By Constanza Morales
Special to The Texas Catholic
On Nov. 18 Hispanic leaders from across the Diocese of Dallas will gather to celebrate the culmination of the first stage of V Encuentro, an initiative of the bishops of the United States, aimed to discern ways in which the Church can better respond to the needs and challenges that the growing Hispanic population faces.
The diocesan Encuentro event will be held at Bishop Lynch High School, where delegates from parishes as well as community members will come together to reflect on the different social, cultural and pastoral realities experienced by Hispanics in the Diocese of Dallas.
The ultimate goal, said Sister Beatriz Martínez-Garcia, SSND, of the diocesan delegates team, is “to be able to propose practical responses to specific needs and the aspirations of the Hispanic community, in a process of reflection and diocesan discernment.”
She said about 20 parishes in the diocese committed to fully organize and have the Encuentro themselves. Among those, she said nearly five have already completed the five sessions and missionary activities of the initial stage.
“The challenge for each parish is to continue working to change its reality,” Sister Beatriz said, “to strengthen the leadership each one has and reach more Hispanic Catholics who are estranged or feel marginalized.”
During the five weeks of reflection, discernment, consultation, and evangelization, parish teams sent leaders to homes and places of work in the community, to explore what Hispanics experience and how they feel about the role of the Church in their lives.
“Encuentro is an experience that is promoting the leadership of different people in our parishes,” Sister Beatriz said. “They are taking leadership because they are realizing that they can contribute to the Church and vice-versa.”
Sister Beatriz stressed that because a parish hasn’t completed the five talks yet or doesn’t have a date to start its own Encuentro, their members should understand they can still participate in the diocesan gathering.
“This is open to the entire diocese,” she said. “We want to hear from as many people as we can. If your parish didn’t have an Encuentro you still can register as an individual and come to reflect with all of us.”
For those parishes that are still trying to complete the process, the ‘Mega Encuentro’ is a good option.
Almost like a spiritual retreat, Mega Encuentro allows parishes to complete all five talks in five hours.
Ultimately, Sister Beatriz said, the methodology of Encuentro allows a parish to initiate talks and follow the process whenever it is ready and is also not a Hispanic exclusive process.
“It’s an opportunity that will benefit every community no matter the origin of the people,” Sister Beatriz said. “It is based both on the passage from the Gospel of St. Luke about the Road of Emmaus and Pope Francis’ encyclical, “The Joy of the Gospel.”
“Whenever a community is ready to organize the talks and missionary work, it can follow the steps of the process and make concrete commitments to advance the New Evangelization as a parish.”
One of the parishes that recently concluded its five talks was St. Ann’s in Coppell, which serves about 9,000 families of which 35 percent are of Hispanic origin.
“For me this is a time marked by hope,” said Debbie Gonzales, director of the Family Life Ministry.
“In my 17 years of service, I have seen that the Hispanic community continues to grow, but most of our parishes limit the ministry to them to sacramental preparation, translation of information or working with volunteers that lack faith formation.”
Gonzales was part of the team that organized Encuentro in her parish but she is also a diocesan delegate.
She said in her ministry she witnesses the challenges that impact the reality of Hispanic families, and that is why she said that sending leaders to speak with these families, “will open the eyes of many that have limited knowledge about the needs of Hispanics in our diocese”.
She spoke about the case of Hispanic youth. “Among Latino teenagers the expression of the faith is in Spanish, but most youth ministries are thought from an Anglo perspective. We need to listen to those young Latinos telling us why that does not work for them.”
The parish of St. Francis of Assisi in Frisco also concluded recently its Encuentro and is now coaching the parish of St. Michael the Archangel in McKinney.
“We are seeking to know the needs of the Hispanic community and how we as laity can help the Church reach out to those who are spiritually far away,” said Francisco López of the St. Francis parish team.
“Often they are not physical peripheries to which we have to go,” he said. “Sometimes we are sitting on the same bench at Mass but we are not really open to live our faith.”
Those who wish to participate individually in the diocesan meeting should register through the website: http://www.cathdal.org/vencuentro
Violeta Rocha contributed to this story.