COLUMBIA — Encuentro V, an ambitious national four-year effort to evangelize and engage Hispanic Catholics, started up in South Carolina on Nov. 9.
About 90 clergy, women religious and laity from the Charleston and Charlotte dioceses took part in a workshop at Cardinal Newman School to learn how to begin the Encuentro process. The meeting was also broadcast to people from the Diocese of Savannah.
Piarist Father Rafael Capo, executive director of the Southeast Pastoral Institute in Miami, led the day-long training session on Encuentro V, which is part of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ ongoing study of the needs of Hispanics in the United States.
The “encuentros,” or meetings, started in the 1970s and have explored a wide variety of topics in Hispanic ministry, including understanding the diversity of the Hispanic community and reaching out to young people. The current round of meetings will begin early in 2017 and result in a new pastoral plan for Hispanic ministry by 2019.
Encuentro V is focused on finding new ways to evangelize Hispanics, particularly those who have fallen away from the Church, and encourage people to take a greater role in their parishes and communities.
Father Capo said Encuentro V is an important call for people to fully immerse themselves in a new evangelization.
“This is a chance for us all to become missionary disciples,” he told the crowd. “An increasing number of Hispanics who don’t find what they need are going to other churches,” he continued. “If we don’t evangelize to them, someone else will preach the Gospel to them.”
Father Capo said the current Encuentro is especially necessary because the number of Hispanic leaders in the U.S. Church is not growing in proportion to the number of Hispanics who are the emerging majority of American Catholics. He cited statistics that show about 60 percent of all Catholics under 18 in the United States are Hispanics. He said there is a need for more lay people to step forward and learn how to be leaders in their parishes.
“Through more leadership, there will also be more inclusion of Hispanics in the daily lives of parishes, dioceses, schools and Catholic organizations,” he said.
The ultimate goal of the Encuentro is to reach more than a million Hispanic Catholics around the country and develop at least 20,000 new Hispanic church leaders. Outreach to second- and third-generation youth and to families will be stressed.
Encuentro V will take place in a series of steps, beginning with a five-week series of small-group meetings at designated parishes around the state. Participants will be invited to share their experiences in the Church and discuss any factors that may have driven them away from their faith in the past. The small group members will then go through a five-week period of formation and teaching to help rejuvenate their faith, inspire them to evangelize and seek ways they can become involved in their parishes.
During those five weeks, the small groups, which will include both Hispanics and Anglos, will be encouraged to work together on missionary projects within the community and reach out to people who, for whatever reason, might not be involved in their local parish.
These small-group meetings are slated to begin in early 2017, probably around the beginning of the Lenten season.
In fall of 2017, delegates who participated in the small groups will take part in a diocesan event to discuss what has been learned and figure out ways to implement it in the diocese. A Southeast regional meeting will be held in early 2018, and then a national meeting in Sept. 2018 in Texas.
After the national meeting, findings and recommendations from all of the diocesan Encuentro V events around the country will be used to publish a national plan for Hispanic ministry around the United States.
“It is going to be a challenging process, but I think the Encuentro will do a lot in working toward the goal of a more unified Church,” said Joely Leguizamon, a volunteer who works with Hispanic ministry at St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken. “It will be good to see both the Anglo and Hispanic communities working together because we need a stronger Church right now. This process will help see that there are more things that bring us together than those that separate us.”
Maricela Villalobos, a member of Blessed Sacrament Church in Charleston, said Encuentro V will be an important chance to nurture the faith of Hispanics and help deal with some of the fears and concerns that have emerged during the recent election.
“The election has been a source of stress and anxiety for many people in this community, and this will be a chance for us to help the Church accompany them and get them involved at different levels,” Villalobos said. “People are going to be looking for more spiritual support from the Church, and this will also help to develop leaders within the Hispanic community.”
One church in each regional deanery has been selected to serve as the central location for the parish experience that will start the Encuentro in early 2017: St. Thomas the Apostle in North Charleston, Our Lady of the Hills in Columbia, Blessed Trinity in Greer, St. Mary Help of Christians in Aiken, St. Anne in Rock Hill and St. Gregory the Great in Bluffton. A location for the Myrtle Beach deanery is still pending.
Top photo: Miscellany/Christina Lee Knauss: About 90 clergy, women religious and laity from the Charleston and Charlotte dioceses took part in a workshop at Cardinal Newman School on Nov. 9 to learn how to begin the Encuentro process. Encuentros, or meetings, started in the 1970s and are designed to evangelize and engage Hispanic Catholics.