The huge halls of the Gaylord Resort Convention Centre in Grapevine, near Dallas, Texas, were too small for the 3,200 participants, delegates from parishes, dioceses and institutions that gathered at the V Encuentro de Pastoral Hispana Latina en los Estados Unidos. The preparation process began as early as 2013, took the form of proposals and meetings in small groups - in universities, schools, movements - and in parishes, since 2017 in local meetings organized by local dioceses, and then in regional meetings in each of the 14 ecclesiastical regions into which the country is organized.
The first of the National Meetings was held in 1972 and, in view of the results achieved, the participants agreed in hoping that, together with the implementation of the results of the one that has just closed, a new VI Meeting will be convened at the appropriate time, and they even ask for more: that "the spirit of the Meeting" be taken up by the English-speaking Catholic community and the other linguistic or ethnic communities.
Not only for Latinos
The spontaneity of the Latino character has made all the sessions, including the liturgical celebrations, a continuous celebration, confirming the impression that has been gaining ground in all sectors of North American Catholicism: from Latinos must come a contribution that renews everyone, based on their values and traditions. Their sense of family and community, their culturally rooted faith, their joie de vivre, are the foundation of a new and vibrant Latino culture. "a gift that God has sent to the Church in this country to revive something that is fundamental to our own lives and to our relationship with God."said Mark J. Seitz, Bishop of El Paso. Their contribution will depend, above all, on their ability to become "missionary disciples," as the theme of the Encounter indicated.
In that sense, it has been repeated in many ways that the Encuentro is not for Latinos, but that its fruits should be for everyone. In fact, given the growth of the Hispanic population and its weight in the Church, in the future it will be from here that most of its future priests and bishops, catechists and parishioners will come from, as CNS editor Greg Erlandson wrote in the dossier that Palabra dedicated in March to the preparation of the Encuentro; that is to say, their awareness of their numerical weight must translate into the assumption of leadership responsibilities.
This also means preferential attention to the formation of this sector of the population, especially those involved in "Hispanic ministry", so that they can assume the mission they are called to carry out: this is one of the focal points of the bishops' efforts.
"That we Latinos know how to adhere to the other communities."The Archbishop of Los Angeles, José Horacio Gómez, summed up one of his wishes in response to a question about his dreams for the future. And in an applauded video greeting at the opening of the sessions, Pope Francis expressed these ideas perfectly, calling for "to recognize the specific gifts offered by Hispanic Catholics". like "part of a larger process of renewal and missionary impulse."and requesting "to consider how local churches can best respond to the growing presence, gifts and potential of the Hispanic community.".
Light in a difficult moment
It is a difficult time for American Catholics, who, in the face of reports of abuse by clerics, are having to deal with a number of problems. "heartbroken, and rightly so"as the Bishop of San Antonio, Gustavo Garcia Siller, said. In this context, the V Encounter was even providential: the vice-president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America described it as "a caress from God". Logically, these matters were not proper to this convocation, but there were numerous occasions in which the speakers expressed sadness and requests for forgiveness, also in a liturgical context.
Among them were the most prominent ecclesial representatives of the United States, beginning with Apostolic Nuncio Christophe Pierre and Cardinal Daniel Di Nardo, President of the Episcopal Conference, as well as a large representation of bishops. Both they and the lay delegates cultivated a constructive tone and a familiar style in their interventions (homilies, presentations, testimonies, personal testimonies, debates).
Suffice it to say that Cardinal Sean O'Malley, bishop of Boston, member of the Council of Cardinals and president of the papal Commission for the Protection of Minors, introduced himself at the beginning of his homily simply as a Capuchin friar, and "Boston claims bureau chief".. In this line of communion and friendly informality, except in liturgical celebrations, the bishops were not assigned a special place, but took a seat or shared a table among the other registered delegates.
Consolidation of Hispanic ministry
The leaders of the departments dealing with "cultural diversity" in the dioceses and in the Episcopal Conference, in whose competence Hispanic ministry falls, stressed the importance of the attention awakened by the Encuentro among the non-Hispanic bishops. The awareness was affirmed that, where there is not yet a stable Hispanic ministry, it must be created; where it exists but is weak, it must be strengthened; and in any case, the Hispanic perspective must be incorporated into the various fields of pastoral activity.
As for starting a Hispanic ministry where it does not yet exist, a young priest from a northern diocese, bordering Canada, told me that his bishop had sent him to the Encuentro to acquire the necessary experience and to initiate this activity in view of the demographic growth of the population of the Latino tradition, although in the diocese Hispanics are still only 1% of Catholics: specifically, only two families in his parish.
Regarding the strengthening of the existing ministry, Professor Hosffman Ospino, of the Boston CollegeThe respected scholar of the Hispanic phenomenon was sympathetic to the fact that it is not uncommon to find Church organizations where one person takes care of 50 % of the diocese, and 60 people take care of the other 50 %. It will be difficult for such situations to occur after the Grapevine Encounter.
The hour of the laity
Naturally, the sociological configuration of American Catholicism and its pastoral needs evolve, and for this reason Latinos are not a static group. It is now common for third-generation Latinos to no longer speak Spanish and to assimilate into the lifestyles of their more secularized peers. Among non-believers, a growing group, the number of Latinos is also growing. Hence, a central concern is the faith of the younger generations, and their preparation so that they can discover that God walks with them and take an active part in the life of the Church.
In any case, if the future of the Church is, to a great extent, in the hands of the Latinos, it is mainly a call to the laity. José H. Gómez recalled in his homily at the closing Mass that the person chosen by the Virgin of Guadalupe to entrust her legacy in America was precisely a layman: the Indian Juan Diego. He concluded: "This moment in the Church is the hour of the laity. It is calling the lay faithful to work together with the bishops and to rebuild their Church; not only in this country, but throughout the continents of the Americas.".
The massive participation of lay people in the Encounter, as well as the fact that the organizing team was largely led by them, is a reflection of this shared responsibility. A significant fact is that the National Director of the V Encounter and one of those responsible for the good course of the convocation was a layman of Mexican origin, Alejandro Aguilera-Titus, whom we thank for having written for Palabra the analysis that accompanies this chronicle.