The trend has been clear for a long time. Hispanic and Latino Catholics make up the fastest-growing ethnic group in the U.S. Catholic Church—continuing the long tradition of a Church that embraces newcomers as brothers and sisters in Christ.
That’s true in the Archdiocese of New York, where Hispanics and Latinos are estimated at 43 percent of the Catholic population, and it’s true in the major population centers of the country, such as Los Angeles, south Florida, the border areas of Texas and many other places.
A recent report by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University commissioned by the U.S. bishops shows that more than half of millennial-generation Catholics born in 1982 or later are Hispanic or Latino.
So, it’s exciting to watch a major effort unfold, with the aim of bringing Hispanic and Latino Catholics closer to the Church at every level and encouraging them toward leadership now and in the future.
An initiative of the U.S. bishops, V Encuentro, as it’s called, is the fifth national Encuentro (Encounter), a synod-like process designed to prepare the Church to better recognize and promote the gifts and talents that this growing community of Hispanic/Latino Catholics has to share with the Church and society.
Preparations began last year, with training sessions for parish leaders, who will help organize parish encuentros throughout the archdiocese through June. Participating parishes will also take part in a one-day archdiocesan-wide Encuentro later in the year, followed by a regional Encuentro in June 2018 in Albany. The national V Encuentro is set for Sept. 20-23, 2018, in Grapevine, Texas, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
The theme is “Missionary Disciples: Witness of God’s Love,” and it’s expected that more than 7 million Catholics will be involved at some level, with more than 5,000 parishes participating in the process.
Those are impressive numbers, and if they hold up—and we have no reason to think they won’t—it would be a major home run for the Church and for its Hispanic/Latino members.
Here in the archdiocese, the process is being shepherded by the extremely capable Wanda Vasquez, the director of the Office of Hispanic Ministry, who’s been a dedicated and hard-working member of the archdiocesan leadership team for many years.
She sees V Encuentro as an opportunity to “build a culture of encuentro,” where parishioners can “enter a relationship with Jesus Christ, collaborate with each other” and reach out to those who have fallen away from the Church.
“As Pope Francis has taught us in the ‘Joy of the Gospel,’ we need to get out of our comfort zones, go into the peripheries and reach out to those who have gone astray, especially those who are in high-risk situations,” she said, after a recent training session for parish leaders held at Fordham University.
Ms. Vasquez, and other organizers, hope the Encuentro process will yield an increase in vocations of Latinos to the priesthood, religious life and permanent diaconate; create a group of Latino leaders for the Church; bring an increase in the percentage of Latino students enrolling at Catholic schools as well as an increase Latinos’ sense of belonging and stewardship in the U.S. Church.
From what we’ve seen so far, the passion and commitment is there. We pray that the results will reflect that, too.