By IMELDA RICHARD, Special to the Bulletin | Published October 31, 2019 | En Español
ATLANTA—The Atlanta Provincial Encuentro took place on Oct. 19 at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church. About 150 people representing the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the Dioceses of Savannah, Raleigh, Charleston and Charlotte gathered in the historic church of IHM for a day of work, fellowship and worship.
Father Rafael Capó, director of the Southeast Pastoral Institute (SEPI) in Miami, led representatives in reviewing results of the Fifth National Encuentro and proposing ways to implement them in their home dioceses and parishes.
Encuentro, Spanish for “meeting” or “encounter” is a process of missionary work, consultation, leadership development and community building that seeks to develop better ways in which the U.S. Church can respond to Hispanic Catholics.
For Yolanda Muñoz, assistant director of Hispanic and Latino Cultures for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, seeing the young adults who enthusiastically took part in the day was rewarding.
“I was so happy to see such a large participation of young people,” said Muñoz. “It fills me with hope and motivates me to keep working for our Hispanic community. Sometimes we can feel we are swimming upstream, we get tired and we want to give up. But to see all these young people wanting to be disciples and missionaries of God’s love has filled me with energy to keep going.”
The Southeast Regional Office for Hispanic Ministry is the organization of the U.S. Catholic Bishops of USCCB regions V and XIV, with headquarters in the Archdiocese of Miami. The office coordinates and assists Hispanic ministries in the 30 dioceses of the southeastern United States, collaborating in the church’s evangelization efforts of the growing Hispanic/Latino communities. SEPI is the educational branch of the Regional Office, established in 1979 as a recommendation of the II National Encuentro of Hispanic Ministry. SEPI provides theological, pastoral and ministry formation services and programs, as well as leadership formation programs for Hispanic lay-ecclesial ministers, youth and young adults.
More than 3,000 Hispanic ministry leaders participated in the Fifth National Encuentro in Texas in September 2018. They represented their parishes, 159 dioceses and other national Catholic organizations and groups. Over 20 leaders and representatives, including Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III, represented the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Archbishop Gregory was named Archbishop of Washington in the spring.
In September, a delegation of U.S. Bishops and laypeople traveled to Rome to present to Pope Francis and Vatican officials the results and recommendations that came out of last year’s Encuentro.
Topics of the day
The Oct. 19 provincial discussions focused on 13 ministerial areas identified as top priorities during the Fifth National Encuentro. Among these are evangelization and mission, family ministry, ministry with young adults, immigration, vocations, Catholic education and intercultural competencies. Divided in work groups the participants discussed each one of these areas of concern, proposing ways to implement strategies to effectively serve the Hispanic community in their dioceses and identifying strategic partners to do so.
The Archdiocese of Atlanta was represented by 60 delegates in this Provincial Encuentro— 34 of them were young adults.
Osiel Guzman represented the Cathedral of Christ the King Hispanic community. He was excited to bring everything he has learned during this process to his parish.
“We are called to be disciples of Christ and to evangelize others. Evangelization begins at home with our families,” he said.
Engaging with young Hispanic Catholics is very important for church leaders. Among younger Catholics, Latinos make up most of the people in the pews. According to the Encuentro statistics, 40 percent of all Catholics in the U.S. today are Hispanic; 50 percent of Catholics ages 14 to 29 are Hispanic; and 55 percent of Catholics younger than 14 are Hispanic.
Father Duvan Gonzalez, parochial vicar at St. John the Evangelist Church, remembers all the work he has done with Hispanic youth in his 23 years as a priest in the archdiocese. He recalls meeting the “Grupo Juvenil” (youth group) at the Waffle House and praying the rosary with them in the rain.
“The Hispanic youth are proud of their faith. Their faith traditions are in their DNA,” he said. “They need all our support to continue to grow in their faith and to continue the traditions they learned at home with their parents. No matter the challenges they face in their everyday lives, they have persevered in their faith.”
Father Duvan has fond memories of the years he spent as the administrator of the San Felipe de Jesus mission.
“Now I am in Hapeville and I see young parents that I remember from my years at San Felipe. They were students in the Catechesis program, altar servers, members of the youth group … now they are bringing their children to church,” he said. “They are the living church and we need to accompany them in all aspects of their journey.”
Time for homework
A group of young people representing St. Joseph Church in Marietta was ready to get to work at the end of the day.
“We hope we can bring young leadership to our parish, and that we can implement everything we have learned today with other young people,” said one member.
“The Fifth Encuentro has opened the door for the young adults to be leaders in the church,” said Isamar Muñoz, another member of the parish youth group.
All workgroups completed surveys during the day and prepared documents with recommendations on how to serve the Hispanic community better. This information will be analyzed and the results will be presented to the bishops in the coming months. The Southeast Region will continue to meet and work to implement these recommendations at parish and diocesan levels.
“I’m taking a lot of homework with me,” said Father Capó. “The participation today was wonderful. The results of today’s work will help us to better respond to the needs of our Hispanic community.”
Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III celebrated the closing Mass for the Regional Encuentro. During his homily, he thanked all participants, especially those who came from far away to participate.
“Today’s readings remind us to persevere in prayer. It is important to pray with others. It is important that today’s Encuentro does not end with this Mass,” said the bishop.
He encouraged attendees to pray with their families and to ask for what is needed in prayer.
“When we pray, we not only have to pray to obtain the result we hope for, but also for God to concede us what he considers is in our best interest. Our prayers have to open our hearts to accept God’s will. We have to pray for the grace to carry the cross. Instead of praying to have an easy life, we have to pray to have the strength to carry our cross,” said Bishop Shlesinger.
The bishop was part of the Atlanta delegation that participated in last year’s Fifth Encuentro.
“I am encouraged to see a commitment to living out our Catholic faith among so many. We bishops and priests who attended were overwhelmed by their enthusiasm and love for us. I am confident that the church is developing good leaders through the Encuentro process as we pass on the faith to future generations.
He also shared a message with the Hispanic youth.
“Do not be afraid,” reminded Bishop Shlesinger. “God’s plan is at work in your lives even though your future may seem unsure.”