Over 400 people gathered Sept. 24 in St. Cloud to participate in the diocesan V Encuentro (“fifth encounter”), a national process of discerning ways in which the church in the United States can better respond to the growing Hispanic/Latino presence.
“I believe when we come together like this that God has called us to be here, God is with us, caring for us,” Bishop Donald Kettler said in his welcome. “Thank you for your presence. It is you who make this day a wonderful opportunity to engage in conversations, pray together and grow in faith.”
Keynote speaker Christina Lamas, executive director of the National Federation of Catholic Youth Ministry, addressed the crowd using Luke’s Gospel story of the Road to Emmaus and sharing her personal experiences of “encounter.” She believes that sharing her own journey and how she discovered her vocation as a mother and missionary disciple may assist others in deepening their own walk with Christ.
“Our joy is the encounter with God and to talk about it with each other,” she said in her address. “By our baptism, all the baptized have become missionary disciples. Each one of us has our own road to Emmaus. God talks to each one of us in his own way.”
Lamas shared that her own mother “planted little seeds” in her heart that she did not understand as a child — like praying the rosary and going to Mass.
“I didn’t want to go but my mother insisted,” she recalled. “All of these things I did not understand at the time, but all the time they were opening my heart to understanding my own vocation.”
Lamas invited the audience to think of a time they felt God’s presence during the week and to share it with a neighbor.
“Everybody can learn to take their sandals off, to be a companion, before someone can tell their sacred story,” she said. “Listen carefully, start to accompany other people, work on the art of listening. The capacity of the heart makes it possible to get close to another person, to find ways of growing. We must recognize each other’s dignity, talk less about ‘self,’ and affirm with words, share pain and happiness, pray for one another and celebrate together sacramental life.”
Small group discussions
After the keynote address, participants — which included both Hispanics and non-Hispanics — broke into small groups to start to share stories of encounter. Through translators, all were able to participate together in the multicultural discussion.
Following the small group session, attendees enjoyed lunch, visited exhibitor booths and engaged in conversation. A large group discussion followed, and the day concluded with Mass.
Numerous priests concelebrated the Mass, including Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, who preached the homily both in English and Spanish. Bishop Cozzens serves as the director of Hispanic ministry for Region 8, which includes the diocese in Minnesota and North and South Dakota.
“Encuentro is not something we do for one day,” Bishop Cozzens said. “It is a way of living, a way of living that makes us want to glorify Jesus. One of the things you did today was to identify pastoral priorities. These become part of that voice of God we can listen to so that as we go out, we can share this encounter with Jesus to those who need it most.”
The V Encuentro process is a multi-tiered process beginning with local dialogue, which took place in several parishes in the St. Cloud Diocese in the months leading up to the diocesan Encuentro.
The next step is to take the information shared at the local and diocesan levels to the regional level in Alexandria next spring.
Information collected at the regional level will be passed along to the National Encuentro which will be held Sept. 20-23, 2018, in Grapevine, Texas.
A primary outcome of the Encuentro process is to discern pastoral practices and priorities to impact the quality of ministry among Hispanic/Latino Catholics, under the leadership of the U.S. bishops.
Rosa Renteria, a member of St. Andrew Parish in Elk River and the bilingual receptionist there, attended the event with about 35 others from her community.
“What I liked most about it was getting in groups to share our experiences, to say who has helped us grow in our faith and who we have helped [to] grow in faith,” she said.
Renteria was born in Mexico and came to the U.S. in 2002.
“I shared my story that since we were little, every Sunday we went to Mass no matter what. But whenever for some reason there was no Mass in our town, we would get together as a family to pray the rosary,” she recalled.
She liked how Lamas talked about answering the call of God.
“She was pointing out how sometimes you get that call, but you don’t always know what to do. You have to figure out how to listen for it and how to handle it when we do hear it,” she said.
Having youth present was also something that impressed Renteria. Her 10-year-old daughter attended the day’s special programming for children under age 12.
“They made a place mat with a drawing of their family and wrote a thanksgiving prayer,” Renteria said. “My daughter was very excited to show me.”
The Youth in Theology and Ministry program at St. John’s School of Theology and Seminary in Collegeville facilitated small group discussions with youth and young adults ages 12-21. Donelle Poling, associate director of YTM, and YTM intern Leslie Barragan Gonzales led the conversations with the group of about 25.
“Encounter is something that transcends language and culture. Any time we can engage in conversations about how we encounter Christ, it is a privilege to be part of that,” Poling said.
She noted that many of the participants said “their parents made them come.” However, she said, “The more we talked about what that meant, there was a realization that their spirituality is family-based. It was a very positive thing that they were encouraged to come. It became clear that their parents and families are inspirational to them,” she said.
Additionally, they discussed what the youth and young adults need from the church and also what the church could expect from them. Poling said the responses included the need for moral guidance, to be heard, to have a voice and to be recognized. When asked what they could give the church, answers included devotion, faithfulness and participation.
A sense of belonging
Lamas was moved by the outpouring of faith that happened across cultures and generations.
“I enjoyed being a small piece of something incredible and holy happening in St. Cloud,” she said. “I was humbled to witness to see how the bishop and staff serve and lead by example. I was moved to tears many times during the faith sharing but especially when a woman expressed that this was the first time living in this country that she felt the church was listening to her, that she belonged.
“Another woman shared how the dialogue affirmed her role as a mother and her desire for her children to grow in their faith,” Lamas continued. “The stories are countless. I walked away filled with hope in a church that wants to listen and accompany. The church in St. Cloud is a living example of what Pope Francis is challenging all of us to do — to live as missionary disciples. The people of St. Cloud are in good hands. ”