In less than two months, I will participate in the V National Encuentro alongside 3,000 other delegates and collaborators who are engaged in Hispanic/Latino Ministry in the United States. Inspired by Pope Francis’ social teaching and actions of compassion and care for our neighbors, especially the most vulnerable, the gathering’s theme is “Missionary Disciples, Witnesses of God’s Love.” This theme reflects the commitment Hispanic/Latinos have made as missionary disciples to go forth and serve those who are poor and suffering.
The gathering is an opportunity for participants to review and reflect on the experiences and significance of the four-year Encuentro process and generate ministerial best practices and concrete responses on how the Church can recognize the contributions Hispanic/Latinos make to parishes and dioceses and better support them. As a first-generation Hispanic/Latina immigrant, I feel honored to be part of the mission and planning process that has engaged thousands of Catholics across the U.S.
I currently serve on the National Planning Leadership Team, the Program Subcommittee Team, and Co-Chair the Planning Committee for the Justice and Peace ministerial breakout session. Each of these roles has allowed me to better understand the vision and objectives for the V Encuentro and to think creatively about the goals of the convening, one of which is to increase the participation of young and second and third generation Hispanic/Latinos. Integral to this experience has been ensuring that my work is informed by the local consultations that have happened across the country. This active listening process has allowed us to gain insights into the community’s needs and to identify areas for future growth and improvement.
The V National Encuentro is the culmination of a two-year discernment process of evangelization, mission, and consultation with parishes, dioceses and episcopal regions on the best pastoral priorities and practices needed to recognize the presence, gifts, and skills of the Hispanic/Latino community. This convening signifies a key moment for the Church as it discerns the best ways to respond to and support the multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and multi-generational community that is actively living out their faith in parishes and dioceses across the U.S. It’s been inspiring to witness how this discernment process has served as the catalyst for developing ministries among Hispanics/Latinos during the past fifty years and will continue to do so for years to come.
The Encuentro process has served as an opportunity for all Catholics to actively engage as missionary disciples and created the space to discuss the challenges and needs Hispanics/Latinos face. This has happened at multiple levels and the data coming in from the regional Encuentros is being used to inform the discussions at the upcoming national gathering. The process has also inspired important conversations about the best practices and opportunities for future growth and development of the Church.
As Catholics continue to engage in discussions in their local areas about how to continue strengthening Hispanic ministry in their communities, I am especially grateful for the concrete actions the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Office of Education and Outreach has taken to value the gifts of Hispanic Catholics and help bridge some of the existing gaps in the Church’s ministries. One example is the small grants program we’ve developed to help Hispanic Ministry and Social Justice diocesan staff form relationships, learn common interests, and identify areas for collaboration.
A second example is that as Diamond Sponsors of the V National Encuentro, we have offered scholarships to lay or emerging leaders who are active in diocesan or parish peace and justice ministry to attend the convening in September. Our office will also be actively engaged during the national gathering by leading the Justice and Peace ministerial breakout session and sharing numerous bilingual resources at our exhibit booth. In particular, we will be highlighting Catholic social teaching resources that will be available to everyone and are meant to complement the work Catholics are doing to continue advancing the social mission of the Church and supporting our Hispanic/Catholic brothers and sisters.
As we get closer to the V National Encuentro, I am excited to gather with so many from across the country as we discern what it means to be a Church that witnesses to God’s love. I hope to see you there!
Ivone Guillen is the Catholic Social Teaching Education and Outreach Coordinator in the USCCB Office of Education and Outreach.