By Katrina Genereux/Associate Editor, OND
Five members of the Diocese of Crookston joined nearly 3,500 Hispanic/Latino Catholics for the Fifth National Encuentro, or V Encuentro, Sept. 20-23 in Grapevine, Texas. Cyntia Lopez and Francisco Valenzuela of St. Francis de Sales, Moorhead; and Lucina Mello, Maria Moronez and Jose de Leon of Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Crookston, took part in the event.
Encuentro, meaning gathering or encounter, is a four-year process of reflection across the nation, that will continue through 2020. “Missionary Disciples: Witnesses of God’s Love,” is the theme of this Encuentro. The process, an initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, is an invitation to intense missionary activity and consultation to guide leadership and ministry development. The goal is to help the Church respond to the Hispanic/Latino presence and strengthen their response to the New Evangelization. Local and regional meetings were held leading up to the national gathering.
“Being part of this event not only allows us to meet other people who are doing the same thing, but it also allows us to open up to new perspectives, to new ideas, to know better approaches. I think this is going to be a very good personal enrichment that later would be beneficial for the ministry we are doing in our parishes,” said Sister Lucy Perez-Calixto. Sister Lucy is the Guadalupe Minister at St. Francis de Sales. She has been involved in the local and regional processes but was not able to attend the national Encuentro.
The scale of the national Encuentro impressed members of the diocesan delegation. Cyntia Lopez was grateful for the chance to speak with several of the more than 100 bishops who attended.
“My favorite part was being able to talk to the bishops face-to-face,” Lopez said. “They were so open to talk to the youth, to talk to us … they were right there with us.”
They had many opportunities to gather for prayer and worship. Delegates heard keynote addresses from: Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre; Bishop Oscar Cantu, Diocese of Las Cruces; Sister Ana Maria Pineda of the Sisters of Mercy; Bishop Daniel Flores, Diocese of Brownsville; Bishop Arturo Cepeda, Archdiocese of Detroit; and Cardinal Joseph Tobin, Archdiocese of Newark.
They also viewed a video message from Pope Francis on Sept. 20.
The pope described the process as a way for the U.S. Church to go beyond comfort, becoming the leaven of hope for young people and families in the peripheries.
“I am also pleased to see that the Fifth 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. This experience of Encuentro goes much further, it is part of a much larger process of renewal, of missionary impulse to which all the local churches, the particular churches, are called with their rich human and cultural diversity,” Pope Francis said.
Delegates also participated in break-out sessions and group discussions with members of their region and those working or volunteering in the same type of ministry.
“The discussions were really good,” Lopez said. “It is not only in our church that we are having this kind of trouble, like how to work with the youth … to get them involved in the church.” She said discussions focused on formation of leaders in the parish and young people.
Lopez learned many things that will help her in ministry to the youth of her parish.
She learned that building a foundation with the youngest members of the parish is important, because if they don’t connect with the church, it will be hard to keep them involved as they grow. She said giving special attention to teens was also emphasized.
“We have to pay special attention to kids from 13 to 18 because there is a lot of depression and they need love. They need us to listen to them,” Lopez said. “We have to pay special attention to that age group and make them feel at home.”
Jose de Leon said one of his takeaways was that everyone is part of the Church because they are called by God.
“God called us there because we need to do something, not only to sit … we need action, not only words,” he said.
He said it is important for people to be involved in their parishes.
“Everybody needs to do something in the Church,” he said.
He said another part that stood out was continually asking for things that are needed.
“Too many people only ask one time and no more,” he said. “Some people change to other churches because [they think] father doesn’t give them attention … this is not good.”
Francisco Valenzuela said the experience was amazing.
“My favorite parts were the homilies at Mass … the bishops talked to us from their hearts and we actually learned some good advice on how to live our life and how to be a good missionary disciple,” he said.
Key themes he noted were learning to walk with the Holy Spirit, sharing the Gospel and evangelizing with happiness and love.
“We hope to bring this new energy to our parish and work as one in unity – Hispanics and Anglos – because we are all one church, the universal Church, the Catholic Church founded by God through his beloved son, Jesus Christ,” Valenzuela said.
Lopez hopes to see more formation for leaders in her parish, and she is determined to work for change.
“We came back filled with the Holy Spirit and I know this is going to help our community,” she said. “We can’t let this fire extinguish.”