Latinos throughout Arkansas who have spent the past year venturing out to the peripheries, encouraging fallen-away Catholics and others to encounter Christ, will celebrate the fruits of that labor during the Diocesan Encuentro Saturday, Nov. 18 at the state fairgrounds in Little Rock.
“This is coming together and sharing our faith,” said Sister Norma Edith Muñoz, MCP, director of Hispanic ministry for the Diocese of Little Rock.
The free event from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. hopes to draw about 5,000 to 7,000 participants to Barton Coliseum. The day will include testimonials from team leaders who went out to meet people as part of the V Encuentro — or Fifth Encounter — mission and those who were brought back to the Church. A diocesan choir, made up of people from 15 parishes, a charismatic choir from St. Stephen Church in Bentonville and Aztec dancers from Hot Springs will perform. Father Mauricio Carrasco, pastor of St. Andrew Church in Danville and St. Augustine Church in Dardanelle and associate pastor for Hispanic ministry at St. John Church in Russellville, will lead an interactive discussion about V Encuentro and what it’s meant to his parishes. Msgr. Scott Friend, diocesan vocations director, will discuss how Catholics are called to go out and proclaim the Gospel and share the faith of the Church. Bishop Anthony B. Taylor will celebrate a bilingual Mass at 4 p.m.
The activities have been inspired by the V National Encuentro. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops created the evangelization initiative in order for Hispanic and Latino communities to “raise their voices” and share their faith, according to vencuentro.org. The first Encuentro was held in 1972. Before the 2016 initiative, another Encuentro had not been coordinated since 2000. The spirituality of the program is centered on the disciples at Emmaus, Luke 24:13-35, as an encounter with Jesus.
The Encuentro program runs four years. It encourages a diocesan team to train parish leaders to spread the faith within their communities. Out of 47 parishes with Hispanic ministries, there were about 30 parishes that participated, Sister Norma said. From October 2016 to May 2017, about 500 people participated in diocesan workshops.
From there, team leaders focused on five sessions, based on Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel” and went out to homes in their local communities to share their personal faith and provide catechesis.
Sister Norma said the program has flourished in many parishes, pointing to St. Mary Church in Batesville as a prime example. With a Spanish Mass generally attended by about 20 parishioners, the V Encuentro team went out to speak with about 80 families in the community. After Father Stephen Gadberry, administrator of the parish, moved the Spanish Mass to Sunday at 9:30 a.m. instead of Saturday, attendance has risen to about 200, Sister Norma said.
Martha Peña, a parishioner at St. Edward Church in Little Rock, memorized the program to share with inmates, many of whom have written to Sister Norma, explaining how it’s changed their life.
“They talk about their encounter with Christ and they express their turning to the Lord and wanting to know more about him and being a better person. And as they go out, trying to be a better Catholic,” Sister Norma said. “Also within the prison, they talk about sharing with others the word of God.”
Unlike diocesan Encuentros in other states, Little Rock’s event is open to anyone, including Anglos, even if they have not attended V Encuentro sessions. Testimonials throughout the day will be in Spanish, but Father Carrasco and Msgr. Friend may make some remarks in English if the need arises, she added.
The diocesan Hispanic Ministry office ordered Spanish and English pocket Gospels and Spanish daily reflections through the Encuentro program that will be for sale to attendees. There will be a lunch attendees can purchase and Sister Norma said they are still looking for restaurants willing to donate food.
A special chasuble Bishop Taylor will wear includes a diocesan crest and an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe handmade by the Carmelite sisters in Texcoco, Mexico. Stoles, which have both Our Lady of Guadalupe and the logo for V Encuentro, were also made for the 11 deacons and 40 priests expected to attend.
Following Pope Francis’ call to “create a culture of encounter” and to “break down walls and to build bridges,” Sister Norma said the program has energized the Latino community throughout the state.
“I think that the Encuentro will make us more aware of what the Church as a whole needs to do in order to respond to the needs of this community, which has become really strong in our diocese,” she said, adding that 51 percent of Catholics in the Diocese of Little Rock are Hispanic or Latino. “(It’s about) sharing our values, sharing our traditions and sharing our way of celebrating our faith.”
For more information regarding the Diocesan Encuentro, visit dolr.org/v-encuentro-arkansas.
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