More than 300 people, including bishops, clergy, diocesan delegates, observers and media converged on Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan June 2-3 for the Region 6 V Encuentro.
Region 6 includes all of Michigan and Ohio, a total of nine dioceses and two archdioceses (Detroit and Cincinnati). Each diocese was assigned a different color shirt and delegates were asked to wear their shirts on the first day. The seminary gymnasium was a sea of color – pink (Cleveland’s assigned color), orange, gray, light blue, white, etc. — as delegates found their assigned tables. Seating assignments intentionally mixed delegates from different dioceses.
During the intensive two-day event they prayed, attended Mass, shared thoughts and best practices for becoming joyful missionary disciples, for giving young people a greater voice and role in the Church, heard presentations by event organizers, observed role-playing scenarios and enjoyed fellowship, conversation and food.
By the end of the weekend, new friendships had been forged and some of the delegates were looking forward to sharing what they learned and discerned at the national V Encuentro Sept. 20-23 in Grapevine, Texas, as well as in their home dioceses.
Bishop Nelson Perez, who chairs the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs, was an active member of the delegation from the Diocese of Cleveland. He said previously that he was formed by the Encuentro process as a pastor and a bishop.
“Today I have the blessing of being part of the V Encuentro as a bishop and I look forward to the many fruits it will bring to the dioceses and parishes across the country,” he said.
His friend and fellow bishop, Jose Arturo Cepeda, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Detroit, celebrated the opening Mass at 9 a.m. on June 2. Homilist was Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Donald Hanchon, who is of Polish descent but fluent in Spanish. Bishop Hanchon began studying in Mexico in the 1980s and he has served as pastor of several Hispanic parishes in the archdiocese.
Mass was celebrated in Spanish in the seminary’s large chapel. Bishop Hanchon’s homily also was in Spanish. His theme was “Taking the First Step.”
When he went to Mexico, Bishop Hanchon said he “stayed with a beautiful family.” He had two goals: to be able to tell a joke in Spanish and to celebrate Mass in Spanish. “I asked Jesus to help me learn to say Mass in Spanish.” After six months, he achieved his goal.
“We are taking the steps that Jesus took so we can do his mission,” Bishop Hanchon said, adding his eyes were opened to the issues and challenges facing Hispanic and Latino people.
“We have hope,” he said. “The Holy Spirit is present here.”
Bishop Hanchon said when he observes at Encuentro, he sees people who are saying “I am here; how can I help? I want to be part of the solution. With a smile on our faces and hearts full of emotion we are taking the first, second and third steps.”
After Mass the group headed back to the gym for breakfast, music, an overview of the day and discussion. The sessions focused on getting involved, opportunities and challenges and accompanying everyone.
During a one-on-one interview, Bishop Cepeda shared his thoughts on V Encuentro. He co-chairs the national committee and has been involved in the process for about five years. He did his doctoral dissertation on the Encuentro and the structure of discernment from grassroots to the national level.
He explained that Encuentro is a four-year process, but follow-up will continue as events that evolved from the process continue to develop. “Encuentro began as a national plan for the fruits of Hispanic ministry,” he said, adding that this Encuentro developed “from the need to listen to people, to the new challenges in the Church.” He said there also is a special emphasis on youth and how to get more youth involved in the Church.
The Encuentro process evolved from similar gatherings that took place in Latin America in the 1970s. “See, judge and act are the three processes that were brought to the United States from Latin America,” Bishop Cepeda said.
“We began to enter the process of discernment, looking at how my gifts can be better used in the Church,” he said. The process began at the parish level, then moved to the diocesan level and now the regional level. Input from each step will be incorporated into reports shared at the national gathering in September. Delegates to the national Encuentro are assigned based on the size of the diocese. Bishop Cepeda said it was mandated that leadership, young adults, experienced catechists, clergy and older persons be part of each delegation in order to hear from as many voices of the faithful as possible.
Although the idea originated in Latin America, Bishop Cepeda said he is not aware of any other country undertaking a process as extensive as this.
“Two years ago I visited Pope Francis to ask for his blessing. He said, ‘Do it; you have my blessing.’”
There is much to learn from the American Church and Bishop Cepeda said he hopes to be able to share the results with the pope.
“These kinds of gatherings help us focus on our faith – on what’s really important,” the bishop added.
The first day wrapped up about 8:30 p.m.
Delegates were back at the seminary by 7:30 a.m. June 3 for breakfast, opening prayer and an overview of the day. Topics for the second day focused on pastoral priorities, a presentation on bearing fruit, national strategies and the closing Mass, which was celebrated in Spanish by Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit.
Bishop Perez was the homilist (in Spanish) at the closing Mass and connected with the congregation by sharing a story about encountering the Eucharist.
“Some people say ‘I found Jesus.’ But I didn’t know he was lost,” the bishop said, as the group laughed. “Jesus is stubborn. He will wait, he will find us.”
He told the group that he was blessed to be a part of this weekend.
“Today, his (Jesus’) word – the Eucharist – is the foundation of life. The top of the mountain is the highest place and you can see all around you. That’s what we’re celebrating today – the view from the top of the mountain in the presence of the Eucharist.”
He described the Eucharist as a door that opens between faith and the city of God. “The presence of the Eucharist burns all our selfish intentions and lights up our wish to become one in the body and blood of Jesus. The Eucharist is that door that takes us from one place to the other. The Church is the body and blood of Christ. If I could find a word to explain how I feel with Jesus in my heart, it’s hope,” he said.
He asked those who were 35 or younger to stand, which was about ¼ of the group.
“These young people need to be heard. They are important; they are the future. But we don’t give them the time or space. Well, the pope says this is the time,” Bishop Perez said.
“Remember: no one can steal hope away from you. Don’t ever give up hope,” he said.
After Mass, the group gathered in front of the altar for one last photo before heading home.