By Brittany García
GRAPEVINE, Texas –– Well, we finally arrived at the culmination of the V Encuentro process: the national gathering of all the U.S. diocesan delegates of the V Encuentro.
And what joy it was to take part in this momentous event in the life of the U.S. Catholic Church. What hope sprung up for the future of our Church. What consolation was given by knowing that our voices from the tiniest of parishes to the biggest of archdioceses were all heard and valued.
With more than 3,000 Catholic lay faithful present and well accompanied by more than 150 bishops, religious sisters from all different orders, and a variety of Catholic institutions and organizations, the national V Encuentro was a visible sign of the beauty and vibrancy that exists in our Church.
Blanca Primm, director of Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of Knoxville and one of six delegates representing the diocese at the Encuentro, said, “During this time of trial that the Catholic Church is going through, we see the V Encuentro as a refreshing oasis. At the national V Encuentro, we felt the constant and strong presence of the Holy Spirit through our bishops that reaffirmed us as a people, as their flock.”
Our group of six diocesan delegates that traveled to Grapevine, Texas, to participate in the Encuentro included Mrs. Primm; Sister Imelda Quechol, MAG, who serves the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Chattanooga; Franklin Zelaya of All Saints Parish in Knoxville; Coral Getino, also an All Saints parishioner; Pedro García of the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus; and me.
Although we were only six delegates, we carried the voices and realities of the thousands of individuals who participated in the V Encuentro process in our diocese. And we came home with a missionary flame ignited. In fact, Sister Imelda said that what impressed her most from participating in this process is the need for “each one of us to become missionary disciples.”
The invitation to be a missionary disciple, a true student of Christ who participates in the mission of Christ, is not just for those who work for a parish or diocese. It is not just for the priests, deacons, and religious communities. The call to be a missionary disciple is for each of us as baptized members of the Body of Christ.
“Evangelization is, in fact, the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize,” Pope Paul VI said in Evangelii Nuntiandi. As people who form the Church, we also exist to evangelize. This zeal for evangelization is a great gift the Hispanic/Latino community can bring to our diocese because that missionary flame has been ignited through participating in the V Encuentro process.
Someone might ask, “What did we do concretely at the national V Encuentro?” Every day we celebrated a bilingual Mass together. We had time for regional breakout sessions to review the national working document, which is a collective document from all the regional Encounters and consultations gathered in Grapevine. In addition, we had breakout sessions focusing on 28 different ministerial areas of urgent need in which each delegate participated in a different ministerial area, including pastoral leadership formation, pastoral juvenil for teens, pastoral juvenil for young adults, ecumenism, immigration, and cultural competencies. We heard from a variety of panelists and speakers from all over the country on what they have seen, heard, and experienced in this V Encuentro process. There was an exhibition open every day full of Catholic resources, merchandise, formation programs, mission opportunities, and hands-on service projects with Catholic Relief Services. But there was also time to pray and receive grace in the sacraments. Above all, there were the wonderful moments and discussions built into the schedule.
“The memory I hope I will always cherish is that of priests and bishops sitting or kneeling in the adoration chapel both at midnight and at 6 a.m., leading by humble and quiet example,” Coral Getino said. Of course, with so many priests and bishops present we also had plenty of opportunities to receive the sacrament of reconciliation. And on the last night, after several days of hard work, we celebrated in gratitude all that had been accomplished and experienced.
There was live music playing songs from different countries in the Americas. We joined in traditional dances such as cumbia and salsa to take a moment to really celebrate all the cultures present and represented through the V Encuentro process.
One evening all the young adults (ages 18-35) were invited to an exclusive dinner with the bishops. Some 130 bishops and 700 young adults filled tables that each seated 10 people. And one or two bishops were seated at each table. At this dinner the young adults were asked:
■ “What concrete ways can we involve more young people in the life of the Church?”
■ “What ministries would really benefit by having more young people serving as leaders?”
■ “What do young people need most urgently from the Church?”
The bishops listened and responded to each of the questions. For many of the young adults present at the national event, this was their favorite moment. Some young adults at my table mentioned that this was their first time having a conversation with a bishop, and they loved how accessible the bishops were. Pedro García of our diocese said he and the other young adults at his table told the bishop they were “hungry.”
“We don’t want to just party, have a good time. We want to learn. We’re hungry for more to keep growing in our faith, in our vocations,” Mr. Garcia said.
Franklin Zelaya, another young adult from our diocese, also commented that something he really appreciated about the national V Encuentro was that “us young people had a voice. We were able to inform others of the needs that exist in our parishes.”
And from the needs that were brought up, Mrs. Primm was encouraged to discover how “the Holy Spirit guided our own diocesan process during the consultation carried out in our communities and in the peripheries, which revealed the same needs and challenges that were reflected at a national level at the V Encuentro. The areas identified by the Hispanic community in which the Church urgently needs to respond to are Christian formation, pastoral leadership development, family ministry, youth and young adult ministry, and immigration.”
The V Encuentro process challenges all of us on a national level and here in East Tennessee to truly live as missionary disciples, be a Church that is not afraid to leave our pews and go to the peripheries, and to recognize the gifts, talents, and beauty the Hispanic/Latino community adds to our Catholic Church in the United States.
This process has birthed new Hispanic/Latino parish leaders, new Pastoral Juvenil parish groups for young people, and brought about a lot of needed dialogue. Unity does not equate to uniformity. As a universal Church we are diverse and culturally rich. Let’s be open-minded and creative in our models of ministry going forward. Let’s trust and accompany our young people and involve them in leadership in all parish ministries. Let’s listen first and form pastoral plans second. Let’s celebrate the richness of every culture while striving to be a people that build bridges.
I will close with a quote from our Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, who was at the national V Encuentro. “This national Encuentro is an exciting moment of grace, not just for the Church in the United States, but also for the universal Church. Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium reminds us that ‘an evangelizing community is filled with joy.’ As a Church, we are called to be witnesses of God’s love by the way we live and practice our faith as joyful missionary disciples. The Encuentro process has responded to Pope Francis’ challenge to seek out those at the peripheries. The preparation and process of the Encuentro has opened our ears to many voices and has helped to identify the inestimable contribution that Latino Catholics make to the Church, giving vitality and dynamism to the New Evangelization.”
Blessed Mother Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Star of the New Evangelization in the Americas, pray for us.
Brittany García is the coordinator of Pastoral Juvenil Hispana for the Diocese of Knoxville.