East Tennessee delegates gather in Miami with peers from 29 Southeast dioceses to plan for National Encuentro
By Brittany Garcia
Some people have heard much about the V Encuentro (the 5th National Encounter of Hispanic/Latino Ministry). Others, perhaps, have not heard so much.
But the V Encuentro is an exciting, four-year process of evangelization, accompaniment, and consultation to shed light on the Latino/Hispanic community within the U.S. Catholic Church and the real issues its faces in this day and age.
At the end of February, V Encuentro organizers and participants reached the halfway point in this four-year process with the Regional Encounter in Miami.
A group of seven delegates from the Diocese of Knoxville traveled to Miami Feb. 22-24 to take part in this key event for the Encuentro process. Those from the diocese included Bishop Richard F. Stika’s delegate, Father Julian Cardona, associate pastor at St. Thomas the Apostle in Lenoir City; Sister Imelda Quechol, MAG, who is with the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Chattanooga; Alexander Vasquez, a young-adult parishioner from the Basilica; Coral Getino, a parishioner at All Saints Church in Knoxville; Blanca Primm, diocesan director of Hispanic Ministry; Sedonna Prater, diocesan director of Curriculum and Instruction for the Catholic Schools Office; and this writer.
The group joined all delegates from the 29 other dioceses in the Southeast that make up Regions 5 and 14. The delegates numbered approximately 300, including bishops, priests, deacons, religious sisters, and laity. The delegates met in the lovely Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which was quite appropriate since she is the star of the New Evangelization and patroness of the Americas.
One of the most beautiful aspects of this Regional Encounter was seeing the various ministries and vocations within the Church coming together to share a dialogue and process. As one could imagine, there was a great deal of information gathered from all the Southeast diocesan Encounters.
Delegates were split into 13 focus groups to work more efficiently: vocations, immigration, global solidarity, Catholic education, liturgy and spirituality, leadership development, catechetical formation, Pastoral Juvenil (Hispanic Youth and Young Adult Ministry), intercultural competence, campus ministry, evangelization and mission, family ministry, and institutional development.
Delegates spent three days discussing challenges and opportunities in each of these areas, prioritizing needs on a regional and national level, and identifying the best strategies to meet these challenges and opportunities, which was done by being faithful to the voices and results that came out of the Southeast Encounters.
“I was impressed with the realization of the collective power of using our experiences and knowledge from the diocesan Encuentros to come to conclusions about the needs of the Hispanic community and how we can address these needs,” Mrs. Prater said, noting the simple genius of the structure of the V Encuentro working process.
At the Diocese of Knoxville group’s Encounter on Oct. 21, the five areas of priority identified were family ministry, Pastoral Juvenil, leadership development, immigration, and evangelization.
Within the full work schedule for the Regional Encuentro there also was set aside time for liturgical prayer, social action, and celebration. Delegates celebrated the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Southeast Pastoral Institute for Hispanic Ministry (SEPI), an institute the Diocese of Knoxville benefits from multiple times a year through workshops and trainings.
As part of the celebration of SEPI, delegates sang “Happy Birthday” in Spanish and English around a giant birthday cake. The president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, Sean Callahan, gave a moving presentation on the work CRS does nationally and internationally. CRS representative Michael Trujillo also encouraged Encuentro participants to write letters to legislators requesting action be taken in favor of the young Dreamers and immigrants in our country. For delegates wanting to write their legislators, CRS provided pens, paper, stamps, and letter templates.
On the last evening delegates were all together, they joined in contemplating the Stations of the Cross through the eyes of Jesus the immigrant. The Stations of the Cross procession was unique in that it took place outside, and at each station was an image of Our Lady on either side, totaling 28 different Marian images — all from Latin-American countries.
This regional Encounter culminated with the closing Mass celebrated by the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre. Delegates considered it a blessing to have him with the Encuentro group and felt the support of Pope Francis through the presence of the apostolic nuncio.
Two words best summarize this Regional Encounter: hope and commitment. There is great hope for the future of the U.S. Catholic Church, hope for more inter-ministerial collaboration, hope of unity among diversity, hope of reaching those on the periphery, hope of engaging those already in the pews, hope of the Holy Spirit blowing something new into our midst. All of these hopes require commitment from the faithful, who must be committed to collaborate, allow space for diversity, reach out to those on the margins, find new paths of evangelization, and pray often.
“The V Encuentro process has brought to our diocese a spring of new hope, new energy, and recommitted efforts for the New Evangelization. It is a wave of blessings that we need to foster and continue to grow even more with the help of the Holy Spirit,” Mrs. Primm said, testifying to the spirit of hope and commitment that she witnessed.
Much fruit has already come from this V Encuentro process in the Diocese of Knoxville, including new parish groups forming, new leaders emerging, attentiveness to the needs of Latino youth and young adults increasing, revamping of the diocesan Spanish radio program, the return of people who have strayed from the Church, and improved collaboration among diocesan and parish offices. Prayers are asked for more fruit to spring forth from the V Encuentro process, especially as the march toward the National Encounter in Texas in September continues.
Brittany Garcia is the Diocese of Knoxville’s coordinator of Pastoral Juvenil Hispana.