What works? Fort Worth delegates compare notes on Hispanic Ministry with 18 dioceses
SAN ANTONIO — Excited. Honored. Joyful.
That’s how 40 delegates from the Diocese of Fort Worth described their participation in the V Encuentro Region X Conference held April 13-15 in San Antonio.
Culminating years of preparation in parishes and dioceses, the regional event brought together 800 lay ministers, parishioners, religious women, and clergy from Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas for one purpose: to improve the quality of ministry to Hispanic/Latino Catholics so they become more engaged in the life of the Church.
“I’m hoping to do my best to represent all the Hispanic people and the needs they have,” said Ricardo Romero, a parishioner at St. Francis of Assisi in Grapevine. “We have the opportunity to share and identify with others the things that will bring more people to the faith, as well as help those who ‘just go to church’ but are not really a part of it.”
During a process that involved reviewing ideas and suggestions culled from working documents submitted by 18 dioceses in Region X, delegates were assigned to small groups where the conversation was limited to one ministerial area. Focusing their discussions on areas such as evangelization and mission, stewardship, faith formation, family life, immigration, and more, participants prioritized recommendations and strategies to best serve Hispanic and Latino Catholics.
“Hopefully, we can do something that will help them feel part of the body of Christ,” Romero added. “We are sharing our thoughts with the bishops so they can take action and inspire people.”
V Encuentro is an initiative of the U.S. Catholic bishops who want to respond and reach out to the growing number of Hispanics in the country — especially the young and those living on the periphery of society. Efforts made at the diocesan and regional level will lead up to the V National Encuentro gathering, hosted by the Diocese of Fort Worth from Sept. 20-23 in Grapevine.
Previous Encuentros took place in 1972, 1977, 1985, and 2000. The goal of V Encuentro is to discern ways the U.S. Catholic Church can better respond to the presence of Hispanics and Latinos and strengthen ways they can respond to the New Evangelization call for missionary disciples serving the entire Church.
Bishop Michael Olson took time during his busy weekend to meet with Fort Worth’s Encuentro delegates for a frank and intimate dialogue about vocations, young adult ministry, and other concerns affecting Hispanic parishioners.
“I think this Encuentro process, and our year-long preparation for our [50th] anniversary, is going to change us and the way we articulate, identify, and address things,” he said, thanking delegates for their discourse. “It won’t end here.”
Olivia Olvera appreciated the personalized attention the group received from the bishop.
“It was great to pose questions to the bishop about the different things we’re talking about this weekend and hear his answers,” said the Safe Environment coordinator at St. Mary Parish in Graham. “It’s rare to have that opportunity.”
Members of the Hispanic community support the bishop and know he’s working on their issues.
“The power we have as laity is to share what we know with our brothers and sisters and say, ‘the bishop is listening,’” Olvera explained. “He answered our questions and took the time to sit and listen so he can be a better shepherd to us.”
A procession of representatives from every diocese in Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, led by the Cross of the Encuentros, welcomed delegates to the opening of the Region X gathering. Blessed by Pope Francis, the oak cross bears the inscription “Hispanic People: Joyful Disciples in Mission” and is engraved with thorns and resurrection lilies. It symbolizes the faith journey of Hispanic and Latino Catholics in the U.S. over the past 50 years.
“This cross reminds us that long before the Founding Fathers gathered in Philadelphia, immigrant missionaries from Spain and Latin America were already at work,” said one of the event’s emcees, Father Hector Madrigal from the Diocese of Amarillo. “La Cruz de los Encuentros reminds us that the Catholic faith of the Latino people shaped the American story from the very beginning.”
Current U.S. census estimates show Hispanics are the fastest growing ethnic population in the country with about 29.7 million Hispanic Latinos identifying as Catholics. Sixty percent of American Catholics under the age of 18 are also of Hispanic descent.
“These statistics are a clear indication why the V Encuentro is so important,” observed Diocese of Austin Bishop Joe S. Vasquez, addressing delegates during the opening ceremony. “Hispanics are now found in every state in our country. They are contributing to the vitality of this country and our Church.”
Designated Episcopal Moderator for Region X, Bishop Vasquez asked the audience to remember Encuentro is a three-step process of evangelization, communion, and consultation.
“The process of consultation requires us to be open and listen to many people — those actively involved in the Church and those distanced from the Church,” he said, noting the importance of two particular groups.
Bishop Vasquez advised delegates to recognize the hopes and dreams of young people and reach out to immigrants and “Dreamers” — those young adults brought to the U.S. as children without documentation.
“They are our brothers and sisters, classmates, and coworkers. We pray together. We worship together,” he pointed out. “The Church will continue to defend their rights and dignity as children of God. We’re called to reach out to the peripheries where many people feel abandoned and often times disconnected.”
The bishop’s words resonated with Gemma Ramirez. While preparing children for Reconciliation and first Communion, the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishioner often encounters parents who don’t speak English.
“It’s a big church with a smaller (Hispanic) community who needs attention,” the catechist said, referring to the Keller parish.
Families seeking faith formation for their youngsters may face a language barrier or have other obstacles like economic hardship or an absent father. Even a little gesture can make a big difference.
“Sometimes those people don’t feel welcomed so even hearing ‘buenos dias’ from the pastor makes them feel better,” Ramirez added.
A member of Pastoral Juvenil Hispana in the Diocese of Fort Worth, Daisy Gaytan was part of a roundtable discussion on the best way the Church can serve young people from different ethnic groups.
“Our conversations included a diocese with a community of Nigerians,” said the 26-year-old. “It was very insightful and I learned things. At the same time, I was able to share the reality of our diocese and how we celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12 in a big way.”
Joel Rodriguez, director of Hispanic Ministry, called the regional V Encuentro a success for the Fort Worth team. Delegates were well-prepared and productive representatives of the diocese.
“The impact of having the bishop here was incredible,” he said. “Everyone could see Bishop Olson was genuinely and personally involved. The attitude was just a manifestation of joy.”
The 3,000 delegates expected at the V National Encuentro in Grapevine will review the recommendations submitted by the regional delegations then publish a working document outlining the pastoral priorities and strategies appropriate to the present time.
Paola Quintero-Araujo, one of the V Encuentro organizers and director of the diocesan St. Junipero Serra Institute, said the Fort Worth delegates left the regional gathering enthused and “very on fire.”
“They are ready to go out, take this experience, and tell other people about it,” she continued. “They want to go into their parishes and start doing the work.