“Music, energy, faith, and hope pulsated within the Notre Dame University field house and ricocheted off the walls,” declared Monsignor Hugh Shields, vicar for Hispanic ministry in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
With a tremendous surge of electric faith, more than 2,000 vibrant Hispanic young adults in love with the Lord and their Catholic faith from 140 dioceses attended the first National Encuentro on June 8-11, continuing a two-year national process of listening to needs and weaving goals into a national pastoral plan that will help the Church reach out to Hispanic youth and young adults, known in Spanish as “jóvenes.” Octavio Duran, Christopher Posch and delegates from Franciscan parishes St. Paul, Wilmington, Del., and St. Camillus, Silver Spring, Md., were there. In addition, at least 200 clergy and religious, as well as 30 bishops and one cardinal, attended the event.
Archbishop José Gomez, SA, of San Antonio welcomed the delegates, stating, “Your input and wisdom is essential in helping bishops, priests, and religious and professional lay ministers. Our pastoral dialog over the next few days will help us find new ways to welcome you, walk with you, and empower you to become the young Hispanic presence of Christ in today’s Church and a great promise for the future. This will be the best indication that the leadership of the Church in the United States has recognized your prophetic voice as an important part of the voice of the Church.”
Census data indicates that of the 44.5 million Hispanics who live in the United States, 17 million are less than 25 years of age. Half of the young Catholics in the U.S. are Hispanic. If the church does not evangelize vigorously and actively, in the next generation Catholicism among Hispanics will become extinct.
Mexican-born Rigoberto, one of our 19 delegates from the Wilmington Diocese representing St. John-Holy Angels, Newark, Del., said that the Encuentro “convinced me that God gives me his Word and calls me to be his messenger, a representative of God.” Recalling the electric chant of Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras, Rigoberto joyfully proclaimed, “Woe to me if I don’t evangelize!”
One primary Encuentro conclusion is that “we jóvenes are searching and hungry for a relationship with God.” Oscar, Guatemalan-born delegate from Immaculate Conception, Marydel, Md., agrees, declaring, “We need and want more programs, more spirituality, more retreats, more prayer in groups. We want to grow more in our faith. We want to know Jesus better.”
Another conclusion is that “we jóvenes need bilingual youth ministers, counselors, and priests at our parishes and diocesan offices.” Isabel, delegate representing Franciscan parish St. Paul, Wilmington, Del., thanked the HNP friars who provided scholarships and funding for transporting delegates in two 12-hour van rides, as well as “the bishops and priests who are available to prepare us. We have a common vocation. We seek your support in appointing trained, professional staff to guide and council us jóvenes.”
Padre Cesar Gomez, delegate and associate pastor of St. Michael, Georgetown, Del., added that he went to the Encuentro because “the jóvenes are requesting the accompaniment of their priests.”
Sister Maria Elena Gonzalez, RSM, recognized in her Encuentro talk that the faith journey is not easy for Hispanic Catholic jóvenes. In this North American culture, they are often pressured to leave behind a rich heritage of faith, culture, family, values, and identity. They are discouraged from accepting the challenging invitation to become the “leaven in our American Catholic Church.”
Delegate Estuardo from Ss. Peter & Paul, Easton, Md., acknowledged many challenges that resulted in his dropping out of college. “One presenter, Father Virgilio Elizondo, persuaded me to reconsider. I will go back. I will work more hours. I will find a scholarship. I will study my best. I will graduate from college.”
Bishop Placido Rodríguez, chair of the Bishops’ Committee on Hispanic Affairs, stated, “Our ears are wide open to the pastoral priorities and recommendations you have identified over the past 18 months.”
Here, the Diocese of Wilmington has been listening and is already at work. Bishop Saltarelli has appointed Ronaldo Tello to coordinate ministry with jóvenes, partnering Chris Posch, director of the Diocesan Hispanic Ministry Office, with the Diocesan Catholic Youth Ministry Office. Joven ministry is blossoming at 13 parishes.
On July 30, over 250 jóvenes attended an electric diocesan encuentro hosted by Our Lady of Fatima parish. Since April, overnight joven retreats have been celebrated for our parish, St. Paul, and seven additional parishes. Joven formation and leadership training resources from the Mexican American Cultural Center (R.E.S.P.E.T.O.), the Instituto de Fe y Vida (Profetas de Esperanza), and the Catholic Leadership Institute have begun at St. Paul and two additional parishes. More retreats and leadership formation courses are scheduled to begin in the fall. Parish youth ministers, staff, and Hispanic ministry coordinators will attend a Sept. 13 workshop on jóvenes and Encuentro conclusions.
Other Holy Name Province parishes with vibrant ministries for jóvenes include Holy Cross, Bronx, N.Y.; Holy Name of Jesus, New York, N.Y.; Immaculate Conception, Durham, N.C.; Nuestra Señora de Lourdes, Lima, Peru; Santa Ana, Lima, Peru; and St. Anthony of Padua, Camden, N.J.
The friars of Holy Name Province affectionately echo the words spoken to Encuentro delegates by Bishop Jaime Soto, chair of the U.S. Bishops’ Subcommittee for Youth and Young Adults: “The gaze of Christ is upon you, and the ears of the Church in the United States are wide open as you raise your prophetic voices.”