Encuentro process helps communities unite

More than 13 parishes have completed or are in the process of finishing their encuentros in preparation for a national gathering on Hispanic ministry next year. 

The local encuentro process held at diocesan parishes this past spring included weekly retreats for Hispanic and non-Hispanic parishioners. Additionally, a group of prisoners from the Livingston County Jail held weekly encuentro gatherings, and a group of Catholic high-school students will lead an encuentro retreat in September at Our Lady of Mercy High School in Brighton, said Lynette Saenz, director of the Diocese of Rochester’s Cultural Diversity Office. 

Following the parish retreats, many participants undertook one of the biggest challenges of the encuentro process: approaching people beyond their church walls to try and bring people back to the faith, Saenz noted. 

While some didn’t venture too far from their inner circles of family, friends and colleagues, others — including a group from St. Frances de Sales Church in Geneva — did try to go out to unfamiliar places, she said. 

Summaries of each parish’s experience during the encuentro process are to be submitted to Saenz to plan for the diocesan encuentro scheduled for Oct. 21, she said. The national encuentro, titled "Missionary Disciples: Witnesses of God’s Love," will take place in Grapevine, Texas, in the fall 2018 (http://vencuentro.org). 

"We are establishing lines of communication on both sides," Saenz said of Hispanic and non-Hispanic parishioners. "We’ve come a long way toward integrating communities." 

At Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Brockport, Hispanic and non-Hispanic parishioners who took part in their parish’s encuentro retreats came together June 3 to talk about what they had learned. 

Parishioner Maria "Yayi" Martínez-Campos provided a summary of the Spanish-speaking parishioners’ feedback. She said at times these parishioners are tentative about sharing their gifts because they feel inferior or marginalized. Due to those feelings of isolation, they are happy that one of the national encuentro’s goals is to foster a feeling of belonging and the sharing of talents with the wider church, she said. 

She said those goals could be accomplished by: 

* treating everyone who comes to church as equals; 

* listening to others without judgment to avoid anyone feeling alienated from the church; 

* being more empathetic of the concerns of others and treat everyone with love and compassion; 

* sharing the happy nature that characterizes many Hispanics; and 

* accepting others where they are by recognizing that all human beings are imperfect. 

The parishioners also talked about how they could help Hispanic families in the parish overcome challenges or meet their needs so those families can find success within the greater community. Suggestions included connecting new migrant families with community resources for learning English or registering children for school. The parishioners also plan to encourage young Latino parishioners to be proud of their culture while becoming fluent in both English and Spanish. 

Father Joseph McCaffrey, Nativity’s pastor, said an important aspect of the local encuentro process is to increase the visibility of the parish’s Hispanic community among all Nativity parishioners. The parish has already taken significant steps in doing this by providing information in the bulletin about its Spanish Mass and related activities, he said. 

Additionally, during the June 3 encuentro session, Juan and Rosa Faulkner from the parish’s Hispanic community were nominated to be part of Nativity’s parish council. 

"Anything that helps us welcome one person helps us welcome all people," Father McCaffrey said. 

The Faulkners’ presence on the parish council will be a "big step" for Nativity, parishioner Grace Carson noted during the June 3 encuentro session. 

"It makes it official; the Hispanic community is here (to stay)," she added. "And the Catholic Church needs its help." 

Since the church is one body, the national encuentro seeks to involve all Catholics to help parishes respond to the growing diversity of the church, Saenz said. 

"The Hispanic community is growing," she said. "You never know who’s going to walk through your (parish) doors."

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