Latin America

Sprouts of a new spring among the youth of the V Encuentro

Omnes-April 11, 2018-Reading time: 7 minutes

Gustavo Garcia-Siller has the double value of, on the one hand, being his diocese of San Antonio one of the most marked by Latino inertia and, on the other hand, because the archbishop is the chairman of the Committee for Cultural Diversity in the Church of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

TEXT - Gustavo García-Siller, MSpS
Archbishop of San Antonio (Texas)

In proclaiming the final message of the Second Vatican Council 52 years ago, Blessed Paul VI announced to the young people of that time that they would be "living in the world at a time of the most gigantic transformations in its history" (December 8, 1965). Today it is not difficult to see that in recent decades important changes have taken place that can be compared with those that have served in the study of history to divide it into epochs.

In fact, our Holy Father Francis has pointed out that "this epochal change has been brought about by the enormous qualitative, quantitative, accelerated and cumulative leaps in scientific development, in technological innovations and in their rapid applications in various fields of nature and life" (Evangelii Gaudium, n. 52). Notwithstanding these positive aspects, the Pope also points out that "some pathologies are on the increase", such as "an economy of exclusion", "the new idolatry of money", "inequity that generates violence", "attacks on religious freedom", "new situations of persecution of Christians", as well as "a diffuse relativistic indifference, related to the disenchantment and crisis of ideologies provoked as a reaction against everything that seems totalitarian" (ibid., nn. 53-60).

Changes in the United States

It is clear that in the United States, as in the rest of the world, the consensus on the traditionally accepted values that had governed social coexistence has to a greater or lesser extent fractured. Cultural sources of certainty are crumbling; new ones are emerging and others are being renewed. Among other things, this has resulted in an inability to reach solutions to many social problems at all levels, which in turn has generated distrust, indifference or indignation towards all authority figures as well as institutions, including the Church. In addition, outrageous scandals have acted as catalysts in this process of decomposition of the social fabric.

In the last 26 years alone, religious non-affiliation in the United States has increased from 3 % to 25 %, highlighting a marked increase in the number of people who claim to believe in God, but reject any institutional religion. A widespread tendency is seen to overvalue and exalt sensory experiences and emotionality over reason, scientific knowledge over the search for the meaning of existence, expression for its own sake over its contents, and individuality over collectivity. "Fear and despair take hold of the hearts of many people... The joy of living is often extinguished, disrespect and violence are on the increase, inequality is ever more evident" (ibid., n. 52). Faced with this reality, the Pope exhorts us to recognize "that a culture in which everyone wants to be the bearer of his or her own subjective truth makes it difficult for citizens to wish to be part of a common project beyond their own personal benefits and desires" (ibid., n. 61).

Situation of young people

At the same time, we are seeing the emergence of a generation of young people who lack confidence in themselves and their abilities. Many have suffered the absence of their parents, largely because both have been forced to work to sustain a decent standard of living. Others have been overprotected from the hardships of a world full of threats and uncertainty.
Both phenomena result in fragility of character. It is a hyper-connected and hyper-informed generation, but with little formation of ethical criteria and whose prolonged use of new information technologies has hindered the development of its relational capacity. There is a generalized pessimism and a tendency to hyper-opinion as an attempt at self-affirmation, as well as a widespread attitude of protest, but without sufficient competence to make proposals, turning individuals into easily manipulated pieces by the interests that drive ideological colonizations. Especially today, young people are eager for close, credible, congruent and honest reference figures.

Demographic transformation

This already complex global scenario has combined in the United States with a profound demographic transformation, particularly in the Church, which presents a major challenge. Thankfully, the number of Catholics in the country is growing and Hispanics account for 71 % of the increase in the Catholic population since 1960, even though some 14 million Hispanics in the United States no longer identify themselves as Catholic. Just half a century ago, of every 20 U.S. Catholics, approximately 17 were white, English-speaking Euro-Americans, while today more than 40% are of Hispanic origin, primarily from Latin America; about 5 % are Asian, 4 % are African-American and a quarter of all U.S. Catholics are immigrants. Most Hispanics are adults, but only one-third are migrants. In other words, a large proportion of the Hispanic population was born in the United States and is very young.

About 58 % of Hispanics are under the age of 33, 60 % of Catholics under the age of 18 in the country are Hispanic and more than 90 % of Hispanics under the age of 18 were born in the United States. All this indicates, on the one hand, that the Church in the United States is in the process of diversification and, on the other hand, that its new face is predominantly Hispanic. This new cultural diversity is reflected, among other things, in the fact that 40 % of the country's parishes celebrate Mass in languages other than English. We are also moving from having abundant material resources to being a relatively poor Church.

Signs of hope

Undoubtedly the panorama seems threatening, but feeling the almost crushing weight of problems and responsibility, we wanted to follow the example of the Apostle St. James and St. Juan Diego, to be docile messengers, confident that being sent by our Heavenly Mother, we will enjoy her protection within the folds of her mantle. Our faith in the Risen Lord allows us to recognize, above all, positive aspects in our present circumstances and to see in them signs of hope. Such is the case, for example, of a re-evaluation of affectivity and human love, a growing sensitivity to the "other" and a new spiritual openness.

Many young people have a great and transparent thirst for God, but at the same time a great fear of being disappointed. They want proposals expressed in new and attractive ways, intellectually profound and coherent, that imply a radical commitment capable of giving meaning to their lives, but above all that are demonstrated by the witness, self-sacrifice and sincere friendship of those who propose them. In this sense, the young people of today are not very different from those of the past, but they have lived in a context that hinders their sense of belonging and therefore, although it is not easy to persuade them, they are capable of surprising us with their capacity for dedication.

Thirty-five years ago, St. John Paul II called the Church, from Latin America, to an evangelization "new in its ardor, in its methods, in its expression", coining the term "....New Evangelization"(Address to the CELAM Assembly, March 9, 1983, Port-au-Prince, Haiti). Pope Francis, formed in that Latin American Church, with renewed fervor has relaunched this call to missionary commitment that has its origin in the encounter with Jesus Christ and is nourished by him. It is not re-evangelization, but missionary discipleship that begins with personal and pastoral conversion, again and again, sustained by the mercy of the eternal Father, whose face is Jesus, our Savior.

A historic opportunity

This is the dimension of the challenge we decided to venture into the V National Encounter of Hispanic/Latino Pastoral MinistryWe recognize that we are facing an historic opportunity to rejuvenate the Church in the United States, to make her more clearly visible in the radiant face of her eternally youthful founder. We recognize that we are faced with an historic opportunity to rejuvenate the Church in the United States, so that the radiant face of her eternally youthful founder may be more clearly visible in her. We have chosen to do so in response to the call of Pope Francis and in keeping with his captivating pastoral zeal, style and approach to today's challenges.

We have understood that in this new era it is no longer enough to preach from the pulpit, expecting the faithful to abide by the authority of the pastor or the bishop. It is no longer enough to make known a series of obligations and rules, with the expectation that they will be fulfilled. It is necessary to go out and seek the sheep, to "graze" with them, until we feel comfortable smelling like sheep. We are doing our best as Church to meet the Risen One in the peripheries, like the disciples of Emmaus, to let ourselves be moved by the tender mercy that the Lord has lavished on us and then to go out with burning hearts to meet everyone where they are.

In this way, the V Encuentro has gathered thousands of missionary disciples in parish and diocesan meetings. The last report received on the celebration of the V Encuentro at the diocesan level totals 135 dioceses. The voices of all the participants are now being heard at the regional level and later will be heard at the National Encounter.

Among the programs specifically aimed at young people, the National Colloquium on Youth Ministry was held, which brought together diocesan leaders, bishops, academics, religious, researchers, parish leaders, philanthropists and heads of national organizations. We also had a Catechetical Sunday, which motivated the commitment of parents and the whole community to support together the catechesis of our children and youth, and accompany them on their journey in joyful and meaningful ways. We also had a viral video contest, as well as other initiatives.


During my time as Chairman of the Cultural Diversity Committee of the Episcopal Conference, I have witnessed the presence of the Holy Spirit in this process. I have found that this experience has been uplifting and good for many of our brothers and sisters in the faith. With God's favor, we are overcoming outdated customs to make way for the irresistible compassion of Jesus. The Lord seems to be inspiring new expressions of spirituality, as well as a renewed theological and pastoral understanding of some realities that we may have neglected. Many new leaders have emerged, especially lay leaders, who are assuming with renewed passion their missionary responsibility in the Church and in the world. New ways of expressing the truth of Christ in a beautiful way, mobilizing the hearts of the new generations to authentic love, are emerging.

Once again, Hispanics are being historic instruments for the spread of the Gospel message. We are rediscovering the beauty and richness of our faith and traditions, while our warmth, joy and vitality are encouraging the unity in the diversity of a society which has an enormous need to heal wounds. Halfway through this great undertaking and hand in hand with Our Lady of Guadalupe, Star of the New Evangelization, today I can echo the words that our Holy Father addressed to the young people in Rio de Janeiro: "I will continue to nourish an immense hope in young people... through them, Christ is preparing a new springtime throughout the world. I have seen the first results of this sowing, others will rejoice in the abundant harvest" (Address during the Farewell Ceremony, July 28, 2013).

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