ALLOUEZ — Increased vocations, Spanish-speaking priests and faith formation opportunities were some of the recommendations made by Hispanic Catholics attending the diocesan V Encuentro gathering Oct. 22 at the diocesan Chancery.
More than 120 Hispanic Catholics representing eight parishes in the Diocese of Green Bay took part in the daylong gathering, which is being repeated by dioceses across the country this fall and in early 2018. V Encuentro, which is Spanish for fifth encounter, is a national initiative with a grassroots foundation.
The four-year process of reflection and pastoral planning began with developing and training parish Encuentro teams, followed by parish gatherings and recommendations that lead to the diocesan encounters. The next step will be regional encounters (Green Bay is part of Region VII, encompassing dioceses in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana) in early 2018 that further define recommendations. Finally, a national V Encuentro will take place in June 2018 in Grapevine, Texas.
The overall goal of V Encuentro, according to organizers, is to find ways to better respond to the growing Hispanic/Latino presence in the United States and prepare them to answer the call to the new evangelization as missionary disciples.
Carlos Hernandez, director of the diocesan Hispanic Ministry Office, told the group that their efforts to organize and welcome other Hispanics as missionary disciples build upon Bishop David Ricken’s pastoral plan, “Disciples On the Way.”
“We expand that to ‘Disciples On the Way, Working Together, Building the Kingdom of God,” he said. “We work together, hand in hand.”
The parish representatives were given handouts that listed recommendations gleaned from earlier parish gatherings. The handouts included eight areas of concern: pastoral services, ministry formation for Hispanics, education, faith formation, evangelization, vocations, youth and young adult ministry and liturgy.
Each of the eight areas included three or four needs. For example, in pastoral services, the recommendations included more bilingual and bicultural priests; more Hispanic priests; more bilingual and bicultural pastoral coordinators; and offering more programs and materials in Spanish.
Small-group discussions throughout the day allowed those groups to discern their most important recommendations.
One of the outcomes of V Encuentro has been the development of Hispanic community leaders who have stepped forward to serve as parish Encuentro organizers. Hernandez called the parish organizers forward for recognition by the entire group.
Among the parish leaders were Cesar Quiroz of St. Willebrord Parish and Marcello Flores of St. Philip Parish, both in Green Bay.
Quiroz said the Hispanic community’s growth in northeast Wisconsin requires better organization and utilization of talent.
“Maybe 20, 30 years ago, the Hispanic people were few, but now it’s maybe 50 percent of the Catholic population in the United States,” he said. “The big question (for Hispanic Catholics) is, what do you do for this country, what do you do for your religion, for the Catholic people? There are 57.5 million Hispanics in the U.S. and 30 million are Catholics. That’s a lot. They need organization.”
Quiroz, who was born in Peru and moved to the United States 13 years ago, led part of the day’s discussion. “I love my country, but now I live here. We have to wake up. It’s the beginning.”
Flores, who attended the gathering with his wife, Evangelina, and their children, Francisco and Kristina, spoke about how the church helped the family through medical challenges when Christina was born premature.
Flores, who arrived in Green Bay 17 years ago from Mexico, said his hope is that V Encuentro brings people closer together as family.
“For example in my case, we don’t have any family here and, when that happens, you don’t have many friends,” he said. “If I know somebody is in need of help, I can help him. We can try to live more in communion with people. That is the hope.”
Fr. Bill Hoffman, pastor of St. Philip Parish, has seen how V Encuentro identifies leaders in the Hispanic community.
“Having been in Hispanic ministry in the diocese for a number of years, recognizing the people from the different parishes, I just see a real energy, a real spirit,” he said. “The process of V Encuentro at St. Philip’s brought some new people forward. So it’s encouraging to see them here and to see how we continue to work with that. I am anxious to see where this leads.
“My impression from Bishop Ricken is that he is very much waiting to hear the voice of the Hispanics in our diocese and he really wants to respond to that, so I think there are some good things that are going to come from this,” said Fr. Hoffman.
Deacon Tony Abts, director of the diocesan Diaconate and Ministry Formation Department, which includes Hispanic ministry, told the group that the day’s event was historic.
“We have a tremendous opportunity today,” he said. “We are gathered together, all of us, who care about Hispanic ministry here in the diocese. … This is an opportunity to make some changes and make things better. It’s a time for creating a new vision for ministry through the diocese, including ministry to the Hispanic population. And there is a commitment from the diocese after this planning process to provide the resources necessary to make it happen.”
Following the day’s discussion and recommendations, Deacon Abts said he is hopeful for the future of Hispanic ministry in the diocese.
“If the deeply honest and heartfelt communication that took place at V Encuentro can be supported with the leadership and resources that are needed, Hispanic ministry will be a powerful force for the new evangelization in the Diocese of Green Bay,” he told The Compass.
Also attending the event were representatives from Region VII: Edgar Martinez, chairman of the Diocese of Madison’s V Encuentro; Deacon Jorge Benavente, chairman of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s Hispanic Ministry Office; and Auxiliary Bishop Alberto Rojas of Chicago.
Bishop Rojas, the only Hispanic bishop in Region VII and one of about 30 Hispanic bishops in the United States, said V Encuentro is putting the spotlight on young Latinos.
“I hope that something good is going to come out of the Encuentro that will benefit the youth,” he said. “I think that 60 percent of young Latinos in the United States are born in the U.S. and they speak English probably more than they speak Spanish, so we want to focus our attention to them at this time. It’s one of the priorities of V Encuentro.”
Bishop Rojas acknowledged that the church is losing young Hispanics. “It is a challenge to keep young people after confirmation. There are many reasons why, but I think we need to do something intentionally to keep them,” he said. “I think that is one of the biggest needs I see now.”
He said another need is vocations.
“We still need to focus our attention on vocations to the priesthood, because they are saying there are not a lot of priests who speak Spanish, and they cannot even go to confession,” he said. “One woman today said they have Mass in Spanish once a month. It’s almost hard to believe, but it’s a reality.”
Later in the day, Bishop Rojas delivered the homily at Mass. During the homily, he reminded Hispanic families that religious vocations begin in the home. He encouraged parents and other adults to plant the seed in young people, to ask if they have considered the priesthood or religious life.
While only a bishop for six years, Bishop Rojas believes the U.S. church is prepared to welcome Hispanic Catholics as leaders.
“I hear from other bishops how (outreach to Hispanics) was like 30 or 40 years ago. It’s understandable. It wasn’t like they were not listening” to the needs of Hispanics, he said. “It was like they didn’t know how. It was a challenge for the bishops, but I think they have been much more open now in the conference.”
For example, during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual meetings, prayers are offered in English and Spanish. “It’s incredible what’s happening. They have become more aware of the reality of the church in the United States. It’s not just (Anglo) people.”
One of the day’s emotional moments took place as parish representatives listed their top two priorities. Flavio P., a member of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Newton, said having priests who speak Spanish and providing financial resources for pastoral ministers were his parish’s recommendations.
He briefly shared his story as a DACA recipient and how his desire to first enter the seminary to study for the priesthood and later to study for the diaconate was thwarted because of his legal citizenship challenge.
“My question to the USCCB: What can you do for us?” he said in a quivering voice. “It’s hard, the life of an immigrant. We want our voices to be heard because there are so many barriers. All we ask of the bishops is what can you do for us?”
The day concluded with Mass celebrated by Bishop David Ricken and Bishop Rojas. Following Communion, Bishop Ricken thanked those participating in V Encuentro.
“The Holy Spirit pushes us out to serve everywhere, wherever we are there are people who need to be loved, and you are the ones to show them the way,” he said.
Bishop Ricken encouraged parents to pray with their families and to love one another. “Your family is the most important mission field,” he said.
Bishop Ricken concluded his remarks by saying he will study the recommendations the group presented during the day.
“I promise I will work with parishes and with you to strive to (respond to) what you have asked,” he said. “So together, with the power of the Holy Spirit, you and I can change this area.”
VIEW MORE PHOTOS: More photos from V Encuentro diocesan gathering are posted on our Flickr site.