before the Council (which many of them therefore regard as a terrible mistake); the progressives agree that the pre-Vatican II Church was a stable institution but deplore that stability as rigidity and desiccation.

But that’s not the way things were pre-Vatican II, as I explain at some length and with some engaging stories in my new book, The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform (Basic Books). And no one knew the truth about pre-Vatican II Catholicism better than the man who was elected pope during the Council and guided Vatican II through its last three sessions, St. Paul VI.

On January 25, 1959, Pope John XXIII, thought to be an elderly placeholder, stunned both the Church and the world by announcing his intention to summon the 21st ecumenical council. That night, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini (who would be known as Paul VI four and a half years later), called an old friend. An experienced churchman who had long served Pius XII as chief of staff, Montini saw storm clouds on the horizon: “This holy old boy,” he said of John XXIII, “doesn’t know what a hornet’s nest he’s stirring up.”

That shrewd observation turned out to be spot on –– and not simply because of the Council, but because of the bees and hornets that had been buzzing around the ecclesiastical nest for well over 100 years.

Contrary to both traditionalist and progressive misconceptions, Catholicism was not a placid institution, free of controversy and contention, prior to Vatican II. As I show in The Irony of Modern Catholic History, there was considerable intellectual ferment in the Church during the mid-19th century, involving great figures like the recently-canonized John Henry Newman, the German bishop Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler (grandfather of modern Catholic social thought), and the Italian polymath Antonio Rosmini (praised by John Paul II in the 1999 encyclical, Faith and Reason, and beatified under Benedict XVI). That ferment accelerated during the 25 year pontificate of Leo XIII, who launched what I dub the “Leonine Revolution,” challenging the Church to engage the modern world with distinctively Catholic tools in order to convert the modern world and lay a firmer foundation for its aspirations.

American Catholicism, heavily focused on institution-building, was largely unaware of the sharp-edged controversies (and ecclesiastical elbow-throwing) that followed Leo XIII’s death in 1903. Those controversies, plus the civilization-shattering experience of two world wars in Europe, plus a rapid secularization process in Old Europe that began in the 19th century, set the stage for John XXIII’s epic opening address to Vatican II. There, the Pope explained what he envisioned Vatican II doing: gathering up the energies let loose by the Leonine Revolution and focusing them through the prism of an ecumenical council, which he hoped would be a Pentecostal experience energizing the Church with new evangelical zeal.

John XXIII understood that the Gospel proposal could only be made by speaking to the modern world in a vocabulary the modern world could hear. Finding the appropriate grammar and vocabulary for contemporary evangelization didn’t mean emptying Catholicism of its content or challenge, however. As the Pope insisted, the perennial truths of the faith were to be expressed with the “same meaning” and the “same judgment.” Vatican II, in other words, was to foster the development of doctrine, not the deconstruction of doctrine. And the point of that doctrinal development was to equip the Church for mission and evangelization, for the modern world would be converted by truth, not ambiguity or confusion.

Over the past six and a half years, it’s become abundantly clear that more than a few Catholics, some quite prominently placed, still don’t get this history. Nor do the more vociferous elements in the Catholic blogosphere. Which is why I hope The Irony of Modern Catholic History helps facilitate a more thoughtful debate on the Catholic present and future, through a better understanding of the Catholic past.