Some 3,500 Catholics, mostly Hispanic, gathered in Texas last week to attend the climax of a four-year discernment and mission process that took place in every diocese in the United States. It ended on a high note, with a call from Los Angeles’ Archbishop José H. Gomez for laity to become the driving force of the Church.
“[God] is calling the lay faithful to work together with the bishops and the priests to renew and rebuild his Church,” Gomez said in a homily closing the V Encuentro on Sunday. “Not only in this country, but throughout the Americas.”
Despite the sexual abuse crisis currently rocking the American Church, the spirit during the Sept. 21-23 summit was one of celebration and of looking into what comes next — not only for Hispanics, but for the local church as a whole and with the consciousness that “Catholic” means universal.
“Anglo, Hispanic, Filipino, African American or Asian, this is not to say, ‘We Hispanic,’ there’s no dual Church,” said Joel Rodriguez, director of Hispanic ministry in Fort Worth, the diocese hosting the event. “The message has to be that we are one Church, working together. The Holy Spirit calls us to that unity, not division. My hopes and prayer is that we’ll continue this pastoral mission in conjunction with everyone.”
Rodriguez said he wants to see the day, not long from now, when his office will no longer be necessary — or, if it is, it’s only for translating documents.
“That should be the goal of the Universal Church. Within the diversity, unity,” he said.
Uruguayan layman Guzmán Carriquirry, a senior Vatican official who traveled to the event from Rome and delivered the keynote remarks on the last day, said that after this four year “synodal process”, which was a reflection of what “Pope Francis wants for the Church,” the question of what happens now is key.
He said in an interview that in order for the experience to be fruitful, participants must keep in mind that many of those who came before “have lost their roots and had their Catholic tradition absorbed by a consumerist society, or because they were left alone, or because they were tempted by the warm communities and integration offered by Evangelicals and Pentecostals.”
“God wanted for this event to be held amidst this storm,” said Carriquirry, who serves as vice-president of the Vatican’s Commission for Latin America. “Why? Because it’s become a kairos, a moment of grace for the whole U.S. Church.”
“It’s a balm from God, a caress for the wounds, consolation amidst the tribulations,” he said, noting that during the event he didn’t find people who were sad or depressed, but people “full of enthusiasm and joy, despite being conscious of the crisis.”
Such sentiments were felt not just by the laity, but also by many of the bishops on hand for the occasion.
Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, reflecting on the “vitality” of the Hispanic Church, said in an interview that “This is for me, like an antidote. It’s not an escape. It’s helping us to figure out where we go from here.”
Bishop Daniel Flores, who shepherds the border diocese of Brownsville in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, said Hispanic Catholics are aware of the current sex abuse crisis in the U.S. Church, but they don’t believe it should paralyze the Church from continuing in its mission.
Speaking in an interview on the first day of the Encuentro, Flores also said that there is a fear among many young, undocumented immigrants of exportation, and expressed frustration over a lack of a DACA solution.
“The diocese is poor, but the poor understand the plight of the poor,” he said. “One of the messages that we’re trying, hopefully, to articulate, is that we have to discover the freedom of that kind of poverty — the freedom to be available to people.”
Beyond the drama of migration and the looming abuse crisis that has resurfaced this summer with the scandals of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the Pennsylvania report, most of the remarks were focused on the virtues of the Hispanic community: “In my experience as a priest and bishop, I have come to appreciate these qualities of fidelity, closeness, mercy and tenderness that seem to come naturally to Latinos,” said Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago said during a homily he delivered on Saturday.
Inviting the 3,500 participants to look ahead, Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces focused his attention on the importance of the Hispanic community putting down roots when it comes to ministry, so that the fruits of those efforts never become “spiritual tumbleweed.”
Cantú also said that many today “genuflect” to things that are not sacred — as he once did accidentally when going into the movies when he was a seminarian. Yet, “there is something within our hearts, within our spiritual DNA that searches for something sacred. And makes us want to genuflect to something, to someone and people are not finding what is truly sacred.”
Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth said in an interview that he hoped the V Encuentro would be a chance to shed the “rugged individualism” present in the American Catholic Church for an embrace of a larger community.
He said he believes the Encuentro had the potential to serve as a turning point for Catholic leaders who previously spoke of a “Hispanic challenge” — which he says is too often code for “problem” — to seeing it as an opportunity.
This sentiment was shared by many, including Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, who on the first day said the future of the Church in America is in the hands of the “millions of Guadalupanos and Guadalupanas,” in reference to the mostly-Latino devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, who appeared in Mexico City at a time in which part of the United States, including Texas and California, belonged to “new Spain.”
Only time will tell what comes out of this four-year discernment process that concluded in Texas, though for many the gathering was not an ending in on itself but the beginning of what comes next for the Church in the United States, and the high presence of young people was central in this endeavor of looking ahead.
Mexico-born Edith Ávila, a young woman who serves as Parish Outreach and Board of Young Professionals Coordinator for Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Joliet, noted that the youth are the majority in the Church, particularly within the Hispanic community.
“We have to take responsibility and ownership of our Church,” she said on day one, leading the room to erupt in applause. “I hope that one day our diocesan offices will reflect that, and I look forward to seeing our young Latino church represented in diocesan offices.”