Seven Hispanic parishes in the Diocese of Cleveland are among those nationwide who are engaged in the Fifth National Encuentro.
V Encuentro is a four-year process of ecclesial reflection and action that invites all Catholics in the United States to intense missionary activity, consultation, leadership development and identification of best ministerial practices in the spirit of the new evangelization.
New Cleveland Bishop Nelson Perez, who chairs the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs, said he was “formed by the process of Encuentro as a pastor and a bishop.” He said he participated in the Third National Encuentro in the ’80s and as a pastor, was active in its implementation.
“Today I have the blessings of being a part of the V Encuentro as a bishop and I look forward to the many fruits it will bring to dioceses and parishes across the country,” he said.
Locally, the process “is an effort to renew Hispanic ministry because at this moment in the United States, there is a need to do more,” said Misael Mayorga, director of the diocesan Hispanic ministry. “Better response is needed for Hispanics in the United States … they need better formation to understand the richness of Catholic life – sacramental life. Many have been left without a good understanding of the faith. There is a real need for vocations (priests and religious) within the Hispanic community,” he added.
The seven diocesan participating parishes are Sagrada Familia, St. Michael the Archangel and Our Lady of Lourdes in Cleveland; St. Mary in Painesville; Sacred Heart Chapel in Lorain; St. Bernard in Akron and St. Mary in Wooster.
Misael said Encuentro’s roots can be traced to 1965, the time of the Second Vatican Council. Before that, Mass was said in Latin; after Vatican II, Mass was said in the vernacular, or the local language, which in the United States is English.
“There was nothing in Spanish,” Misael said.
A priest in Texas, Father Patricio Flores, recognized the situation and began working to effect change. In 1970, he was consecrated as the first Mexican American in the U.S. to be elevated to bishop. He led the diocese of El Paso from 1979 until his retirement in 2004. Bishop Flores died on Jan. 9 at age 87. But his efforts continue through Encuentro and other initiatives to encourage more participation and leadership among Hispanic Catholics.
Misael said V Encuentro is helping to identify the needs of Hispanic Catholics – to develop a national pastoral plan for faith formation and leadership. “These are the best resources we can provide for the Church,” he said.
The seven diocesan parishes met in March to kick off the first, five-week V Encuentro session, “Called to a Loving Encounter with Jesus in the Church,” that culminated in with each parish preparing a report, which will be presented at the Sept. 16 diocesan V Encuentro . The next step is the regional Encuentro, which includes Ohio and Michigan, followed by the national V Encuentro.
Previous Encuentros led to the creation of the Secretariat for Hispanic Affairs (I Encuentro, 1972); creation of eight regional offices for Hispanic affairs (II Encuentro, 1975-77); creation of the Standing Committee of Hispanic Affairs (III Encuentro, 1982-85) and helping the Church in the U.S. to recognize and appreciate its cultural diversity through a New Pentecost experience (IV Encuentro, 2000). The first National Encuentro for Hispanic Youth and Young Adult Ministry took place in 2005-06.
Bishop Perez often refers to the need for Catholics to become “authentic and joyful missionary disciples,” which is one of the Encuentro objectives. It’s something he talked about on July 11, when he was introduced as the new bishop.
“I think he’ll be a great blessing for the Hispanic ministry,” Misael said.