The national Encuentros began in the Catholic Church in the United States in 1972. Since then, there have been three other Encuentros - 1977, 1985 and 2000. The third Encuentro brought together hundreds of thousands of Catholics from around the country in a consultation process that led to establishment of the National Pastoral Plan for Hispanic Ministry in the United States, which also inspired the rise of Spanish speaking bishops, priests, deacons and lay leadership in diocesan offices and parishes throughout our nation.
The main goal of the fifth gathering, or V Encuentro, is to discern ways in which the Church can better respond to the Hispanic/Latino presence, and to strengthen the ways in which Hispanics/Latinos respond to the call to the New Evangelization as missionary disciples serving the entire Church. The V Encuentro will help discern the Church's best pastoral and evangelizing response to Catholic parishes, dioceses, ecclesial movements, organizations, and institutions at a local, regional and national level.
More than 30 years have passed since the National Pastoral Plan was written and put into action. Since then, the reality of Hispanic Ministry has drastically changed. For example, the Hispanics/Latinos are the emerging majority; they constitute 60 percent of all Catholics under 18 in the U.S. It is important that we find ways to reach over a million Hispanic/Latino Catholics through a process of the New Evangelization and missionary discipleship.
We must look at ways to expand the space for growth of leadership inclusion and ministerial responsiveness in Catholic institutions. How can we engage the largest segment of the Hispanic/Latino presence: second- and third-generation young people? These generations are leaving to practice their faith elsewhere in alarming numbers, presenting major challenges for the Church.
Members from our diocese on the regional team are Milagros Ramos, director for the Office of Cultural Diversity, and Doris Valentin, director of Hispanic Migrant Ministry. In addition, we have sent Deacon Alejandro Manunta to be trained for the diocesan team.
We are currently in the process of naming the diocesan team for the V Encuentro, which will consist of representatives of the various diocesan ministries, apostolic groups, and Marian groups; including priests, deacons, religious, couples and youth ministry. Once the bishop appoints the diocesan team, they will be trained to work with the parish team leaders in our diocese, who will hold the parish Encuentro. This should take place in the spring of 2017.
In the fall of 2017, the Diocesan Encuentro will take place, followed by the Regional Encuentro. We are part of Episcopal Region II, led by Bishop Nelson Perez. Our diocese will send four delegates to the National V Encuentro, which will take place in Grapevine, Texas Sept. 27-30, 2018.
This process is very important toward giving vitality to the Church in the United States. It is our hope that all parishes participate in this process. It is a process of reflection and ecclesial action.
For more information visit www.vencuentro.org.
Summer Mission this year will take place July 12-14, from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. Tuesday it will be held at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, in Dunkirk and Wednesday and Thursday at Holy Cross on Seventh Street, Buffalo. The theme will be that of the V Encuentro, "Missionary Disciples: Witnesses of God's Love."