It was four days of faith. It was four days of hope. It was also four days of love—for the Church, the sacraments and the holy journey seeking an encounter with Christ. The Church’s V National Encuentro in Grapevine, Texas, Sept. 20-23, drew more than 3,000 Hispanic ministry leaders, clergymen and other staff from dioceses throughout the country.
On the evening of Friday, Sept. 21, Krismely Garcia, Christopher Rivera, and Daniel Solares, all young adults from Encuentro Region 2 (New York state), took part in the Bishops and Young Adults’ Dinner Encounter. They are leaders in their parishes, and each of them received a scholarship to attend the V National Encuentro.
They joined more than 700 young adults and about 60 bishops at the Dinner Encounter, which lasted more than two hours.
“It was a unique experience, to have access to so many bishops at the same time,” Ms. Garcia, coordinator of Hispanic youth ministry at St. Elizabeth parish in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, told Catholic New York the next morning.
“It was an opportunity for us to have them listen to our concerns. We were able to talk about the worries we have in our communities. I have faith that the discussions from this weekend will result in many positive implementations in the coming years for Hispanic youth ministries.”
Ms. Garcia, who was born in the Dominican Republic, said she and many other young adults in Hispanic youth ministry “want to help bring teens and young adults to Christ, and we want to help them attain leadership roles. We would very much like for many more teens and young adults to be involved and active in the Church, in their parish communities.”
Rivera, 26, coordinator of Hispanic youth ministry at St. Teresa parish on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, told CNY, “My hope from this Encuentro is that we will have a stronger Church for our Hispanic community. One of the major themes is: Where is the Holy Spirit placing the door for us to walk through? It is about providing ministry to youth, young adults and families.”
Rivera, who is of Puerto Rican ancestry, said, “We support the overall spiritual growth of our young leaders, so that the young people of today can serve the Church of tomorrow, and that they can help to bridge the gap between our young people and those adults who were served through those first set of Encuentros.
“Having that bridge as bilingual young adults is really important. It allows for us to really build our opportunities and reach out to all those in the peripheries of our communities.”
Solares, 25, a lead volunteer at St. Anthony of Padua parish in Troy, Diocese of Albany, stressed his hope for more participation in Hispanic youth ministry, and more opportunities for Latino young adults to have leadership roles. “This way we can be more involved, we can generate more changes through our own ideas,” Solares said. “And we can contribute more in the decision-making process.”
Regarding the Dinner Encounter, Solares noted, “I didn’t expect there would be that many bishops. It was something very emotional for me, to be able to sit at a dinner table with bishops. I am very thankful. They listened to our concerns, to our needs in Hispanic youth ministry.
“This is important because too many times we young adults in ministry have felt that our concerns were not being considered, and that actions that were needed were not taken,” said Solares, a native of Guatemala, who is also a member of his parish’s Spanish choir.
Facilitating the Bishops and Young Adults’ Dinner Encounter were Luis Peña, assistant to the director of the New York archdiocesan Hispanic Ministry Office, and Brenda Noriega, young adult ministry coordinator for the Diocese of San Bernardino, Calif.
The V Encuentro, conducted in Spanish and English, drew many bishops, priests, women religious, brothers and deacons. All supported the Encuentro mission: of considering where Hispanic ministry is now and where it needs to be in the future.
They agreed a key objective is to draw more of the faithful into Hispanic ministries, and to train them for roles as leaders in response to the increased number of Latinos in the United States. It is also paramount, organizers said, to seek to reach individuals and families who are on the peripheries.
The fifth National Encuentro took place at the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center in Grapevine. The first National Encuentro was in 1972.
Presentations and breakout sessions focused on identifying the best ways to improve Hispanic ministries across the country, including efforts related to immigration, social justice, ministry leadership training, youth, marriage and family life. All who attended—young and older, Latino and non-Latino—were overjoyed when a brief videotaped address from Pope Francis was shown on the conference’s first day.
“It was the Encuentro message. Era el mensaje del Encuentro,” Father Lorenzo Ato later told Catholic New York, affirming the magnitude of the gathering.
Father Ato, the communications director for New York archdiocesan Hispanic Ministry, is also pastor of St. Brigid-St. Emeric parish in lower Manhattan. He and the pope are both from South America—Pope Francis is from Argentina, and Father Ato is from Peru.
Wanda Vasquez is director of the New York archdiocesan Hispanic Ministry Office, and she is also chairwoman of the Region 2 Encuentro, which encompasses all eight dioceses in New York state. The regional delegation totaled 125 people, including 33 from the Archdiocese of New York.
“I see so many things happening today, it’s amazing,” Ms. Vasquez said. “It is a hopeful flame that is never going to die. All eight dioceses of Region 2 are coming together. We have been able to learn from one another. We are a young Church, but we also are an experienced Church.”
Also part of the archdiocesan delegation was Father Brian McWeeney, who is the archdiocese’s director of ecclesial ministries and organizations/community outreach. Father McWeeney, in an interview with CNY, noted it is important to remember the Church is multicultural, but it is one faith family.
“We are one Church. It is about having an appreciation of each other’s gifts,” Father McWeeney said. “I would hope that in our experience as Catholic priests, we are serving all of the people of our archdiocese. We see all the different customs at Mass celebrations in the cathedral, and how Mary is honored under her many titles.”