By Violeta Rocha
Special to The Texas Catholic
GRAPEVINE — Where can the faithful serve the church as Latinos?
That was the question on the minds of thousands after four days of dialogue and fellowship focused them on finding better ways to minister to Hispanic Catholics in the United States. Blanca Balderas and Francisco López, parishioners of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Frisco, were among the delegates at the Fifth National Encuentro, or V Encuentro, held Sept. 20-23 in Grapevine.
“The personal commitment to be agents of change begins now,” said López, a member of the stewardship committee in his parish. “We carry the message of transforming ourselves and transforming our own church. The first factor is our testimony.”
Balderas joined 66 other delegates from the Diocese of Dallas who attended the event that brought together more than 3,000 participants involved in Hispanic ministry at the national level.
Maria Beltrán, a delegate on the committee, said that 22 Dallas parishes participated, adding that the invitation to be involved remains open for those who did not complete the process.
“The bishops of the United States are telling Hispanics that we are a gift,” she said. “Our next task is to see how we are going to implement all the fruits of this Encuentro.”
“It is good that we return to visit our parish priests to say: We have worked in the V Encuentro during these two years and this is what we have found. How would you like it to be implemented in your parish,” Beltrán said.
With The Bishops
In his homily at the closing Mass on Sept. 23, Archbishop José H. Gómez of Los Angeles, who also serves as the vice president of the U.S. Conference of Bishops, cited examples of San Juan Diego and the Salvadoran martyr Blessed óscar Romero to exhort to commitment.
“You are the spiritual heirs of San Juan Diego; he is calling each one of you to go with the bishops,” Archbishop Gómez said. “In a few weeks, we will have a new Hispanic saint. Let us follow this beautiful reflection of San Romero: ‘let’s find what God wants from us.’ ”
Omar Pineda, advisor for a youth group at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Garland, said that Hispanic leadership is already on that path.
“As young people, we do not just want to be part of a ministry, but also to be on the team that makes the decisions,” he said.
Pineda said he felt supported by the bishops of the country after participating in a private dinner on the second day of Encuentro, with some 80 senior prelates of the church, including Bishop Edward J. Burns of Dallas.
“Bishops are listening to our reality and that motivates me to continue working because there is hope that the doors will be opened more,” Pineda said.
Leticia Ledesma, a delegate of St. Ann Catholic Church in Coppell, shared that sentiment.
“It was a very pleasant surprise and a humble gesture,” she said. “Being able to share with the bishops breaks those barriers of approaching and talking face to face.”
Maria Gonzales-Rocha, coordinator of Hispanic ministry at St. Monica Catholic Church, said the V Encuentro made her feel supported in her mission.
“I have worked in Hispanic ministry since my youth and now I feel like I’ve never been wrong,” said Gonzales-Rocha, who attended along with nine other delegates from her parish. “It gives me the strength to continue motivating more young Latinos and to work more for their preparation and spiritual growth.”
With regard to the new generations of Latinos, Father Henry Erazo, parochial vicar of St. Mark the Evangelist in Plano, said that the meeting made clear the need to invest in alternative methods that attract them.
“We must involve young people through what they like, such as sports or art,” said the Colombian parish priest, who accompanied eight delegates from his church. “As soon as a young person is involved, they begin to develop their skills. We must put into practice everything we have learned at this Encuentro.”
Bishop Daniel Flores of the Diocese of Brownsville and Sister Norma Pimentel, director of Catholic Charities for the Rio Grande Valley region, discussed the importance of including first-generation Latino immigrants, urging the Hispanic faithful to be “companions” in their faith journey.
“Jesus accompanied his disciples so later they could accompany those who they met on their paths of their missionary lives,” Bishop Flores said.
Bishop Mark J. Seitz, a Dallas priest who now serves as bishop of El Paso, told The Texas Catholic that the Latino presence at V Encuentro is a symbol of hope.
“I can tell the Anglo community that it has nothing to fear because the Catholic Church will grow if the Latino community grows,” said Bishop Seitz, adding that he hoped the encounter would help the Hispanic community find its voice in the chuch. “When the Hispanic community finds its voice, many things will change because it is very easy to ignore the one who does not say anything.”