ALBANY — One focus at the Region II encuentro in Albany June 22-24 was a need for the Catholic Church to focus on family ministry.
Because families are the foundation of society, evangelized families would transform the world, Albany Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger told Catholic News Service.
“We reflect God’s divinity in our family relationships,” he said. “That helps us to be more credible in witnessing to the reality of who we need to be.”
Bishop Scharfenberger was among the bishops at the regional encuentro with about 300 Hispanic Catholic leaders from the eight dioceses of New York state gathered. It was among the last regional gatherings leading up to the National Fifth Encuentro, or V Encuentro, which takes place Sept. 20-23 in Grapevine, Texas.
Region II includes the Archdiocese of New York and dioceses of Albany, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Ogdensburg, Rochester, Rockville Centre and Syracuse. Before the regional event came diocesan and parish encuentros.
A prayer for the Region II encuentro asked God to “make us all missionary disciples, and stay with us always, as we seek to share the joy of the Gospel with people of all generations, from every race, language, culture and nation.”
In Spanish, that prayer asks: Envianos a todos como discipulos misioneros, y quedate con nosotros siempre, mientras nos dedicamos a compartir la alegria del Evangelio con generaciones de toda raza, lengua, cultura y nacion.
Bishop Scharfenberger, who is fluent in Spanish, celebrated a bilingual Mass June 23 at the Desmond Hotel in Albany. Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo was the homilist.
“It means a lot just to have (the regional encuentro) here in Albany itself,” Bishop Scharfenberger told The Evangelist, Albany’s diocesan newspaper. “We are an area in which the Latino population has been steadily growing, and I hope this brings some attention to the entire diocese of how important their witness is.”
Delegates gathered for prayer and worship, keynote addresses and small group breakout sessions, where in working groups they discussed how to strengthen evangelization among the Hispanic and Latino faithful. Out of the discussions came recommendations to be considered at the national encuentro.
Alina Gutierrez of St. Anthony’s Parish in Schenectady attended the encuentro to voice what changes she wants to see in the Albany Diocese.
“This is an event all about our beliefs, and this is a contribution of all of us for everything in the church that we would like to change: our necessities in the whole community, for example, for not only faith, but social justice (and) immigration,” she told The Evangelist.
Maria Luisa “Yayi” Martínez Campos, one of eight delegates from the Diocese of Rochester, told El Mensajero Católico that the regional encuentro was a wonderful experience that allowed her to interact with parishioners from other dioceses and appreciate the value of active and committed participation in one’s faith community.
“Creo que fue una excelente oportunidad para los católicos hispanos de renovar su compromiso con la iglesia y con la comunidad,” dijo ella. “Sentir que somos escuchados y tomados en cuenta para las decisiones pastorales tiene … gran importancia.”
Over the past few years, the pastoral leaders in the region have had the opportunity to come together to not only coordinate the Fifth Encuentro process but to create a network of Hispanic ministry leaders that did not previously exist, added Lynette Saenz, Rochester’s diocesan director of cultural diversity. The planning process has helped those leaders to better understand the challenges that affect Hispanic parishioners across the state and to learn from one another, she noted. Continuing that collaboration is already in the works to better respond to the Latino presence in the region, Saenz said.
“I think it (the regional encuentro) provided Hispanic Catholics with an excellent opportunity to renew their commitment to the church and to the community,” said Martínez Campos, a parishioner of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Brockport. “To feel heard and feel they have a role in pastoral decisions is … very important.”
During a breakout session on family ministry, group members first prayed and reflected on their own families. Then they brainstormed ways to evangelize the family, including catechesis for youth and a family picnic.
“Our children can bring the parents back to the faith,” said Sonia Casanova, a Brooklyn Diocese delegate who worked 12 years in religious education. She added that inviting whole families to participate in such evangelizing activities as biblical formation workshops and family retreats is very important.
Resources and support also are needed for low-income families, said Margarita Ardon, a parishioner of St. Joseph Parish in Spring Valley, which is in the New York Archdiocese. “We need support groups for families, groups that foster communication,” she said.
Their recommendations for the national encuentro included creating a resource to better promote church services, a formation program to encourage a missionary spirit within leaders and a way for the church to explain all the ramifications of being pro-life.
“You can do mission within the family,” said Jose Planas, a member of the regional consultative team. Encounter “that person who is somewhat forgotten and does not want to go to church,” he suggested.
A way to evangelize parishioners — young and old — is to invite people to be part of the Catholic Church’s family without judgment, said Sister Veronica Mendez, a Sister of Our Lady of Christian Doctrine, who is a member of the region’s consultative team.
Successful evangelizing practices include listening, identifying people’s talents and actively supporting members of the community, especially those in need or marginalized, she said.
“These encuentros have brought changes that benefit the Hispanic community,” said Jose Sandoval. He and his wife, Eulalia, are parishioners at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Queens. Their outreach and door-to-door evangelization have been inspired by encuentro.
The couple has high hopes for the national encuentro in September and what it would mean for the U.S. church, expecting it to bear “many fruits.”
Contributing to this story were Annette Jimenez for El Mensajero Católico and Emily Benson for The Evangelist.