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Encuentro process energizes new group of missionaries

7,000 Catholics will gather for diocesan Encuentro in November at state fairgrounds

Published: May 1, 2017   
Sister Maria Elena Alva-Bojorges, MCP, leads a blindfold exercise meant to emphasize the barriers in our lives that prevent us from following Christ at St. Raphael Church in Springdale Dec. 17 during a V Encuentro workshop. Others pictured include St. Raphael parishioners Susana Cruz (left), Miriam Cruz and Cristobal Cartagena.

After Jesus’ resurrection, he appeared to two disciples walking the road to Emmaus to open their eyes to the hope after the darkness of the crucifixion. This account in Luke 24:13-35 is an example of how Jesus is still walking with the faithful today.

It inspired the mission of the Fifth National Encuentro, known as V Encuentro, an evangelization initiative by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops “who call the Hispanic/Latino community to raise their voices,” according to

“The whole spirituality of the Encuentro is based on the disciples at Emmaus. They’re going back, they’re sad, they have no hope, but Jesus comes along, walks with them and explains Scriptures and then they have a personal encounter with Jesus, the breaking of the bread,” said Sister Norma Edith Muñoz, MCP, director of Hispanic ministry at the Diocese of Little Rock. “They go back to bring the good news that Jesus is risen.”

The first Encuentro, translated as “Encounter,” took place in 1972 and the most recent was held in 2000.

V Encuentro, which began this year and runs for four years, calls upon Hispanic ministries throughout the country to develop team leaders of all ethnicities to become evangelists, catechizing those in the parishes and those who have fallen away from the faith. The theme is “Missionary Disciples: Witnesses of God’s Love.” All materials for V Encuentro are bilingual.

“The overall reaching goal is for the Church to become aware of the needs of the people and also the ways in which the community or the people can better serve the Church too,” Sister Norma said.

Since October, the Diocese of Little Rock Hispanic Ministry Office has hosted workshops to train 500 team leaders at both St. John Center and throughout seven deaneries in the state. The program is open to all parishes. There are several parishioners throughout the state on the diocesan leadership team coordinating V Encuentro, as well as Bishop Anthony B. Taylor. 

The diocese has ordered 1,050 free “V Encuentro Guide” books for leaders and 4,600 “Mission and Consultation Journal” booklets for leaders to document their actions and what they’ve learned from catechizing the community.

The team leaders then go back to their parishes to put into practice five sessions of evangelization, with each theme derived from Pope Francis’ “The Joy of the Gospel”:

• Called to a loving encounter with Jesus

• With words and actions: Do it!

• Walking together with Jesus

• Bearing fruits of new life

• Celebrating the joy of being missionary disciples

These sessions generally encourage leaders to go out to the local community, two at a time, to provide catechesis at homes. Leaders are at least 18 years old, though those that are younger can go with an adult.

“Whenever we knock and say we’re Catholic they say, ‘Oh, the only ones that ever come are the Protestants, are you sure you’re Catholic?’” Sister Norma laughed.

Typically, Catholics will go to those who have fallen away from the Church, which could be a next door neighbor.

“Our goal is to really bring the people to an encounter with Jesus,” which usually begins with prayer or sharing their faith before catechesis, Sister Norma said. “Make them aware that Jesus loves them, Jesus walks along with them … there is a lot of sharing, there’s stories.”

Once the five sessions are completed, each parish hosts their own Parish Encuentro event to “explore how we are a Church which goes forth,” according to the V Encuentro Guide.

On Saturday, Nov. 18, Sister Norma said she expects about 7,000 participants to gather at Barton Coliseum on the Arkansas State Fairgrounds in Little Rock for the Diocesan Encuentro, bringing together evangelists who have participated in V Encuentro this year. Diocesan encuentros will take place in more than 150 dioceses with 200,000 participants.

The goal of V Encuentro is to not only to catechize more lay people, but to build a bridge between the Hispanic and English-speaking communities.

Sister Norma said the pope emphasized, “Now it is time for us to build a culture of encounter instead of building walls. We must build bridges.”

There will also be a Regional Encuentro and a National Encuentro that will allow a limited number of representatives for each diocese. Sister Norma is a member of the liturgy committee for Region 10, which includes 18 dioceses in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

The nationwide encuentro is set for Sept. 20-23, 2018, in Grapevine, Texas, in the Diocese of Fort Worth. The final part is a “post-national encuentro” that will include publishing a national working document about ways to implement what was learned during the process.

Sister Norma said a youth workshop will be held Sunday, May 28 at St. John Center in Little Rock.

For more information, visit or contact Sister Norma at or call (501) 664-0340.

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