Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Encuentro Praised As ‘Model’ For Hispanic Ministry

By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writer | Published May 27, 2004

At the Encuentro for Hispanic Ministry held on May 1 at Holy Cross Church, Alejandro Aguilera-Titus, associate director of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Hispanic Affairs, praised the collaborative process the Atlanta Archdiocese is undergoing to develop and implement its own pastoral plan for Hispanic ministry, asserting its potential to serve as a national model.

The 2000 census estimated there are 35.3 million Hispanics in the United States, and it is estimated that by 2050 there will be 96.5 million, about 24.5 percent of the U.S. population.

The Encuentro, or “Encounter,” drew about 269 persons from 34 parishes and was held as a kick-off event for developing a pastoral plan for serving the estimated 560,000 Hispanics, some 80 percent of whom are Catholic, living in North Georgia. Participants included 225 lay ministers, representatives from five archdiocesan offices and from eight movements, 14 Religious, four deacons and 13 priests. It was sponsored by the Hispanic Apostolate, led by Father Jose Duvan Gonzalez, priest liaison to the Hispanic Apostolate and administrator of San Felipe de Jesus Mission, Forest Park.

Aguilera-Titus was one of the keynote speakers along with Auxiliary Bishop John Manz of Chicago, who has served on the USCCB Committees on Migration and Refugee Services and on the Church in Latin America.

“I am very encouraged because of the mandate from the bishop (Archbishop John F. Donoghue) to develop an archdiocesan pastoral plan for Hispanic ministry. I think it’s a wonderful thing,” Aguilera-Titus said in an interview. “I’m very much encouraged by the leadership of the Hispanic Apostolate and their pastoral vision.”

He was particularly impressed by the ability of the apostolate and Father Duvan to stir involvement and participation from the parishes.

“It shows off his successful, engaging leadership at the parish level and that is essential. I really believe the Archdiocese of Atlanta is positioned, has all the elements, to develop a pastoral plan for Hispanic ministry that can be a model for the rest of the country because of its vision, its level of priority and the resources being allocated,” he said.

He commented on the need for Hispanics and priests of other ethnicities to serve their own communities but always while recognizing their larger mission to serve their whole church and archdiocese.

“One of the most important challenges I see is the ability for pastors at the parish level and leadership in Hispanic ministry to understand the need and to meet to develop relationships across cultures and ministries to develop Hispanic ministry that is integral to the life and ministry of the parish and the diocese,” he said. “We need more engagement between Hispanics and European-Americans and African-Americans so we are more in tune with the fact that we are one church with a common mission.”

At the event, Jairo Martinez, administrator of the Hispanic Apostolate, gave an overview of the current state of Hispanic ministry in the archdiocese and then reviewed the next steps to take to form a pastoral plan, which he compared to an organization’s business plan to reach its goals. There are currently 54 parishes with Hispanic ministries, 26 Hispanic priests and 48 priests ministering to this community in the Atlanta Archdiocese. Of 184 permanent deacons, 14 are Hispanic, and there are 30 Latina Religious women. There are a variety of ministries in Spanish such as Marriage Encounter, Cursillo retreats, Legion of Mary and the Schoenstatt Movement. The next step is to form an archdiocesan committee, on which will serve the archbishop, two pastors, two Hispanic priests, one deacon, one religious, six deanery coordinators, three persons from the Hispanic Apostolate, one from Catholic Social Services, one from apostolic movements, one from family movements, one from religious education and one from youth ministry. Later, parish committees will also be formed. The representatives of the archdiocesan committee will be chosen from among the groups themselves, and committees will receive training. The archdiocesan committee will then create a proposal for the pastoral plan, tentatively planned for development in November through January. After approval in 2005 the process of launching, training, implementation and evaluation will begin.

“What we want to do is coordinate our work to be more effective,” said Martinez. This involves working as a team, setting aside differences and establishing a good logistical and communication system.

He said the archdiocesan committee would only meet “for the time needed to complete the pastoral plan.” Pastoral planning means “organizing resources of the church in such a way that in a given time and place it increases the possibilities of carrying out its mission effectively.”

“We have to attend to a very immense population but generally not active” in the church, Martinez said. “We have to (incite) Hispanic Catholics to attend and make them feel like the church is their home.”

Father Duvan encouraged participants to consider, as the plan is developed, their unique roles as Hispanic ministers in its implementation and to take the project as their own, and reminded them that the church is not just to help one feel good but “it is to exercise our baptism. It is to be prophets of hope to which we are called. It is to understand my role and the roles of others,” he said. “The theme of our work is to plan with you.”

They must understand the concept of unity in diversity and the goal of feeling a part of one’s community without losing one’s identity. He encouraged them to study the documents of the USCCB on Hispanic ministry such as “Encuentro and Mission: A Renewed Pastoral Framework for Hispanic Ministry” and to take information gained back to parishes and “meet with catechists, meet with the community and say how will these steps be taken? What do you think?”

He then spoke of the great task that lies ahead. “If the Hispanic population of the area of the archdiocese is around 560,000 (and) if we consider that 80 percent are Catholic, we are speaking of 460,000 who need pastoral care. How many do we actually serve now, 40,000? And the rest? We have the blessing of a people who were born and are culturally Catholic. How are we going to serve them? What plans do we have to make it more effective?”

In his talk, Msgr. Hugh Marren, pastor of St. Benedict’s Church, Duluth, also stressed the need to expand outreach, as in Gwinnett County there are 90,000 Hispanics and, based on the numbers attending Mass in that area, “less than 10 percent of the Hispanic community is attending church in North Georgia.”

“Every priest has to open his church to the Hispanic community,” he said. “If we open our doors people will come … The Hispanic community is largely Catholic and we run the risk as never before in history of throwing away the work of our forefathers before us, missionaries who have gone out and evangelized and brought the Gospel magnificently to the Hispanic community. We don’t have to convince Hispanics they are Catholic. Our challenge is to help them grow in the Catholic faith.”

As he estimated that full integration will happen in the next 60 or 70 years with second and third generations, “we can’t use that as an excuse for not reaching out to the Hispanic Catholic community.”

Msgr. Marren said, regarding the assertion that Hispanics don’t give to the church financially, that from his assessment of over 10 churches, 70 percent of Anglos give less than $1.50 a week to the church.

“At St. Benedict’s, two-thirds do not support the church and the average salary is $90,000,” he said. “Sure (Hispanics) don’t give the big money, but their sacrifice on the whole is greater than the sacrifice of the Anglos.” He believes Hispanic clergy “must be the aggressors” in terms of integration with the Anglo community, and that the Hispanic Apostolate must establish a development fund to realize its goals. At St. Benedict’s the Hispanic community has grown over five years from 150 people to over 1,000, and at its mission in a Buford storefront, they draw around 550 people every weekend.

In an interview, Deacon Lloyd Sutter, administrator of the archdiocesan Department of Religious Education and Faith Formation, spoke of the impact of the growth of this community on the church across America.

“I think if the Catholic Church in this country does its job and does not lose the Catholic immigrant, that maybe, not in my lifetime but in yours, this country will be majority Catholic.”

Following the event Father Duvan said that the archdiocesan committee now in formation will work on the proposal for, and implementation and evaluation of the pastoral plan. He feels the Encuentro was a good way to come together and share ideas about Hispanic ministry and was pleased with the response to their invitation. “Everybody wants to work together. There are many expectations,” he said.

Developing the pastoral plan is important because “we need a way to coordinate all our activities in our Hispanic community, not everybody going in different directions, and to support the communities who are new in different places around the archdiocese … to offer them different resources, human resources, material resources, establish good communication from our office for the whole archdiocese.”

David Bergeron is learning Spanish and helped to establish the ministry at St. Peter’s Church in LaGrange about a year ago with guidance from Father Gonzalez. He said that the gathering was a time to meet with others and gain ideas about how to further develop St. Peter’s ministry.

“We’ve been kind of moving along. We want to find out more about what we can do and how we can get more people involved. We have Mass right now two times a month and want to have it every week. We want to find out how we can help the people. We have English classes. We want to meet some people and find out what is going on in the diocese,” he said.

“There are a lot of people and then we have a lot of people, Hispanics, getting pulled off into a little Hispanic Baptist church. I’m sure there’s a lot not going to church and we need to reach out to them. The pastoral plan is a way for them to get involved, get them involved in the parish council and make them feel a part of the church, have some ownership.”

Right now Carrollton pastor Father Paul Williams comes and celebrates the Mass, which draws about 80 regular attendees, and “we’re working on getting a couple others so we can have a Mass every weekend,” he added. “I feel called to (this ministry) right now,” Bergeron said.

Martin Martinez, who came with Bergeron and is from Mexico, said in English, which he is learning, “It is necessary, Spanish Mass. Spanish people need Spanish Mass.”

Added his wife, Rocio Huitron, “we enjoy being in the church. For us it doesn’t matter what the language is for Mass. It is more important to pray to God.”

Huitron stressed the need for more opportunities for religious education among Hispanics, as “sometimes we don’t have good education on religion and they look for another church. We want to learn more to talk to the people and tell them the Catholic Church is the best.”

Attendee Father Francisco Estrada Sandoval, who is on loan from the Diocese of Acapulco, Mexico, and is serving at Prince of Peace Church, Buford, feels at home in this archdiocese and is glad to help establish the relatively nascent ministry in comparison to places like California.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to start something new and to build a very strong community, united with the whole diocese, not separated but united. But we need to work still more to get this. It takes time,” he said. “I’m so happy being here. I enjoy the ministry here in Atlanta.”