Regional V Encuentro gathering draws 250 local clergy, religious and lay leaders to Visalia
By Petra Alexander and Lynne De La Torre
VISALIA—You couldn’t miss those green shirts.
The Diocese of San Bernardino sent 250 delegates to the Region XI gathering of the V Encuentro April 27-29 and many wore a bright green t-shirt in the spirit of unity.
The Region XI gathering brought together the 15 dioceses of Hawaii, California and Nevada. With 20 bishops and two cardinals to lead us, we opened our journey in the Central California community of Visalia with more than 1,300 delegates from various ministries, movements and services in the Church.
The Opening Mass had the power of a welcome and the words of Bishop Armando Ochoa from the host Diocese of Fresno made us feel at home. There was a procession of crosses, accompanied by candles, representing thanksgiving for all the pioneering people who formed the foundation of Hispanic ministry in each diocese.
During his welcome remarks, our Bishop Gerald Barnes, Episcopal representative of Region XI, encouraged us to honestly look at the new reality of Hispanics in the Church of the United States, to take into account the responsibility of our process, and to discern the priorities of the pastoral future. He noted the overwhelming number of those with the green shirts, his own diocese, drawing loud cheers from the sea of green shirts.
Our first day of work began with Mass, for which Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco was the presider. In his homily, Archbishop Cordileone pointed out the essence of the disciple: not just “knowing things” about Jesus, but actually meeting Him.
He encouraged us to take our baptismal call seriously and to walk into that light of the intimate knowledge of our Lord. From a spiritual life, from prayer we advance to that light that dispels any fear and only redresses us from the holy fear of God, the fear that is recognition of God’s plan and His power, Archbishop Cordileone said.
Dr. José Antonio Medina, Director of the Diocesan Office of Continuing Formation of Priests, led us in the reflection and study of our regional document. He highlighted the challenging statistics in our Region, the Hispanic growth in certain areas, the lack of resources, and, especially, the lack of Hispanic priests.
The regional gathering focused on ten ministerial areas on which to reflect and identify opportunities and challenges.
The Plenary Sessions revealed major themes that we have brought as Region XI: the lack of pastoral care to our youth, accompanying families in their many challenges, the great difficulties faced by immigrants, and the urgent need to direct our goals towards greater formation of our lay leaders.
Kevin Rosales, a diocesan delegate who belongs to St. Joseph Parish in Fontana, said his biggest learning from the Plenary Sessions was the need to put greater emphasis on higher education for many in the Hispanic community.
“We are trying to pinpoint those root causes of why we are not able to have or see as many Hispanics in higher education, or in Catholic schools,” he said. “That is problematic mainly because they are the future of not only our nation but that will lead future offices and movements to better our country.”
For Diocesan seminarian Rafael Flores one theme stood out.
“To help our youth become more involved—that seems to be the common topic,” he observed. “Everybody seems to want to get the youth involved, we just don’t know how to reach out to them.”
At the end of the first day two missionary activities were offered by Catholic Relief Services. The first was an opportunity to bag grains for food collections that will be sent to Burkina Faso, and Pan Para el Mundo (Bread for the world). There were over 60 people in one room with red hairnets and gloves. After introductions, instructions, a quick prayer, and a couple of testimonies of the beauty and impact of missionary work, particularly that of CRS, the participants took a place in one of 11 stations. Among them was the only clergy in the room, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Rutilio del Riego from our Diocese. The youth and all the delegates in that room were joyously working, packing meals, and not one person was left without a smile on their face.
The second activity was to organize a collection of signatures for our politicians, petitioning them to include more federal dollars for food programs, and to support the DREAMERS.
On Sunday we got to the work of ministerial areas to articulate national recommendations. Father Allan F. Deck, SJ, Jesuit theologian, offered us a synthesis of the road traversed and pointed out some challenges to the future.
As a companion to the Hispanic people in our region, Fr. Deck was clear in pointing out that we cannot put aside the rich history of faith lived in California and the struggle for the rights of Latinos. That our footprint is still fresh, but the new generations are challenged to go farther than us. He encouraged the laity to take the ministerial service torch seriously and to encourage our pastors to keep their prophetic voice.
Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles was the presider at our Closing Mass. His ecclesial zeal motivated us to remain rooted in true life. He exhorted each one us according to our vocation (“be a true microphone of God”), proclaiming Him with words and actions in our daily lives.
The secretaries of our different work tables have turned in a long list of comments and conclusions that will be used to prepare the national report. We have surfaced many common concerns in order to keep our faith alive, to remain faithful to the Church and to the transformation of our communities.
“How is it that we can take more responsibility? We need to take an extra step,” said diocesan delegate Lorena Corona, reflecting on the three day gathering. “We all have a little to give to make sure that all our children, Hispanic and non-Hispanic, deserve the opportunity to dream, and to support them.”
We closed these days together with great gratitude to our hosts in the Diocese of Fresno, recognizing those who worked so hard on the logistics. Thanking the Liturgy Committee and the Choir for the expressive and solemn liturgies; to the facilitators of the Ministerial Area discussions for their painstaking work in the process of dialogue and discernment; to the facilitators of the Ministerial area for their diligent work in the process of dialogue and discernment; to the RECOSS (Region Eleven Commission on the Spanish Speaking) members, Hispanic Ministry Directors, Pastoral Youth and Pastoral Migrants for having organized and conducted the meeting; to Digna Ramírez López for being the representative of our region and head of this process; to our Bishops and Cardinals, for the generosity of their presence and above all thanking God, because He blew His spirit upon us and made our hearts burn in these days and nourished us with the same faith and with the same Body of His son, just as He nourished the first missionary disciples.
Petra Alexander is the Director of the Diocesan Office of Hispanic Affairs. Lynne De La Torre is the Digital Media Specialist for the Diocese. Both were delegates to the Regional V Encuentro gathering.