‘Encuentro Franciscano’ an Outstanding Success

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

SILVER SPRING, Md. — Nearly 600 people gathered two weeks ago at St. Camillus Church here to enjoy music, prayer, fellowship and workshops during the Province’s first “Encuentro Franciscano,” an event celebrating Hispanic culture in Franciscan ministry.

The daylong event, which attracted attendees from Boston to South Florida, was described as a “mucho grande” success by attendees, organizers and Province leaders. 

The Oct. 24 program, “Encuentro Franciscano: Challenge for the Community and Evangelization,” began with a welcome by Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, after nearly an hour of contagious clapping and singing kicked off the event.

John, introduced by master of ceremonies Ana Schmitt, emphasized the importance today of celebrating Hispanic culture and of the need to forge friendships.

“The Hispanic community has enriched the Catholic Church and the United States in so many ways. Your rich culture and your dedication to family — both nuclear and extended — are especially impressive. Our gathering today is an opportunity for our Franciscan brothers to express our solidarity with you,” John said.

“This is not an Hispanic event. This is a Franciscan event,” said Schmitt, a member of St. Paul’s Parish in Wilmington, Del., and the Province’s Hispanic Ministry Committee, as she welcomed the many HNP parishes and ministries, mentioning each by name to throngs of cheers. 

Enthusiastic Participants
The attendees came from more than a dozen parishes and ministries, including the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry and the HNP Ministry of the Word. Large groups from Anderson, S.C., Durham, N.C., and Paterson N.J., traveled by bus.

Alejandro Aguilera-Titus, (shown in photo) associate director for the National Multi-Cultural Ministry Office of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), gave two keynote talks: “Weaving Together a Culturally Diverse Church” and “Young Adults Committed to the Ecclesial and Social Mission of the Church.” In the morning, he described the changing demographics of the United States, talking of the need to build unity among diverse cultural groups.

“Fifty percent of Catholics under the age of 29 are Hispanic,” he said.

The Encuentro, which means “gathering” in Spanish, was organized by the HNP Hispanic Ministry Committee and offered 12 breakout sessions given by friars, parishioners and staff members. (A list of the workshops can be found in the June 3 issue of HNP Today).

The high caliber of workshops and participants’ enthusiasm were just two indicators of Encuentro’s success, said committee member William McIntyre, OFM.

“We got more than we expected — as far as both the number of people who attended and the level of enthusiasm,” said committee member Juan de la Cruz Turcios, OFM, a parishioner of St. Camillus before joining the Province’s formation program.

The day closed with a Mass celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Francisco Gonzalez of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. Eight friars concelebrated the Spanish Mass.

“Everyone who came generously shared the gifts they possessed,” said Christopher Posch, OFM, chair of the Hispanic Ministry Committee, “whether it was singing, cooking, serving, designing banners, welcoming, translating, caring for young children, creating best practices, assembling nametags, organizing small workshops, setting up, performing or presenting topics.”

Valuable Outcomes 
Christopher said the event was significant for several reasons:
• It was animated: It created excitement to develop a passion for Hispanic communities.
• It created awareness: It helped make the Province and its ministry sites aware of the Hispanic presence and its many blessings. 
• It provided an exchange of tools and resources to connect ethnic and mainstream communities at parishes and shrines locally, to better serve Hispanic youth, particularly teenagers. To share expertise among Hispanic ministry sites. Christopher said that the newer sites connected with more developed sites to share resources, consult and plan future activities such as regional retreats, youth gatherings and formation. Some more established Hispanic ministry sites experienced the joy of mission by accompanying and supporting newer ministries. To continue the conversation, the committee has developed a blog to facilitate discussion between friars and laity. 

Positive Reactions
“I was moved by the accompaniment and support of the mainstream English-speakers of Holy Name Province, including the presence of first-year postulants, novices, simply-professed student friars, Secular Franciscans, Franciscan Volunteer Ministers, Russell Testa of the Province’s Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Office, members of the Ministry of the Word team, friends from the Siena College Admissions Office, as well as representatives from the Province’s Communications Office,” said Christopher.

In a post on the new Encuentro blog, the Provincial Minister complimented the Hispanic Ministry Committee: 

“The huge turnout of people from our many ministries involved with Hispanics demonstrated in a very concrete way the level of commitment that our Province has to the Hispanic community,” John said. “In addition, the representative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops paid us a great compliment when he described the ministry of the friars as an example of what ministry to the Latino community should be. I thank the Hispanic Ministry Committee, our partners-in-ministry, and all of those who worked so hard to make the Encuentro gathering an outstanding success.”

EncuentroChristopher VanHaight, OFM, of St. Bonaventure Parish in Paterson, N.J., a member of the Hispanic Ministry Committee, introduced the videos as they were shown. He summed up the event: “The Encuentro displayed for me the maturation of Hispanic ministry in Holy Name Province. We have moved from simply providing the sacraments and various services to Latinos to working together as they take ownership of their faith lives, becoming another example of partners-in-ministry. No longer on the sidelines, Hispanic ministry is clearly moving toward full integration in our Province.” 

In addition to Christopher VanHaight, other committee members who worked on the event included: 
   · Lawrence Hayes, OFM, of St. Camillus Church, who provided translation services
· Thomas Conway, OFM, of Brant Beach, N.J., who compiled a bilingual list of best practices
· Juan Turcios of Tampa, Fla., who said the opening prayer
· William McIntyre of Durham, N.C., who supervised the registration process

Members of the Province’s Hispanic Ministry Committee are working on ways to keep the enthusiasm of the event going. “The committee encourages the familiarization and sharing of the many resources that we have at each site, and perhaps holding regional gatherings on specified topics,” said Christopher Posch.

“I hope that this will become an annual affair,” added John Parr, who traveled from St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Raleigh, N.C., “encouraging Hispanic communities to share their experiences and to promote solidarity in the broader community, not only among the predominantly working-class participants, but also with all members of our parishes who are involved in various forms of ministry to Hispanics.” 

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.