Over the course of three days in a convention center outside of Dallas, the estimated 3,500 people gathered at the Fifth Encuentro heard and shared plenty about the complicated reality facing Hispanic Catholics.
Many, including bishops, lamented the failure to fully integrate Latinos in some parishes. Others felt they weren’t being given space to participate in smaller groups, especially young people. And several voiced concerns that Hispanics weren’t adequately represented in leadership positions in the Church.
This despite the fact that Latinos are credited with fueling the growth of the Church in some regions (like the Southwest), and in others, preventing it from near-collapse (the Northeast).
For delegates from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the September 20-23 gathering was a call to overcome differences in language and culture in order to carry out the Church’s most pressing mission: to evangelize one of the largest and diverse metropolitan areas in the U.S.
“I’ve heard a lot about barriers, but really it’s a matter of having the availability and time to carry the message” of Jesus Christ, said Lazaro Amigón of Sacred Heart Church in Altadena.
Amigón cited the example of his parish, which offers weekend Masses in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese and includes a large Filipino community.
“We’re working with them [the other ethnic communities] so that they know our faith, so that we’re not a parish just of words, words, words, but that we understand each other through that contagion of the Holy Spirit,” Amigón told Angelus News as he emerged from one of Region XI’s (which included California) breakout meetings, which were open only to delegates chosen by region during the four-year Encuentro process.
Before pursuing the variety of strategies and programs proposed by attendees, Marcia Jarquin of St. Joseph Church in Hawthorne thinks it’s important to become the “missionary disciples” the Church is calling all Catholics to be for the New Evangelization.
“It’s not so much the material or physical needs, but the spiritual and emotional ones,” said Jarquin, who said she saw a need to have “more spiritual strength to be able to help others and guide them, and help the most needy in the peripheries.”
“It’s starting with our families, starting at home, starting to have that closeness with our people,” she added.
That emphasis on family inspired one of the three primary recommendations to emerge during the concluding plenary session on Sunday: a strategic plan to build “bridges” between parents and children at the parish level in order to successfully pass on the faith to younger generations of Latinos, whose members often do not speak Spanish as a first language.
Another recommendation was the development of a pastoral plan to assist Hispanic leaders at parish and diocesan levels in religious formation efforts. That seemed to echo a broader concern raised in this Encuentro process and in the four past ones — that the faith traditions and concerns of Hispanics have been brushed aside for too long by Church leaders.
“What I’m hearing here is that Latinos feel that the Church here in the U.S. is theirs,” said Father Arturo Corral, pastor of Our Lady Queen of the Angels (or “La Placita”) Church in downtown LA.
“The time in which they had to ask for permission and were looked at as visitors is over. Now, they are protagonists,” the Mexican-American priest told Angelus News after a breakout session. “And I feel that this positive attitude of feeling like they’re protagonists will lead to something more profound with other cultures to be able to work together.”
That ability to work together is what many LA delegates described as the biggest hurdle they faced in the multicultural parishes of the country’s largest archdiocese.
“The challenge is that both ethnicities see differently, our cultures are totally different,” said Silvia Arias, a parishioner of the Chapel of Santa Clara in Oxnard. “Sometimes even though we want to bind together, there’s always a clash.”
Fellow parishioner Margarita Garcia agreed, but added that in the case of their rural parish, there was a need for the Hispanic community to “educate ourselves better in the language.”
While admitting that it’s not easy, Garcia believes it’s crucial “to have that mixed communication with the different languages and cultures” among parishioners.
But perhaps the largest — or loudest — takeaway from the weekend was the “need for the Church to trust in youth,” in the words of the organizers when announcing their final recommendation.
Johnny Martinez, a youth minister from St. Marcellinus Church in the city of Commerce, heard a familiar concern raised by fellow young people over the weekend: “We need space to do our thing.”
“Part of what’s been coming out is that young adults — who yes, are young — need to come out and start taking responsibility [for evangelizing], whether we get the green light or not,” said Martinez, adding that he felt fortunate to have the full support of his own pastor for his ministry.
Martinez also saw the meeting as a call to evangelize in spite of difficult times for the Church.
“We can have this mentality, this sense of closed-offness, but this weekend was about not closing off and going out and holding our heads up high.”
One of the most impressive aspects of the gathering, according to delegates and prelates alike, was the accessibility of bishops to young people as they walked between sessions in the same halls and even shared the same dinner tables at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center.
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels parishioner Grace Rodriguez said she hopes that closeness can continue back home.
“It made me feel like I’m able to reach out a little more, and kind of bring them to the sheep, and even be able to say ‘Hey, let’s go for a cup of coffee,’ ” said Rodriguez with a smile.
During the meeting’s final plenary sessions, youth representatives called on dioceses and parishes to adjust their budgets to offer more full-time, paid leadership positions for young Hispanics.
But it was LA’s own Archbishop José H. Gomez who reminded delegates at the conclusion of V Encuentro that holiness had to be the priority of every Catholic, especially in light of the series of recent scandals affecting the Church and the conclusions reached by the gathering’s organizers.
“Brothers and sisters, you are being called to lead — not through the desire for power. You are called to lead by your holiness,” the Mexican-born archbishop told attendees in his homily during the gathering’s closing Mass on Sunday, September 23.
“True unity in the Church will only come about if every one of us — clergy and laity — is striving to be holy as God is holy.”
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