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Friars Meet in California to Discuss Hispanic Ministry

The friar participants at the Juntos Como Hermanos meeting in Oceanside, California. (Photo courtesy of Oscar Mendez, OFM)

OCEANSIDE, Calif. – Friars interested in Hispanic ministry met at Old Mission San Luis Rey retreat center from Oct. 7 to 10 to coordinate efforts, share best practices, and encourage one another in their work. This meeting followed a positive response to the interest group’s meetings held during this summer’s interprovincial Chapter of Mats in Denver in which almost 40 friars participated.

The 18 friars at the October meeting  — a  group called Juntos Como Hermanos, or Together as Brothers in English — heard presentations from two outside speakers: José Antonio Medina, director of the Office of Continuing Education for Priests of the Diocese of San Bernardino, California, and Ernesto Vega, coordinator for Adult Faith Formation in Spanish for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, California.

Insights from Speakers
Medina provided a range of often overlooked facts about Catholic Hispanics. For example, he said most Hispanics in the U.S. are not immigrants. They have a deep devotion to Jesus and to His Eucharistic presence. Hispanic cultures focus on community and have pioneered the faith-based model of community organizing, he said.  Furthermore, Hispanics not only have the largest percentage of lay Catholics in faith formation and pastoral leadership programs, but they represent the largest population currently in the canonization process.

José Antonio Medina addresses the friars about the lived reality of Hispanic Catholics in the U.S. (Photo courtesy of the author).

The San Bernardino diocese representative also discussed ongoing concerns. For example, he mentioned ministries underserved by Latino leaders, such as prison ministry, and how to promote education as a value in Hispanic households. He encouraged the friars to explore ways to better minister to second- and third-generation Latinos.

Medina, who earned a doctorate in sacred theology at the Pontifical University of Salamanca, Spain, has taught in Mexico, Spain and in most of the diocesan leadership formation institutes and diocesan congresses in the dioceses of California and Nevada, including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress in Anaheim. He also has taught at Mount St. Mary’s College and Loyola Marymount University, and has written books on pastoral ministry and catechesis. Medina is currently a consultant for Hispanic affairs for RECOSS at the California Catholic Conference of Bishops.

Ernesto Vega talks to the friars about V Encuentro. (Photo courtesy of the author)

Vega further developed Medina’s talk about the recent national conference on Catholic Hispanic ministry: V Encuentro. The major concerns coming out of that conference were the need for better lay leadership training and ways to encourage a lifelong faith formation that inspires missionary discipleship. Emphasis was placed on the need for more hospitable parish staffs, but interestingly, the strongest resistance to the Encuentro process was found to be greatest among parish priests. As Vega put it, “Laypeople took the initiative, and the priests followed.”

Vega, a native of Jiquilpan, Michoacán, México, immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 18 and began working in the strawberry fields of Santa María, California. He then entered St. John’s diocesan seminary in Camarillo, California, where he received degrees in philosophy and Spanish literature. He was also a high school teacher in Los Angeles and he studied pedagogy at CSULA. Ernesto holds master’s degrees in both marital and family therapy and pastoral ministry from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

Hispanic Ministry Background
Roman Catholics in the U.S. first met to discuss Hispanic ministry at the inaugural Encuentro in 1972. At the second Encuentro, in 1977, the participants identified themselves as a community of Hispanic Catholics that is diverse yet united in faith, history, culture and language. They also discerned a way of being a Church based in the ecclesiology of Communion and a preferential option for the estranged and those who live in poverty.

Encuentro III in 1985 allowed Hispanics to raise their voices to articulate a clear direction of the Church’s response to the Hispanic presence. This vision was recorded in the Plan Pastoral Nacional del Ministerio Hispano in 1987, and in a model of  an evangelizing, communal, and missionary Church.

The fourth Encuentro, called Encuentro 2000, widened the focus to share an experience of Encuentro with all of the cultures and races that make up the Church in the United States. The vision of a Church where all are welcome emerges from the most profound identity like a community of mestizos and mulattos that are pilgrims in this land and called to be wings of solidarity with the many faces in God’s house.

In 2006, participants at the Primer Encuentro Nacional Hispano de Pastoral Juvenil listened to the voices of Hispanic/Latino youth and discerned the best ways to respond to their needs and aspirations, as well as to recognize their contributions as privileged protagonists of the present and future Church in the United States. Encuentro V was held last year — from Sept. 20 to 23, 2018 — in Grapevine, Texas.

Old Mission San Luis Rey de Francia in Oceanside, California, was the site for the seventh meeting of the friars involved with Juntos Como Hermanos. (Photo courtesy of the author)

The friars concluded the Juntos Como Hermanos meeting with a discussion led by St. Barbara Provincial Vicar Martin Ibarra, OFM, in which they analyzed Hispanic ministry in the US-6 provinces – the entities that are currently in the process of restructuring to form a single Franciscan province.  Existing ministries were identified as parishes, formation, U.S. missions, foreign missions, immigration, retreat houses, and social services. New ministry opportunities were identified as a need for a Franciscan presence at the border and a desire to do popular preaching missions.

The friars enjoyed their time together at the beautiful colonial mission that was established in 1798.

This was the seventh Juntos Como Hermanos gathering held by the OFM friars of the United States. Participants in this year’s meeting were from Our Lady of Guadalupe, Sacred Heart, St. John the Baptist, St. Barbara, and Holy Name provinces. Another meeting is being organized for autumn 2020.

 — Jim McIntosh, communications assistant for Holy Name Province, is the guardian of Assumption Friary in Wood Ridge, N.J., and webmaster of the US Franciscans website.  He worked as a missionary in Lima, Peru, between 2001 and 2004 and in Bolivia from 2006 until 2010.

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