Delegates from the Diocese of Little Rock joined 3,200 ministry leaders, bishops, priests and others from around the United States for the V National Encuentro Sept. 20-23, the final meeting in a program that has helped reenergize Hispanic communities around the country since the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops began the evangelization initiative in 2016. It was the first National Encuentro since 2000.
Sister Norma Edith Muñoz, MCP, director of Hispanic ministry for the Diocese of Little Rock, along with Bishop Anthony B. Taylor, Msgr. Scott Friend, vicar general and vocations director, Deacon Arturo Castrejón, Sister Ana Luisa Díaz Vázquez, MCP, and four parishioners traveled to Grapevine, Texas, for the three-day conference.
“It was an amazing outpouring of the Holy Spirit,” Sister Norma told Arkansas Catholic while attending the Region X Hispanic Ministry Directors meeting. “We all came to share our personal experience of Christ in our lives and also especially the pastoral concerns and the difficulties, the obstacles we find in our work and ministries and also the opportunity we have had to evangelize through the V Encuentro process.”
V National Encuentro, which means “Fifth National Encounter,” consisted of break-out sessions that focused on “evangelization and catechesis, family, immigration, justice and peace and Hispanic youth and young adults,” according to Catholic News Service. A variety of speakers spoke about the importance of Hispanic ministry, including Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus; Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, archbishop of Chicago; and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Sister Norma said the broken immigration system was discussed, as well as the “fears and anguish” many young Hispanics feel about their parents being deported and their uncertainty with DACA.
They discussed how “pastors are to be like Christ and minister to all their flock. There are many places in the house of God. We’re one family, diverse but united,” Sister Norma said. “(We need to) come out of our comfort zone and go out and start creating a culture of encounter. It’s imperative we overcome barriers, knock down walls. We need a conversion of the heart.”
That call was emphasized in Pope Francis’ video message played for all the delegates.
Young adults had several opportunities to speak their mind, including during a youth dinner with bishops throughout the country. Sister Norma said about 200 bishops and 350 priests attended presentations throughout the conference.
Jonathan Ramírez, Hispanic ministry coordinator and technology coordinator at St. Raphael Church in Springdale, said he learned about more Spanish-language resources, but also how the Church is lagging behind in using technology for evangelization.
He said the youth feel “a big gap of communication” between their bishop and sometimes their local priest.
“Me working at a parish, it’s easier for me to open up. For the other ones, they were really shy; it took a while to warm up to the bishop. We don’t even know how to relate (to) the bishop, how to talk to the bishop. We need to feel like we are closer to them,” Ramírez said.
Kimberly Colula, 24, a 2016 college graduate from Glenwood, said she was moved by how “open the Catholic Church was to the Hispanic youth.”
A bishop was put at each youth table along with a facilitator to discuss their needs.
“It made me feel very committed to actually doing something,” she said. “That’s something I want to bring back to our diocese — let the youth know our bishop is willing to hear and work with us.”
Paola Salgado of St. John Church in Russellville and Martha Peña of St. Edward Church in Little Rock were also selected to represent the Diocese of Little Rock at the meeting.
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