Through V Encuentro, Latinos explore evangelization as ‘missionary disciples’

| Susan Klemond | August 18, 2017 | 0 Comments

From left, Sandra Vargas of St. Gabriel the Archangel in Hopkins talks with Javier Baltazar of St. Stephen in Anoka during small group discussion at V Encuentro Aug. 12 at St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Sandra Ramirez is glad to tell how the Lord healed her son after he suffered a stroke seven years ago and how her family has returned to the Church, but she’s realized that when she evangelizes that listening comes first.

“We can talk and tell them, “Let’s go to church,” but we need to listen because they have many needs.”

Ramirez, 38, and a parishioner at Assumption in Richfield, shared her experience with about 190 Latino Catholics representing 10 parishes at an Aug. 12 archdiocesan event at St. Thomas Academy that was part of a national process called V Encuentro Missionary Disciples: Witnesses of God’s Love.

Listening is part of the process of V Encuentro, or “Fifth Encounter,” that started in local parishes, according to Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens who helped facilitate the daylong event of prayer and discussion of evangelization experiences and priorities for ministering to Latino Catholics.

“It’s a process of encountering one another and also encountering Jesus, and listening to each other to try to discern the voice of Jesus in ourselves, speaking through his word,” he said. “The voice of Jesus speaking through my brothers and sisters.”

The four-year V Encuentro process convened by the U.S. Bishops emphasizes involving young, and second and third generation Latinos as it seeks to discern ways the Church in the United States can better respond to the Latino presence, and to help Latinos live the call to the new evangelization by serving the entire Church as “missionary disciples,” a term used by Pope Francis.

V Encuentro is the fifth national Encuentro process. The first was held in 1972.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda, who presided at the closing liturgy, said he was inspired by the participating families’ strong commitment to spreading the faith that makes them models for the archdiocese.

“One of my hopes,” he said, “is that we help develop leadership in the Latino community, and we see that already but that it’s something that expands. Also, that they would be able to share the experience they’ve had with Encuentro with the rest of the archdiocese.”

Starting in small groups in parishes, lay ecclesial movements, schools and universities, and other Catholic organizations, V Encuentro participants learn to better serve the growing Hispanic population, especially those in the peripheries.

This spring, parishioners at 23 parishes in the archdiocese that serve the Latino community were invited to participate in five sessions focusing on Gospel reflection, listening and evangelizing as outlined in Pope Francis’ encyclical, “The Joy of the Gospel.”

They then evangelized neighbors and others, some for the first time, and shared about their encounters. Event participants, many in their 30s and 40s, also identified archdiocesan priorities for Latinos including prayer, formation and pastoral care for families and youth, evangelization, and immigration assistance.

Delegates selected at the archdiocesan event will attend a regional event next April before the process culminates in a national meeting near Dallas in September 2018.

Refugio Ramirez, 37, a parishioner at Assumption in Richfield who is not related to Sandra, recounted sharing his faith with a coworker last year. Ramirez, his wife and their two children have visited and prayed for the woman and her family. The woman now attends Mass, he said.

“We are called to accompany the troubled,” he said. “Jesus teaches us how and he takes the first step.”

V Encuentro seeks to reach archdiocesan Latino Catholics who aren’t practicing their faith and walk with them through their life issues, said Estela Villagrán Manancero, 56, archdiocesan Latino Ministry director, who hopes 20,000 new Latino Catholic leaders will emerge nationwide.

“We have already seen the results,” she said. “People are very energized in going out and sharing their faith.”

Deacon Ramon Garcia, 49, remembers the last Encuentro in 2000 that focused on appreciating Latino and other cultures. V Encuentro looks at those who are on the existential as well as physical peripheries, including those who attend Mass but don’t feel part of the Church, said Deacon Garcia, who serves the Hispanic community at St. Stephen in Anoka and elsewhere in the archdiocese.

Miguel Salas-Rea, 14, was one of about 150 youth at the event. A parishioner of St. Gabriel the Archangel in Hopkins, he shared about a conversion experience that helped him forgive his father and continue healing after a car accident. He said he was participating in V Encuentro to show people that Christ is real.

“I denied him just like one of the disciples did, and he was there for me and he saved me,” he said.

V Encuentro encourages parishioners to take ownership of the process, said Luz Zagal, 48, Latino ministry director at St. Alphonsus and a V Encuentro leader. She said she hopes Latinos will find their home in their parishes so they no longer feel like visitors — a commitment they have started to make.

Becoming a missionary disciple means experiencing a life-changing encounter with Christ and then going forth to share the Good News without fear, Bishop Cozzens said.

“Why go forth without fear?” he asked. “Because I know the love in my heart. I know the Good News and I have to share the Good News.”

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