Two priests and 10 lay people from the Diocese of St. Cloud traveled to Osceola, Wisconsin, April 5 and 6 to participate in preliminary regional meetings for “Encuentro,” a two-year process of missionary activity, consultation, leadership development and pastoral discernment for Hispanics/Latinos.
The main objective of Encuentro is to “discern the way in which the church responds to the Hispanic/Latino presence, and to strengthen the way in which Hispanics/Latinos respond as church,” according to the organizer’s website.
The invitation to attend the meeting was extended to all the dioceses in Minnesota as well as North Dakota and South Dakota.
The meeting was primarily spiritual, providing individual reflection time for attendees to consider their own roles in the future of the church with regard to Hispanic ministry, said attendee Mayuli Bales, director of the Diocese of St. Cloud’s Office of Multicultural Ministries.
“It was deeply ecclesial,” Bales said. “We need to see who each of us is in the face of the Catholic Church. It is really recognizing our own individual participation in this process.”
Father Jeff Ethen, pastor of St. Leonard Parish in Pelican Rapids and St. Elizabeth Parish in Elizabeth, was one of the priests who attended the meeting.
“It was good to get the representatives of the various dioceses together, but this is a preliminary step,” he said. “By the time this all gets rolling, with online training, every parish in the diocese will be included, whether they have a direct Hispanic presence or not. The fact is that the future of the Catholic Church in the U.S. is Hispanic.”
As the U.S. bishops noticed the growing Hispanic population, the first national Encuentro (Spanish for “encounters”) was held in 1972 with subsequent meetings in 1977, 1985, 2000 and a youth Encuentro in 2006. The fifth national Encuentro is planned for 2018.
“Because Hispanics are a blessing to the entire church in the United States, and because Hispanic ministry is integral to its mission, appreciating and embracing the contributions this community has made are important,” according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ pastoral statement “Encuentro and Mission: A Renewed Pastoral Framework for Hispanic Ministry.”
Encuentro is rooted in base communities, which means feedback begins at the parish level, then moves to diocesan, regional and, finally, national events.
Bales identified Hispanic leaders from several base communities in the diocese to serve as part of the local team along with Father Ethen and Father Oswaldo Roche, a missionary priest from Venezuela currently serving the diocese.
The newly formed diocesan team will meet again late summer or early fall to determine its next steps. A diocesan-level Encuentro is preliminarily planned for fall 2017.
“We are just in the beginning of starting conversations to see where we need to go,” Bales said. “Right now, we want to be visible, for people to know this is happening. We also want to develop leadership within the Hispanic communities.”
For more information on local-level Encuentro plans, contact Bales at 320-529-4614 or firstname.lastname@example.org.