Answering the call to become missionary disciples can be as simple as listening to another person and meeting them where they are. This was one of the messages given to the more than 800 Catholics from Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas who gathered recently in San Antonio for a three day “Region X Encuentro.”
“Encuentro” is Spanish for “encounter.”
The Fifth National Encuentro, or “V Encuentro,” will be held in September in Grapevine, Texas. It is preceded by regional meetings to discern the needs and faith practices of the nearly 30 million Hispanic Catholics in the United States.
According to statistics presented at the San Antonio meeting, of the estimated 8.4 million Catholics in Region X, nearly 6 million are Hispanic. Some dioceses, such as Tulsa and Little Rock, have seen their Hispanic population grow by more than 100 percent in the last ten years.
Francisco Lariz of Fort Worth sees an increase in the needs of those of Latin heritage. “We hope that with our contribution we can all find the best ways to fulfill the needs of the future generations and of those who are here now.”
The regional encuentro included small group discussions with the participants—including 20 bishops from the region—exploring topics such as evangelization and mission, youth ministry, faith formation, and immigration. Their recommendations will be presented at the V Encuentro.
During the discussions, delegates representing different ministries and cultures shared some of their success stories, such as more resources for Hispanic ministry and a renewed openness to encountering Jesus in those most vulnerable.
Lily Morales, Hispanic ministry coordinator for the Dioceses of Austin, Texas described how touched people have been by the process of going out and encountering people in the peripheries during their parishes’ encuentros. She told how one parishioner met a woman who was blind. Just by listening to the blind woman, the parishioner discovered her financial needs and then organized a fundraiser to help. “That woman was so grateful that someone in the church reached out to her,”said Morales.
Listening and sharing experiences during the Region X Encuentro gave delegates practical ideas on how to get more involved and serve their community. These ideas will be presented at the September meeting in Grapevine.
Another priority of V Encuentro is to reach out to U.S.-born Latinos. Julio Beltran, coordinator for the Pastoral Juvenil (Hispanic Youth and Youth Ministry) in the Diocese of Beaumont, referred to a statistic that should shake up every parish in the region. According to Beltran, in the Oklahoma-Texas-Arkansas region, 60 percent of Catholics under age 18 are Hispanic. “We need to offer spaces where bicultural and bilingual youth can use their gifts and take leadership roles,” he said.
Beltran said there is not only one way to reach out to the second- or third-generation Hispanic Catholics. “We cannot have a culture of ‘English only,’ ‘Spanish-only’ or ‘We have always done it this way,’” he added.
Parishes and dioceses must try to provide a “sense of belonging” along with catechetical and leadership formation for all in their community.
“Young Latinos are the present and the future of this country,” Beltran said. “We should not want to evangelize our youth because of fear of having an empty church tomorrow, we should do it because it’s our baptismal responsibility.”