Many Hispanic voices blend into one at diocesan V Encuentro Celebration

by Susan Moses

North Texas Catholic

November 8, 2017

Bishop Michael Olson leads 300 Encuentro delegates from 39 parishes in prayer during the Diocesan Encuentro Nov. 5 at Arlington Convention Center. (NTC photo/Jayme Shedenhelm)

ARLINGTON — Lucia Cruz was nervous when she stepped up to the microphone to address Bishop Michael Olson. The thought of being the voice for Hispanics in the diocese was challenging, so she prayed that the Holy Spirit would help her speak clearly.

“When we go to church, we want to feel welcome, accepted, like we belong,” she explained afterwards. “When I saw him [Bishop Olson] looking at me with love, he made me feel welcome and accepted, like I belong. Then I felt nervous but happy.”

Cruz, a parishioner at St. Ann Church in Burleson, was one of about 300 delegates who gathered in the Arlington Convention Center for the V Encuentro Diocesan Celebration on Nov. 5. In the morning, delegates from 39 parishes discussed concerns and hopes of the Hispanic community. Seven hundred more joined them in the afternoon, which featured a “state-of-the-diocese” address from the bishop, a concert by Adoración Sin Límites, and a concluding Mass.

Some common objectives arose as the delegates shared the results of the parish Encuentro meetings that began in the spring: encouraging deeper growth in the Catholic faith, especially in young people; improving unity; and providing more ministry opportunities for Spanish-speaking faithful.

Encouraging deeper growth

Bishop Olson criticized the mindset of using the Church as a means to check off each sacrament. We are here to serve the Church, not to be served, he noted.

Likewise, others expressed the desire to see those who are culturally Catholic — or Catholic only by tradition — become full participants in the Church.

Many delegates mentioned that increasing participation begins with being welcoming. Maria Chavez, a 21-year-old active in several ministries at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Morgan, said that letting visitors know “they are welcome in the Church, giving a smile to them, little small things can make big differences in their lives.”

Daisy De Jesus came to Immaculate Conception Church in Denton several years ago to be confirmed. Afterwards, her faith instructor invited her to assist in ministry. De Jesus was surprised but glad to help teach the youngest students.

Lucia Cruz of St. Ann Parish in Burleson shares her Encuentro team's thoughts with Bishop Michael Olson Nov. 5 at the Arlington Convention Center. (NTC photo/Jayme Shedenhelm)

“She asked me, ‘Where do you fit in? Do you need help getting involved?’”  said the University of North Texas student. The experience taught her that parishioners must have the dedication and time to “keep up” with those who “drop in” to receive a sacrament.

She and fellow parishioner Alfonzo Mendoza saw a need for a Spanish-language young adult ministry, so they formed one. Mendoza said, “If those who are Catholic by tradition will get connected to the Church, the Holy Spirit will help, little by little, as they come.”

“Christ wants an encounter with us not just Sunday, but a relationship every day,” said Chris Vaughan, diocesan director of marriage and family life.

Improving unity

The Church is one, but with distinct cultures and generations, said Bishop Olson. “Encuentro is meant not to address the needs of the Hispanic community as a problem, but rather to help us form our identity as one Church united together in solidarity in the call of Christ.”

Deacon Matias Lagunas of St. John the Apostle Parish in North Richland Hills agreed that unity is a concern at every parish. “We need to break down the barriers, walls that divide us,” he said.

The Hispanic community represents diverse countries of origin with unique cultures and language differences. As families establish themselves in North Texas, each generation differs from one that precedes it. And the divide between a parish’s Anglo and Hispanic people can create two different communities within a church.

The bishop said the purpose of V Encuentro is to encounter Christ and one another. “We are in communion with each other. This is very contrary to the approach of the dominant culture which sees everybody only as isolated individuals and not as part of a community or society,” he explained.

Cruz, from St. Ann, remains optimistic that the gaps between cultures can be filled with “love, patience, and compassion” so the Church can be One Body of Christ.

Increasing Spanish language opportunities

The parishes represented at the diocesan Encuentro want more. More Spanish catechesis. More Spanish-speaking priests. More involvement in ministry.

Sometimes the programs exist, but the Hispanic community is not aware of them. Vaughan explained that most of the classes offered by the diocese are available in both Spanish and English.

A parishioner from Our Lady of Guadalupe in Morgan explains the needs he saw during the community survey their Encuentro group performed earlier this year. (NTC photo/Juan Guajardo)

When parish Encuentro groups reached out into their neighborhoods, they learned that some were not aware that the nearby parish offered Mass in Spanish.

Although seminarians from the Diocese of Fort Worth spend a summer in Mexico to learn the language, more bilingual priests are needed. Bishop Olson said vocations were not his responsibility but everyone’s responsibility. He encouraged families to encourage religious vocations in their sons.

“There’s a great need for prayer for vocations — priestly and religious vocations especially — not exclusively within the Hispanic community but certainly with a priority within it, because this is the youngest demographic among us as a Church here in the diocese of Fort Worth,” he said.

What’s next?

Director of Evangelization and Catechesis Marlon De La Torre appreciated the “joyous faces of the delegates” and felt enthusiasm, hope, and faith at the diocesan Encuentro, which was the culmination of about 18 months of planning.

Next April, delegates from the diocese will attend the regional Encuentro in San Antonio. The Diocese of Fort Worth will host the national V Encuentro from Sept. 20-23, 2018 in Grapevine. More than 3,500 attendees are expected, including 80 bishops.

However, a successful V Encuentro will conclude where it began, at the parish level.

According to De La Torre, the diocese hopes that after V Encuentro, “we have more lay leadership involved in Hispanic ministry, for one. We have vibrant adult faith formation communities . . . [who] want to learn more about the faith. We have youth and young adults involved and fully integrated into the life of the Church both in English and Spanish.”

ARLINGTON — Lucia Cruz was nervous when she stepped up to the microphone to address Bishop Michael Olson. The thought of being the voice for Hispanics in the diocese was challenging, so she prayed that the Holy Spirit would help her speak clearly.

Published (until 12/27/2035)