October 26, 2018

Delegates say Encuentro offers call to build Church, bring all closer to Christ

The members of the archdiocese’s delegation to the V Encuentro gathering in late September in Texas pose for a group photo: Francisco Ruiz, left, Oscar Castellanos, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson, Giselle Duron, Anne Corcoran (back), Dianna Perez (front), Gabriela Ross and Saul Llacsa. (Submitted photo)

The members of the archdiocese’s delegation to the V Encuentro gathering in late September in Texas pose for a group photo: Francisco Ruiz, left, Oscar Castellanos, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson, Giselle Duron, Anne Corcoran (back), Dianna Perez (front), Gabriela Ross and Saul Llacsa. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

It was a moment of pure joy and hope for Saul Llacsa, a moment when the archdiocese’s coordinator of Hispanic ministry saw the future and the challenge awaiting the Church in the United States.

That defining moment occurred as Llacsa was part of the delegation from the archdiocese—including Archbishop Charles C. Thompson—that participated in the Fifth National Encuentro in late September in Grapevine, Texas.

Recalling the scene that involved more than 3,200 Hispanic Catholic leaders and about 125 bishops from across the country, Llacsa notes, “The moment that really lifted my heart up was the moment when we were talking about the importance of young people. We emphasized that the future of the Catholic Church has a ‘Hispanic face.’ Sixty percent of all the Catholics younger than 18 years old are Hispano/Latino.

“Young people need a voice to express their needs, and they need space and room to develop better ways to serve the Lord and the community. It is time for ‘laboratory.’ We need to give opportunity to the younger Church to create programs and be fully immersed into the leadership of our parishes.”

For Llacsa, that moment reveals the essence of V Encuentro—the Spanish word for “encounter.” While the participants were mainly Hispanic, the focus of the gathering was on continuing the building of the entire Church, with the goal of bringing all people closer to Christ.

“We are called to be bridges of an encounter of love,” Llacsa says. “We have the conviction that we are called to an encounter with Christ. The Latino/Hispanic community has the mission to proclaim the Good News wherever we go. It is embedded in our hearts and our culture.

“The Hispanic community needs also to take care of our neighbors, [especially] those who suffer by injustice and racism. V Encuentro sends us to the peripheries to nourish the souls of our brothers and sisters, and most importantly to bring God to our communities.”

The national Encuentro’s focus on encounter and outreach offers a model of evangelizing for the archdiocese and the Church in the U.S. to follow, says Anne Corcoran, a member of the archdiocesan delegation who is also the pastoral associate of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis.

“It showed us how to gather as persons in love with God, how to go out and listen to the hopes, dreams and hardships that complete strangers have in their lives, to accompany them, and finally invite them to the life we enjoy in God,” Corcoran says.

That model starts with small faith groups in parishes, she notes.

“Encuentro was a call to reach out together, to go with God’s love to the peripheries, to find there our brothers and sisters, and to encounter God in them. To me, this is the essence of what it means to be a Christian. Our whole lives are to be taken up in the work of the Gospel, to share in the life and work of Jesus.”

Corcoran’s excitement from participating in the Encuentro experience hasn’t diminished since returning from Texas.

“Can you imagine what our Church would be like if we all went out and met two new people a year? Listened and loved them. Walked with them and then invited them to join us.

“Can you imagine what a parish planning process or a Sunday School might look like if it was all based on what we learned about the hopes and dreams and obstacles of other persons, not ourselves—a Church that cares enough about every person to go out looking for them?”

Corcoran’s enthusiasm also extends to the influence that the Hispanic Catholic community already has—and can have even more—on the Church in the United States.

“It has been impossible for me to think of Encuentro in terms of Hispanic ministry only,” she says. “One of the greatest gifts of Latin and South American countries has been its ecclesiology, which is just a fancy way of saying that they have a great way of ‘being Church.’ The gifts and insights that they bring are helpful to all of us.”

That emphasis on inclusion and unity became a defining quality of the V Encuentro, she says.

“It was awesome to be with the bishops as well as my other brothers and sisters in faith. Our own Archbishop Thompson was with us the whole time. The bishops were fantastic, as were the priests and every delegate gathered. I have never had the opportunity to be part of something so wonderful, so blessed.”

That sentiment was echoed by Gabriela Ross, coordinator of catechetical resources for the archdiocese.

“My experience of the Encuentro could be summed up in the words communion, collaboration and celebration,” Ross says. “Celebrations of the holy Mass were beautiful and lively. We were in communion with each other.”

It all added up to a time of joy and hope in the life of the Church, says Oscar Castellanos, the director of the archdiocese’s Office of Intercultural Ministry.

“It really felt like Pentecost—being congregated in the upper room, listening to the Holy Spirit through the different means and venues of the event.

“For someone like me who had read about the previous Encuentros but had not experienced one in the past, this has truly given me hope for future generations, since the topics of youth, young adults and inculturation were very present throughout the event. The Church of the U.S. will continue to experience a renewal if we remain open to these realities.” †

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