Most dioceses and archdioceses around the country are holding their diocesan encuentros throughout the fall, highlighting what contributions Hispanic Catholics bring to the Catholic Church and their faith communities.
Anticipation of those gatherings comes as communities celebrate this year’s annual National Hispanic Heritage Month, highlighting Hispanics’ contributions to their communities and to society. The observance began Sept. 15 and runs through Oct. 15.
U.S. census estimates show that about 29.7 million Hispanics/Latinos in the United States identify as Catholics, which represents nearly 59 percent of the total Hispanic population in the country. Among millennials, Hispanic Catholics represent 54 percent of U.S. Catholics born in 1982 or later.
U.S. Catholic officials say the church’s encuentro process is an essential opportunity for many parishes and dioceses to promote and grow unity, leadership and cross-collaboration.
Diocesan encuentros are the current phase of what is a four-year process of ecclesial reflection and action. First came parish-level encuentros, next will be regional encuentros. The process will culminate in the Fifth National Encuentro, known as “V Encuentro,” next September in Grapevine, Texas. Previous national encuentros were held in 1972, 1977, 1985 and 2000.
The purpose, as its name states, is to “encounter” others by reaching out to those at the margins through evangelization, by listening to the concerns of such a diverse community through consultation and preparing emerging ministry leaders.
The Diocese of St. Cloud will have its diocesan Encuentro on Sept. 24 at the River’s Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud. Nearly 400 people from around the diocese were registered to attend as of Sept. 19.
Ongoing work, ministry
In the Diocese of San Diego, David Gonzalez, a parishioner at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in San Isidro, California, said the process has helped unify his parish community, engage new leaders including youth and young adults, and focus parish ministry groups on one common mission.
Personally, it has brought him a renewed sense of commitment. “I’m part of the church, I am the church, I need to go out too,” he said in an interview. “My wife and I, we try to continue [it]. It is not just a process that happened and we are done.”
The Diocese of San Diego, which serves 1.3 million Catholics, will hold its encuentro Oct. 21. About 250 delegates from participating parishes are expected to attend. The encuentro process in this culturally diverse diocese, where 75 percent of the Catholic population is Hispanic, is offered in both English and Spanish.
Around the country, over 100 of the nearly 165 participating dioceses are holding their diocesan encuentro between August and December. Parish delegates will attend and afterward present a report to their respective diocesan bishops that will include needs, goals, priorities and recommendations.
Dioceses will share recommendations gathered during their own encuentros with their episcopal regions by next spring and following that will come regional encuentros.
Reports based on recommendations will assist dioceses to better identify strategies, implement recommendations and set priorities in a more inclusive way to continue shaping how Hispanic ministry is done based on Pope Francis’ “Joy of the Gospel,” said Alejandro Aguilera-Titus, national coordinator for the V Encuentro.