In a spirit of joy, love and collaboration, 18 delegates from the Diocese of Camden, including Bishop Dennis Sullivan, joined more than 3,000 others from around the country earlier this month for the National V Encuentro in Grapevine, Texas.
From Sept. 20-23, clergy, ministry leaders, young adults and laity discussed challenges, opportunities and strategies to strengthen the Hispanic Catholic community in the United States. The four days of prayer, discernment and fellowship followed earlier parish, diocesan and regional V Encuentro gatherings over the past two and a half years that brought together thousands in designing best practices to foster a habit of missionary discipleship in Hispanic Catholics. Among the recurring issues were the need to support Hispanic women in leadership roles; more access to leadership positions at all levels; and outreach to young adults.
In 2016, research shows, 61.2 percent of Hispanic/Latino immigrants currently in the United States identified themselves as Catholics, along with 50.2 percent of second generation, and 43 percent of third generation Hispanics.
Ten pastoral priorities for the nation’s Hispanic Catholics were identified in Texas: Evangelization and Mission; Faith Formation & Catechesis; Family Ministry; Hispanic Youth & Young Adult Ministries; Immigration; Intercultural Competencies; Justice and Peace; Leadership Development and Ministry Formation; Liturgy and Spirituality; and Vocations.
Now, National V Encuentro leaders will develop a Pastoral Plan for Hispanic Ministry, to be released to dioceses early next year.
Andres Arango, Bishop’s Delegate for Hispanic Ministry in the Diocese of Camden, called the V Encuentro “a good opportunity to hear the voices of the Latino community — its needs, challenges, ideas and recommendations.” In Texas, he led a workshop focused on Ecclesial Movements and their power, through their unique gifts and charisms, to unify Hispanic Catholics.
With the diocesan delegation now back home in their own communities, “it’s important not to lose that momentum and joy, and begin to implement what we’ve learned to better serve the Latino community in South Jersey,” he said.
Bishop Sullivan helped to lead a workshop for delegates on Justice and Peace, which examined many issues relevant to Hispanics such as poverty, discrimination, domestic violence, fair wages, immigration, DACA, crime and drugs. As well, the workshop called for better education on these issues for Latinos to create more vocal activism.
In a videotaped statement shown to delegates at the beginning of their four days, Pope Francis shared his belief that the V Encuentro was an opportunity for U.S. Church to “respond to the challenge of going beyond what is comfortable, business as usual, and to become a leaven of communion for all those who seek a future of hope, especially young people and families that live in the peripheries of society.”
It was received with a standing ovation.
Also speaking on the first day was Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States. Quoting from Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel,” he encouraged Hispanic Catholic leaders and bishops to continue working toward being an evangelizing church by seeking an encounter with Christ and taking initiative while accompanying those on the peripheries.
“The church which ‘goes forth’ is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice,” he said.
In his comments at the closing Mass of the V Encuentro, Archbishop Joseph H. Gomez of Los Angeles called “this moment in the church … the hour of the laity.”
“It is the time for saints,” he said. “He is calling the lay faithful to work together with the bishops to renew and rebuild his church. Not only in this country, but throughout the continents of the Americas.”
Archbishop Gomez, who is vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, reminded the faithful that they’re missionary disciples on a journey, just like those who walked with Jesus in Galilee and Jerusalem. The journey eventually reached Latin America and was sealed with God’s love in the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Saint Juan Diego, who entrusted him with the mission of building the church in the Americas.
“You are the children of Our Lady of Guadalupe in our present times; you are the spiritual heirs of Juan Diego,” the archbishop said.
Contributing to the story was Catholic News Service.