ORLANDO | Twenty-four members of the Diocese of Orlando, including priests, religious, deacons, and laypeople, traveled to Grapevine, TX Sept. 20 – 23 to participate in a national conversation that has been more than two years in the making. Delegations from dioceses across the country joined together for the national V Encuentro, an opportunity to discuss how the Church can better serve Hispanic Catholics and strengthen their role as missionary disciples. Leading up to this historic meeting, there have been parish, diocesan and regional gatherings to discern the unique needs of each community.
“Several parishes around the Diocese made the process of small group reflection which includes several strategic questions on how we can better serve the Hispanic community,” explained Tomas Evans, director of Adult Ministry and delegation leader for the Diocese of Orlando. “The whole process allows us to finds new leaders and have a clear understanding of the Hispanic Ministry needs. Adult Formation, Young Adult, and Family Ministry came out as the top priorities [for this region].”
Hispanics/Latinos are an emerging majority in this country and constitute about 60 percent of all Catholics under age 18 in the United States. These youth and young adults have a unique experience of being bilingual and bicultural, which can have its own challenges and gifts. One of the goals of V Encuentro is to re-engage this population to live out their baptismal vocation. Carlos Bernard, director of Youth Ministry for the Diocese of Orlando, is enthusiastic and hopeful for the changes these conversations will bring.
“This process makes me excited about being Catholic. We as young adult leaders are attending this national gathering will hopefully be able to learn and listen from each other to make the Church understand the young adult culture, to try to make them see the true reasons why the young adults and teens are leaving the Catholic Church.
“We can also address the needs of many bilingual/bicultural Catholics that are overlooked in our Church. I think that in some ways we haven’t appreciated, respected or promoted the gifts that they bring,” said Bernard.
For Karla Badillo, a young adult from St. John Vianney Parish in Orlando, it was the spirit of open dialogue that was most meaningful to her at the gathering.
“I was able to talk to a bishop from Wisconsin and he wanted to know our thoughts and our feelings, what we wanted from the Church and how the Church and the bishops could support us,” said Badillo, who felt honored to be able to carry the needs of young adults to the national level. “He reassured us not to be afraid to talk to our priests and our bishops and open that channel of dialogue with them because they’re here to support us and they do want to listen.”
Carmen Espinoza also from St. John Vianney Parish, agreed with Badillo and left the Encuentro feeling empowered and energized.
“To me, the main message I heard was that as young adults we still matter in the Church,” said Espinoza. “We are the present. We have to make our voices count. We were told to keep that eagerness and happiness from the conference and show it at our parishes. We were encouraged to be in leadership roles and reach out to help where we’re needed.”
Mariana Franco, parishioner of St. James Cathedral, especially loved the young adult dinner with the bishops. “When the bishop at my table asked what the Church can do to increase youth participation my answer was – have more of these dinners,” she said eagerly. “It was great to have the opportunity to sit with a bishop and multiple priests. They need to develop a personal relationship with the youth, get to know them as a person, and then evangelize.”
Andrea, a junior at Bishop Moore Catholic High School, has been involved in the local V Encuentro gatherings locally and worked on creating many of the promotional and informational materials that were used. She calls being involved in the process a “life-changing experience.”
“Because of this process, I have learned so much about the needs of all Catholic Hispanics,” said Andrea. “This initiative to understand the needs of Hispanics and develop leaders that will go and evangelize in our parishes and the periphery, is incredibly important for our faith.”
V Encuentro is a five-year process, so while it will not officially conclude until 2020 Andrea commented that the she has already seen the conversations bear fruit and the ideas generated have given everyone involved hope for the future of the Catholic Church.
“This Encuentro was filled with so many fruits of the Holy Spirit. The most prominent fruit I was able to experience was the fruit of love. This was present through the fellowship between all of the members, and throughout the entire Hispanic community as a whole. Joyfulness was definitely another key fruit in this process because everyone was filled with complete joy, knowing they are making a difference,” said Andrea. “One of the most significant factors that made the Encuentro even happen was the fruit of faithfulness. Every member who devoted many hours to developing this process did it because of their faith and hope in improving the lives of Hispanics in the Catholic Faith.”
For more information, visit www. vencuentro.org/ or www.orlandodiocese.org/ministries-offices/v-encuentro/
By Elizabeth Wilson Florida Catholic Correspondent – September 24, 2018