After nine months of gathering, listening, and sharing, more than 200 Hispanic ministry leaders presented their findings to Bishop John Noonan on March 3 at Resurrection Parish in Winter Garden; the fruits of V Encuentro. This is an initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to reach out to Hispanic Catholics to hear their ideas and develop recommendations to better serve this growing community. Presented to Bishop Noonan was a document summarizing the work of more than 52 organizations including parishes, schools, and ministries, who worked in small groups then went out from their parishes and into the community to reach those on the periphery, to hear their concerns and offer help where needed.
“This has been an opportunity for the Hispanic community to take a look at where we are, and
where we are going,” says Deacon Juan Cruz who has been a participant in the V Encuentro process. “It began at a parish level where leaders go out into the community and ask about what people need and what the church of today needs to function into tomorrow.” With this document, Bishop Noonan will meet with other Florida bishops to identify the priorities of the Hispanic community. These priorities will eventually make there way to a national gathering, to be combined with information from all 50 states, into a report to the USCCB.
The V Encuentro movement, which began in 2017, is scheduled to be completed by 2020, and will involved thousands of parishes and millions of people to produce missionary leaders to bring young people and families into full participation in the sacraments and ministry of the Church. A major emphasis in the Encuentro process has been including the voices of young people, and for a good reason. According to the V Encuentro website, nearly 60 percent of all Catholics in the United States under eighteen years old are Hispanic. Two-thirds of Hispanic Catholics are U.S. born, yet most are not active in the life of the Church. The theme of the fifth Encuentro, Missionary Disciples: Witnesses to God’s Love, aims to promote and support ministry leaders, especially youth leaders, who will go out and evangelize.
Students from Bishop Moore Catholic High School in Orlando were among the youth asked to participate in the sessions. “We received an invitation to bring Hispanic students to be a part of the conversation,” says Vice Principal Yvonne Toro, who brought twelve students to the event. “These students gave up their free time to offer their perspective and give some good ideas as to how the Church can respond to youth.”
“Many youth are not involved in Church,” notes Michelle Moscol, a Bishop Moore junior. “This process has opened my eyes. I now see how we are the future of the Church and we have to be a part of it. We have to work together (with adults), so that we can grow together.” Valeria Vera, a junior at Bishop Moore, says, “I’ve learned that the Hispanic community is very big, and there are huge obstacles. There aren’t enough Spanish-language Masses, usually only one and it’s not always convenient. And, there is a need for more youth leadership.”
Tomas Evans, Diocesan Director of Adult Ministry says, “Including the voices of youth has been very positive and a great opportunity to hear directly from them.” Evans says that youth outreach is one of the greatest priorities to emerge form the process as well as the need for more religious formation in the Spanish language. “This has been a great opportunity to celebrate and grow in faith,” described Evans. “It is amazing how the Church is still alive with people and they have faith, a strong faith.”
By Jennifer Powers, Florida Catholic Correspondent – March 6, 2018