Diocese of Knoxville’s V Encuentro plan complete

Pastoral Plan for Hispanic Ministry ready to be implemented after five-year effort to develop it

By Bill Brewer

The Diocese of Knoxville’s Latino community on June 26 marked the successful compilation of a new pastoral plan for Hispanic Ministry that has been in the works for five years as part of the V Encuentro effort.

Bishop Richard F. Stika celebrated a Thanksgiving Mass for the Approval and Promulgation of the Pastoral Plan for Hispanic Ministry at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, and afterward Hispanics of many nationalities in the diocese gathered in the Sacred Heart parish hall to fete the document’s completion.

In 2016, the Diocese of Knoxville’s Office of Hispanic Ministry began, as part of a national program, participation in the V Encuentro, or Fifth Encounter, a New Evangelization missionary strategy launched through the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Members of the Diocese of Knoxville’s Hispanic community join in prayer during a June 26 thanksgiving Mass for the approval and promulgation of the pastoral plan for Hispanic Ministry in the diocese.

The thanksgiving Mass and celebration are the culmination of the five-year process to bring the missionary strategy to fruition in which the completed study and its findings will be implemented.

Bishop Stika, who is not fluent in Spanish, opened his homily speaking Spanish for the Spanish-speaking congregation, welcoming them in this adopted tongue.

Concelebrating the Mass were Father Peter Iorio, pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Alcoa; Father Jim Vick, pastor of St. Bridget Parish in Dayton; Father Jhon Mario Garcia, Sacred Heart associate pastor; and Father Jorge Mejia, associate pastor at All Saints Parish. Deacon Fredy Vargas served as deacon of the Word, Deacon Erasmo Hernandez served as deacon of the Eucharist, and Deacon Walt Otey served as master of ceremonies.

The bishop made sure the congregants, who represented many of the parishes in the diocese, knew that the cathedral is their church.

“As we celebrate a significant event in the history of this young diocese here in the cathedral, which is your church, for it is the mother church, we celebrate under the dome. How appropriate because we have the Apostles, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. For it was Jesus who sent the Apostles out. It was the mother, Mary, who is seen here on my vestment, Our Lady of Guadalupe, who gave birth to Jesus and in so many ways the Church itself. There was St. Joseph, who taught Jesus how to be a man and to love the Blessed Mother,” Bishop Stika said.

The bishop highlighted Pentecost as a vital event in Church history that still is as relevant as when it first occurred.

“Remember on Pentecost, when the Apostles were gathered in that Upper Room. And tradition tells us that it might have been the room where Jesus celebrated His Last Supper. Remember, the Apostles were very much afraid. Maybe they didn’t feel accepted, or they felt foreign, because what they were believing was different from other people,” Bishop Stika said.

“And remember there was this gust of wind and tongues of fire. Tongues of fire appeared over their heads. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit. And what did they do? They left that room and spoke in all languages to the people. Now most likely the languages they did not speak were English and Spanish. But they also spoke the language of love. And the language of teaching. And the language of compassion and kindness. You see, in so many ways those are also languages because they communicate from the heart to the person.”

Bishop Richard F. Stika asks members of the cathedral congregation what countries they are from originally. 

To further connect the congregants to the cathedral, Bishop Stika pointed out that Pentecost is celebrated in the cathedral’s dome, where its lower ring of saints represents every continent, every language, and people throughout the world.

“Every language, every nation, every people. And Jesus taught them to love one another, to not judge lest you be judged, and to build the Church up in others rather than to tear it down,” he said.

Bishop Stika informally polled, by a show of hands, how many in attendance were from Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Peru, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Honduras, El Salvador, or Brazil. Most of the countries were represented.

“See, this is the Church. … You see, the Church is all of us brought together by Jesus, who loves us so much that He died for our sins,” he added.

Bishop Stika expressed solidarity with immigrants who have come to the United States seeking a better life, including those residing in the Diocese of Knoxville, because his ancestors were immigrants, too. And he was empathetic to the challenges of their journey.

“The United States is a unique experience. At times it did things that weren’t so good. And one of those things it did was very consistent. When a new group of immigrants came into our nation, like my family in the 1880s from Poland, those already here would say ‘not in my backyard.’ Because if we’re here first, we think we own it. But that has never been our history. A nation can be sinful. And until that nation recognizes that a nation can be sinful, something is missing,” the bishop said.

“We look at the slaves that came over, or indentured servants, or people who were just looking for happiness and stability. Sometimes our history with Native Americans has not been great. We must admit that as a nation. Just like in the year 2000, Pope St. John Paul II took a great deal of time to apologize to the world that many times people within the Church, in speaking for the Church, were not speaking for God,” he continued. “So, the Holy Father, this great saint, invoked the mercy of God and asked for the forgiveness of those that people in the Church sinned against. We must always do that. All of us, no matter what nation we’re from, because we stand before God, sinful and hopefully sorrowful, knowing that we are not perfect, none of us.”

Parishioners perform a traditional dance during a V Encuentro celebration at the cathedral parish hall.

Bishop Stika noted the diversity of the diocese, which is represented by priests, Religious, and parishioners from many different countries. Among the diverse languages in which diocesan Masses are offered are Spanish, Filipino, Vietnamese, Polish, Korean, Swahili, and Latin.

“In this Diocese of Knoxville, I am so proud that we have so many priests from the world, like from Colombia, or deacons from Venezuela, Nicaragua, or Mexico. People who are true missionaries. Even though sometimes people might think ‘I can’t understand them,’ like my homily opening in Spanish, it reflects the cultures of those who speak Spanish,” he said.

“We have this beautiful diocese filled with wonderful people. And no one parish is more than one parish. We come together as one Church, with Jesus as the head. I wish to express my gratitude to all those people who work so diligently to build up the Church of many cultures. Many of our parishes have Mass in Spanish, in Latin, in Korean, in Tagalog (Filipino), and now in Swahili from Africa. One Church united by Jesus. That is all of you. And from the bottom of my heart I am grateful for all that you do, for your prayers and commitment, to build up this Church. Remember, St. Paul tells us to never tire of doing good,” he added.

Bishop Stika thanked the multinational congregants for raising their children in the Catholic Church and introducing them to the languages, traditions, and cultures of the countries from where their parents, grandparents, or relatives originally lived. He asked them to promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life within their families.

“When my family came from Europe, they wanted so badly to be considered Americans that they did not teach the (Polish) language and sometimes not the culture because they wanted to be American. Remember, Americans are Spanish-speaking, Italian, Irish, German. We have always been a country of immigrants. So let us give praise to almighty God this day in gratitude for that day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit sent forth those Apostles to go to all corners of the world to teach about Jesus and the love of God, the Father, inspired by the Holy Spirit. For that is us, we are the Church. God bless the work that we do because we have a beautiful future in East Tennessee. Let us witness that faith,” Bishop Stika concluded.

The Diocese of Knoxville’s shepherd also commended those attending the Mass for honoring their heritages in their different communities, whether through participation in important faith-filled activities like their parishes and the V Encuentro, or in the broader communities where they live and work.

The gathering following Mass was just such a celebration, with fellowship, food, and multinational festivities.

Parishioners from many of the diocese’s 50 parishes and Catholic mission filled Sacred Heart’s parish hall to mark the occasion, with a number of them adorned in the traditional dress of their native countries, offering music, dance, and a festive atmosphere. Traditional foods also were served.

The parish hall at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus was full on June 26 as the diocese’s Hispanic community gathered to celebrate the completion and approval of a new pastoral plan for the diocese that was created in the V Encuentro.

The V Encuentro process of ecclesial reflection and action invited all Catholics in the United States to an intense missionary activity, consultation, leadership development, and identification of successful ministerial practices in the spirit of the New Evangelization.

Diocesan group sessions and parish encounters took place from January to June 2017 followed by a diocesan-wide encounter in October 2017. A regional encounter took place in February 2018 in Miami. A national encounter involving 3,000 diocesan delegates from around the country was held in September 2018 in Grapevine, Texas. Six months of proceedings and conclusions, development and distribution took place in 2019 as did an encounter for the Louisville Province held in the Archdiocese of Louisville.

As the national and regional V Encuentro documents began to take shape, the Southeast Pastoral Institute held training sessions in English and Spanish in July 2020. Also in July 2020, Bishop Stika was asked to renew the Diocese of Knoxville’s Hispanic Ministry Pastoral Plan. It was also during this time, in 2020, that the coronavirus pandemic suspended most activities in the Catholic Church.

According to the Diocese of Knoxville’s Hispanic Ministry Pastoral Plan, the ministerial areas identified as receiving priority include:

  • Year 1 (July 2021-June 2022): family ministry, evangelization and mission, leadership development, and ministry formation.
  • Year 2 (July 2022-June 2023): pastoral juvenil (youth ministry), faith formation and catechesis, stewardship, and development.
  • Year 3 (July 2023-June 2024): liturgy and spirituality, immigration, and vocations.
  • Year 4 (July 2024-June 2025): Catholic education and intercultural competencies.
  • Year 5 (July 2025-June 2026): ecclesial movements and revisiting all ministerial areas.

Bishop Stika thanked Father Julian Cardona, associate pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Lenoir City and the bishop’s delegate to the V Encuentro process, and Blanca Primm, director of Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of Knoxville, as well as all the parishioners who took part in the V Encuentro for leading the diocese through this process.

Mrs. Primm explained that as the V Encuentro process shifts from creation of the national, regional, and diocesan pastoral plans to executing those plans, the Diocese of Knoxville has been asked to share with the national V Encuentro committee the diocese’s pastoral plan.

“As a diocese, we did work and produced a pastoral plan based on recommendations in the national document. The diocese will be expected to continue to contribute to the national plan. As we have been seeing the needs over the past four years, our efforts are answering those needs,” Mrs. Primm said.

Among the needs she identified are diocesan certification in Spanish for catechists.

“This is a big thing. It shows we as a diocese are providing for Hispanics. SEPI (Southeast Pastoral Institute) has been providing certification and formation. We as a diocese needed to provide a way to certify Hispanics in Spanish,” she added.

She noted that with the new initiative, a two-level certification exclusively on catechism called the Four Pillars of the Faith, classes will be taught by diocesan priests and deacons. Once certified, the new catechists will be able to lead CCD, RCIA, and other ministries in Spanish.

Mrs. Primm credited SEPI with being instrumental in helping the Diocese of Knoxville successfully navigate the V Encuentro. SEPI also coordinated diocesan and regional Encuentro programs in the provinces of Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans, and Mobile in addition to Louisville.

But she reserved her biggest assist for the Holy Spirit, who led the entire process.

“What was started in the earliest Encuentro meetings was a voice that carried through the formation of the document. We had to respect the process and be open to the Holy Spirit in what He wanted us to accomplish,” Mrs. Primm said, noting that the V Encuentro document was edited to make it more accessible to more people. “We did this based on the Holy Spirit and consensus.”

Dancers from throughout the diocese joined in the June 26 celebration of a new pastoral plan for the diocese’s Hispanic Ministry.

With Bishop Stika’s endorsement of the pastoral plan, Mrs. Primm wants to present it to diocesan parishes and offer guidance on implementing it in parishes.

“Bishop Stika has said it is good to have a plan. He is excited for the plan, supports it, and agrees it is very much needed. This is a very good plan that can also be implemented in the whole diocese, not necessarily to just Hispanics,” she said.

“In his homily, Bishop Stika emphasized how we are one diverse Church that makes up the body of Christ and encouraged us to continue our traditions and pass our language on to our children. He challenged us to foster vocations within our families so our children can minister to our own community,” Mrs. Primm said.

“The encounter with our bishop is so important because it affirms us. His leadership is an example to us. I was blown away about how beautiful the Mass is done bilingually. He surprised us by speaking Spanish in parts of the Mass. We were grateful, and it brought him closer to us,” she added.

Mrs. Primm also was encouraged by the turnout to the post-Mass celebration in the Sacred Heart parish hall, which was full. Food was contributed and catered, and about a dozen dances and performances were presented by different Hispanic cultures.

Deacon Vargas, who serves at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and translated much of Bishop Stika’s homily into Spanish, also performed dance and songs during the cultural celebration. The V Encuentro is special to him.

“The approval for the pastoral plan and being able to know the needs of the Church in general and its Hispanic ministry is a blessing. Something I thought was beautiful is the plan and its approval by Bishop Stika. That is a blessing. Now it’s on paper and we have something to go by,” Deacon Vargas said. “The plan touches on every ministry in all aspects. Leadership training. Liturgy. Immigration.”

Deacon Vargas feels a certain sense of responsibility to help execute the pastoral plan. “God willing, and we hopefully see the end of the pandemic, our brothers and sisters in Christ will put the pastoral plan in place and work toward the completion of its goals.”

He shared Mrs. Primm’s assessment of Bishop Stika’s message during the Mass.

“I love what Bishop Stika was saying in the Mass: We’re all the Church, no matter what country you’re from. That’s the beauty of our Catholic faith. Bishop Stika talked beautifully about it. We all have our faith to share with our brothers and sisters.”

Deacon Vargas said he and Deacon Erasmo Hernandez, who serves at St. Mary Parish in Athens, are the only active Hispanic deacons in the diocese. Deacon Vargas believes a new class of deacons that is nearing ordination will provide five additional Spanish-speaking deacons.

He also believes the new class of deacons is important in helping carry out the pastoral plan as are current deacons.

Deacon Hicks Armor, who serves at the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Chattanooga, expects the Hispanic Ministry Pastoral Plan to yield positive results.

“Having been interviewed as a part of the Hispanic Ministry Pastoral Plan, I am thoroughly impressed by the comprehensiveness and depth of the five-year plan. The plan has five priority areas and in each year multiple supporting areas. The priority areas include family ministry, spirituality, education, and ecclesiology…exactly what our Church today needs,” said Deacon Armor, who is also director of Stewardship and Strategic Planning for the diocese. “This is a great plan for any church, diocese, or ministry.”

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