July 6, 2018

‘Missionary Disciples: Witnesses to the love of God’

Listening to challenges continues at regional V Encuentro

Region VII Encuentro representatives from Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin pose for a group photo in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the campus of the University of Notre Dame after the closing Mass on June 10. (Submitted photo)

Region VII Encuentro representatives from Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin pose for a group photo in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the campus of the University of Notre Dame after the closing Mass on June 10. (Submitted photo)

From staff and wire reports

Nearly 200 Hispanic ministry leaders from 13 dioceses in Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana—including the Archdiocese of Indianapolis—gathered at the University of Notre Dame near South Bend, Ind., for the Region VII Encuentro on June 8-10.

Among the main issues participants considered as priorities for their region were: evangelization and leadership development among youths and young adults; support and care for immigrants in the country without documents; accompaniment of families; the development of intercultural competencies in parishes; and the need to grow more vocations.

“The Encuentro has really brought to light to the authorities of the Church the voices of the people. That’s why these Encuentros are so important,” said Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Alberto Rojas, chairman of the Region VII Encuentro.

Like other regional encuentros—the Spanish word for “encounter”—being held around the country, the gathering at Notre Dame was part of the process leading up to the Fifth National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry or V Encuentro. The national encuentro will take place on Sept. 20-23 in Grapevine, Texas.

Oscar Castellanos, director of the archdiocesan Office of Intercultural Ministry, led the archdiocesan delegation that attended the meeting. He said the gathering had a feeling of “openness and collaboration.” Archbishop Charles C. Thompson of Indianapolis also participated in the three-day session.

“There were people that knew each other, so there was also a sense of brotherhood and festivity,” Castellanos commented.

The purpose of the regional meeting, he added, was to continue the V Encuentro process initiated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). It offered “a discernment process that allowed the Hispanic community to understand its call in the Church of the U.S.,” Castellanos noted. “It was an opportunity to [be a] voice [for] those who are not heard and part of the Church living in the peripheries.”

‘Witnesses to the love of God’

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese, head of the host diocese for the Region VII Encuentro, was the principal celebrant for the gathering’s opening liturgy on June 8. At the Mass that set the tone for the weekend of discussion, worship and reflection, he credited Providence for the Encuentro opening day being held on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

“The Sacred Heart symbolizes the love of God, his infinite love revealed in the pierced heart of his Son, a love that conquers sin and transcends death,” Bishop Rhoades said in his homily.

“We are called to give witness to this love. The theme of V Encuentro, as you know, is ‘Missionary Disciples: Witnesses to the love of God.’ On this feast day, we contemplate that love, the love of God revealed in his Son Jesus, who loved us to the extreme, to the end. And after contemplating and experiencing this love, to give testimony and be witnesses to it.

“In this V Encuentro, we reflect on our vocation as missionary disciples to be witnesses to the love of God, to be like St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, who received the revelation of the Sacred Heart—disciples of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I hope that this Encuentro inspires and helps us to spread the love of Christ throughout our region, our country and our world. This is our mission, the mission of the Church.”

To ensure that the process was clearly understood by all delegates, who were predominantly Hispanic, the region opted to hold the sessions mainly in Spanish. A few participants preferred to speak in English, particularly Hispanic young adults.

Participants working in small groups selected their main challenges, priorities and strategies in ministerial areas that were discussed and agreed upon by all participants. Those areas were: vocations, ministry to youth and young adults, family ministry, faith formation and catechesis, liturgy, development and training of leaders, higher education and immigration.

“We hope the V Encuentro process can help us by listening to the problems, struggles and challenges people face in our parishes and dioceses,” said Maria Rodriguez, a delegate from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, who is a member of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Warsaw, Ind.

Understanding our culture

During the large group sessions, participants in the different ministerial areas stressed the importance of reaching out to families at all ages and stages. They discussed ways to provide support in faith formation, access to sacraments, strengthening marriages, getting to know their struggles and reasons why some might stop going to church and ways to invite them back.

Strategies on how to develop and promote Hispanic vocations to the priesthood and the diaconate from within their communities also were considered. Many leaders expressed a hope to see more access to opportunities in Spanish to deepen and strengthen their knowledge of the Catholic faith at all levels.

Sister Carmen Sotelo, a delegate from the Diocese of Joliet, Ill., said that such knowledge is particularly essential when parish communities want to appropriately incorporate their customs and heritage into their worshipping practices.

“We need liturgical formation to know, for example, that you can’t play any kind of music during Mass and [that] lectors must adequately prepare to be messengers of the Gospel,” said Sister Carmen, a Missionary Sister of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Many participants also voiced the need to have priests, bishops and parish staffs be open to understanding their culture, and highlighted the need for more intercultural training and collaboration at all levels within parishes and dioceses.

Bishop Rhoades said he felt enriched by listening to participants’ needs, views, contributions and struggles. He joined the large and small group sessions that focused on outreach to youths and young adults.

“Their commitment and their faith are so evident, but also some of the challenges that they face,” Bishop Rhoades said about Hispanic young adults. “I was really impressed by this idea of Latino youth evangelizing other Latino youth and talking about ways to do that.”

He stressed the important role the Church has in accompanying them, and that they see that the Church is with them in their struggles.

Besides Archbishop Thompson and Bishops Rhoades and Rojas, a handful of other bishops also participated in the gathering. Among them were retired Bishop Placido Rodriguez of Lubbock, Texas, who resides in Chicago, and Bishop Timothy L. Doherty of Lafayette, Ind. Also in attendance was Msgr. James Bartylla, vicar general of the Diocese of Madison, Wis.

“We felt represented by Archbishop Thompson, who was present all three days,” said Castellanos.

‘A plan of action’

Sixteen dioceses comprise episcopal Region VII. It is estimated that more than 3 million Hispanics live in the region, according to U.S. census numbers. The population of Hispanics in the area has grown by 56 percent since 2000, and about 54 percent of them are Catholic, according to the National V Encuentro team.

Hispanic immigrants in the region are predominantly from Mexico; others are from countries in Central and South America. U.S. census figures show that the Archdiocese of Indianapolis has the fastest growing Hispanic population, with the number up by 185 percent since 2000. The Archdiocese of Chicago and the dioceses of Joliet and Rockford, Ill., have the largest Hispanic populations in the area.

High numbers of unskilled immigrants work on farms and in meatpacking industries in the region. They are among those considered to be on the peripheries; they face hardships such as the lack of an immigration status, fears of deportation and lack of access to the Mass and the sacraments, said V Encuentro organizers.

“At one time, we noticed that Mass attendance had dropped among Hispanics in the diocese,” recalled Carlos Hernandez, director of Hispanic ministry for the Diocese of Green Bay, Wis. “We found out that most of the people did not have driver’s licenses, so they were afraid to drive to go to Mass. They did not want to take any chances.”

Strategies and recommendations resulting from the regional Encuentros will be included in a final report to be submitted to the National V Encuentro team and will be part of a working document to be utilized during the National Fifth Encuentro gathering. The recommendations that emerge at the national level will provide a basis for a USCCB pastoral plan for Hispanic ministry in the U.S. for the coming years.

“It’s going to be our pastoral plan, a plan of action,” said Enid Roman, director of Hispanic ministry in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and episcopal regional chair. “We’re looking forward to it because it’s been over 30 years since we had new guidelines. Where are we going as Hispanic people with a voice in the Church?”

(Criterion reporter Natalie Hoefer contributed to this story.)

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