Regional V Encuentro affirms archdiocesan pastoral priorities

| Kristi Anderson | April 18, 2018 | 0 Comments

Bishop Andrew Cozzens speaks to participants April 14 during the Region VIII encuentro at Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center in Alexandria. Dianne Towalski/The Visitor

The contagious energy of the 200-plus people who gathered in Alexandria April 13 and 14 for the regional V Encuentro stirred the heart of Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens, who attended the event.

“I’m so impressed with the spirit of the people here and their enthusiasm, especially for ‘going out.’ … To see the enthusiasm and their fire for that is so encouraging,” Bishop Cozzens said.

The V Encuentro (“Fifth Encounter”) process is an initiative of the U.S. bishops, calling Catholic leaders to “listen with profound attention to the needs, challenges and aspirations that the growing Hispanic/Latino population faces in daily life.” And it seeks to prepare Catholics “to better recognize, embrace, and promote the many gifts and talents that the Hispanic community shares in the life and mission of the Church.”

The regional V Encuentro was the next step in the process, following on the heels of the archdiocesan V Encuentro, held last August, and is a precursor to the national V Encuentro planned for September 2018 in Grapevine, Texas.

The April event in Alexandria included people from across the U.S. Catholic Church’s Region VIII, which covers all of Minnesota and North and South Dakota.

Identifying priorities 

Participants at the regional Encuentro discussed seven areas of pastoral concern:

  • leadership development and pastoral training;
  • families;
  • youth and young adults;
  • evangelization and mission;
  • faith formation and catechesis;
  • liturgy and spirituality; and
  • immigration.

Bishop Cozzens said several of these areas overlap with what he heard at the archdiocesan Encuentro and what he views as priorities of the archdiocese.

“We want to focus on several things based on our own diocesan Encuentro,” he said. “One is strengthening families. We are really trying to develop programs in our parishes, where, once people come back to the Church, we can strengthen their marriages, and in turn, families.

“The second is our young people,” he said. “A lot of times the adults don’t know how the culture is affecting the young people. They are living in two different cultures because the parents are living in the Hispanic/Latino culture and the young people are living in our American culture. It can affect their faith in dramatic ways. So really finding ways to strengthen families so that we can strengthen our young people is an important goal for us.”

“The third is evangelization,” he added. “The Encuentro process has taught us the beauty of what happens when people go out. Everyone who was part of the process was invited to go out and evangelize. That strengthens their faith and then strengthens the faith of others. So our goal is to keep finding ways to encourage this process of evangelization.”

Attendees at the regional gathering heard from bishops and other representatives who presented plenary sessions, as well as testimonies from leaders.

Bishop Cozzens shared the Gospel story about Jesus meeting two disciples after the Resurrection on the road to Emmaus.

“In this Gospel story, we hear what happens when you have a true meeting with Jesus. It changes us. When we meet Jesus, our hearts, our vision, our lives change,” said Bishop Cozzens, who spoke in Spanish; an interpreter translated his words into English. “We convert ourselves into missionary disciples in which we understand that after this gathering, we have to go out and share what we know. This is always the message from the Bible.”

He encouraged people to get out of their comfort zones.

“Sending out missionary disciples is not just changing the lives of others. It is changing our own lives, the lives of our fellow parishioners and also of the lives of the people we meet,” he said. “When we have these types of experiences, we feel that Christ is with us, and these moments are so important because we can experience exactly what the disciples experienced. We can be, in these important moments, prophets of hope that the world desperately needs.”

The event included time for small and large group sharing. Together, the groups identified multiple strategies that could be used to address these concerns in what they called a “regional working document.” Information gathered at the April conference will be passed on for use at the national V Encuentro.

Pedro Narez from St. Gabriel in Hopkins prays April 13 during the Region VIII Encuentro at Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center in Alexandria. Dianne Towalski/The Visitor

Personal encounters

Maria Sinchi was part of a 13-member team of young adults who attended the V Encuentro from St. Stephen in Minneapolis. She said what excited her most about the regional Encuentro was the motivation to go and evangelize.

“It has been very informative and very encouraging to see what can we bring back to our parishes,” she said. “I think our next step will be to regroup and try to figure out how to continue evangelizing in a better way. Sometimes we might feel disorganized, but we are planting seeds and it’s growing immensely.”

Sinchi also said that she thinks youths have a lot of responsibility in the Church today.

“I think part of why we are here is also to encourage the older generations [to see] that there are young adults who are really interested in their faith and are really searching for something. A lot of this culture is telling [youths] not to search in the Church and the world is full of lies. For 25 years of my life, there was something missing that I was trying to grasp and it was God all this time. So I’m just a witness of what God has been doing in the parish at St. Stephen.”

She added that the young adults want the older generation to know that they should keep encouraging and motivating them.

“There are beautiful young adults who just want to grow in their faith,” she said. “So many people are looking for Jesus and just don’t know it yet. That’s a huge responsibility for us — to share the Gospel with everybody in the most intentional way and build friendships out of that. God is good and is doing a lot of work and we also have lots of work to do.”

Encuentro participant Sandra Vargas attends St. Gabriel Church in Hopkins with her husband and four children. She volunteers as a catechist, sings in the choir and is also a lector. Her family previously attended an English-speaking church but moved to St. Gabriel because they wanted their children to attend Spanish-language programs. Now the whole family has become involved in the community.

Since the V Encuentro process began, Vargas saw changes in the way they do catechesis in the parish.

“We integrate the whole family,” she said. “We separate by ages and we teach the youth and the children and the adults. We have found that this also provides a good way to talk about faith at home.”

Vargas said participating in the regional Encuentro helped her to realize there is more work to be done.

“After this experience, I feel more humble. I want to be more patient, communicate, talk and be a good listener,” she said. “Being here with my husband, I realize we have something more to share with others, whether that is going outside of our community or even helping our friends.

“I think we have had an ‘encounter’ with each other and with God. We see we can become stronger in our faith. Being with God is not easy … but when we follow him, we find that there is nothing better than being in love with him.”

The event included lively music and dance, a procession with the regional V Encuentro cross representing all 10 dioceses of the region, a talent show with cultural flair, a holy hour and Mass. A commissioning ceremony for all the delegates traveling to the national V Encuentro concluded the celebration.

“This is not the end,” Bishop Cozzens said. “We are still just beginning. Let us all be thinking about what God is telling us so that we can reach the goal of being true missionary disciples.”

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