A meeting is not normally my idea of the ideal way to spend an afternoon, especially if the topic isn’t directly focused on our work here at Catholic New York.
Sometimes, exceptions have to be made. I made one on the day after our last deadline, and the meeting in question was well worth my time.
It happened to be a gathering of pastors in the archdiocese to discuss the fifth national Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry, or V Encuentro. About 30 or 35 pastors and other priests and deacons were present at the Cardinal Spellman Center at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, along with representatives of the archdiocese’s Hispanic Ministry Office and other archdiocesan agencies.
Reporting on important archdiocesan initiatives is a big part of my job description, but that wasn’t the sole reason I attended the Nov. 9 meeting. Showing support for other archdiocesan agencies is a trait that Catholic New York generally observes, but that didn’t bring me to Dunwoodie, either.
I just had a feeling that the meeting could be the beginning of something good, for Catholic New York and for me personally. We always want to be on top of issues of concern and interest to our readers. In this case, it appears that many Hispanic and Latino Catholics will be participating in V Encuentro over the next couple of years.
Frankly, the fact that the Encuentro’s time frame extends until 2018, when regional and national encuentros will take place, is another positive. Between now and then, there will be several local components of the Encuentro process.
Encuentro, or encounter, is a word that has taken on new life during the pontificate of Pope Francis. It’s straight from the Gospel, where we see that people’s lives changed dramatically after their personal encounters with Jesus.
Toward that end, the Holy Father last week sent a message to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops about the V Encuentro, the fifth-such Encounter since they began in 1972.
“Our great challenge is to create a culture of encounter, which encourages individuals and groups to share the richness of their traditions and experiences, to break down walls and to build bridges,” the pope wrote.
“The Church in America, as elsewhere, is called to ‘go out’ from its comfort zone and to be a leaven of communion. Communion among ourselves, with our fellow Christians, and with all who seek a future of hope.”
The V Encuentro actually started two years ago, so it’s already at the midway point. In the first half of 2017, parish encuentros will take place in New York as well as in 5,000 parishes across the country, according to a Catholic News Service story in Spanish on Page 20.
On tap for the second half of next year will be an archdiocesan Encuentro at venues in the lower and upper regions of the archdiocese.
Numbers presented at the pastors’ meeting by Father Vincent Druding, a parochial vicar at Assumption parish in Peekskill and a bishop’s delegate to V Encuentro for the upper part of the archdiocese, certainly got my attention. In the 14 years from the fourth Encuentro in 2000 until V Encuentro got under way, there was a 28 percent increase in the number of Hispanic/Latino Catholics in New York state, to 2.4 million. That represents 7 percent of the U.S. Catholic Hispanic population. In 140 parishes in the archdiocese, slightly less than half of the 294 total parishes, at least one weekend Mass is celebrated in Spanish.
Father Druding used the numbers to emphasize another point to his fellow priests. “We have to talk to our brothers,” he said, meaning to encourage their attendance at future meetings and involvement in the V Encuentro process.
Wanda Vasquez, the director of Hispanic Ministry in the archdiocese, later said she was very pleased to hear the voices of the pastors as they tackled the question raised during the meeting’s consultation segment. “It gave us an opportunity to hear where we are and where we are going,” she said.
Nationally, it is expected that 1 million Hispanics and Latinos will participate in V Encuentro. The pastors in attendance were asked to start thinking about 10 or 12 people who they could appoint to their parish Encuentro team by the early part of December.
I came away from the Encuentro meeting feeling like a door had been opened. When I asked Ms. Vazquez about my impression that Hispanic and Latino Catholics were encouraging others to join with them in the V Encuentro, she confirmed it.
“It will expand to everyone who wants to be part of the process,” she said.
The next day at an editorial staff meeting here at Catholic New York, I spoke about the V Encuentro and how I thought it could be a springboard for some good stories and fuller coverage of Hispanic and Latino Catholics, especially in our Spanish-language section. It was the best staff meeting I’ve attended in a while, and I was not the only staff member who said so.