GATES — Latino parishioners representing all areas of the 12-county diocese — urban, suburban and rural — gathered earlier this month to discuss the future of Hispanic ministry.
And despite the recent changes in the bishop’s office, Father Joseph Hart assured the more than 30 parishioners, lay ministers and staff members gathered for the final "encuentro" session that their work will be put into action.
Recently, Bishop Emeritus Matthew H. Clark’s retirement became official and Syracuse Bishop Robert J. Cunningham was named Rochester’s apostolic administrator. Father Hart is serving as Bishop Cunningham’s delegate, he explained during the encuentro held Oct. 6 at the diocese’s Pastoral Center.
Brother Juan Lozada, coordinator of Hispanic Family Life for the diocesan cultural diversity office, served as translator.
"This is not going to come to nothing," Father Hart said of the plan. "Whether I like it or not, here I am as guarantor. … My task is to make sure the new bishop sees this as a wonderful opportunity,"
Additionally, implementation of the Pastoral Plan for Hispanic Ministry will begin as soon as it is finalized and approved, which will likely happen before a new bishop is named, Father Hart noted.
"So our gift to the new bishop isn’t just pristine new recommendations, but here is a pastoral plan already in the process of being implemented," he remarked.
The Oct. 6 session was the culmination of a six-month process of training and brainstorming meetings to offer recommendations that would be approved as part of the final plan to better serve Hispanics. About 65,000 Hispanics live in the diocese, according the to the 2010 U.S. Census.
The 30 participants who took part in the Oct. 6 session represented the 10 parishes that took part in the entire process.
They didn’t take their task lightly, as lively discussions arose from choosing the four top recommendations in each of four categories: formation, missionary option, "pastoral de conjunto" (communion and mission), and liturgy and prayer.
Each recommendation considered had to be judged on how prophetic it is, how global it is, how easily it can be replicated, how realistically it could be implemented and its urgency, noted Lynette Saenz, the diocese’s director of cultural diversity.
A protracted debate ensued just in approving the mission statement, which was agreed upon as:
"We, the Hispanic community of the Diocese of Rochester, commit ourselves to:
* proclaim the Good News of God’s kingdom;
* celebrate the Eucharist that convenes us as community, nourishes our life and sends us forth in mission;
* participate actively in ecclestial and civil matters; sharing our traditions, talents and values.
The line about the Eucharist was essential to get the statement just right, said Sister Luci Romero, a migrant minister for Wayne County.
"The Eucharist…unites us," she remarked. "The Eucharist is the focal point (of the Mass). As it is when a family sits at the dinner table. It is the meal that makes us family."
The mission statement had been developed from the suggestions made by the parish groups, explained Saenz.
"You’ve done good work in all of the groups," said Ana Gloria Linares, a consultant with the Southeast Pastoral Institute, who served as facilitator on Oct. 6. "The goal is for everyone to be part of the process."
Karen Fitoria said that her group from Holy Apostles gathered three times over the summer to develop its recommendations.
She added that she was grateful that the diocese was creating a plan from parishioners’ direct input. Prior to this encuentro process, she personally felt that the diocese favored non-Hispanic Catholics, she said.
Her group took seriously the task of analyzing the current reality for Hispanics and offering suggestions on how to better serve them, Fitoria said. She looks forward to how the plan will look in action, she added.
"I have hope," Fitoria remarked. "God is the focus. This is all for him. This is all for his kingdom."
Top recommendations approved during the Oct. 6 Encuentro included:
* Develop catechetical, pastoral and theological formation programs for Hispanics.
* Offer outreach programs to reach inactive Catholics and those who don’t belong to any church.
* Create a place for Hispanics and another ethnic communities at the table where decisions are made.
* Provide opportunities for formation and immersion experiences that serve to foster better understanding of popular religiosity among different Hispanic Catholic communities.
Bill Rabjohn, pastoral administrator for St. Pius Tenth Church in Chili, said that respecting the diversity within the Latino community is important for all parishes. And the hope of his Hispanic parishioners and staff who took part in the encuentro is that a suburban parish such as theirs can serve as a bridge to Latinos in southwest Monroe County, he added.
"What I hope is that Hispanic people will feel welcome to establish themselves so we can grow together in our parish," he added during an interview Sept. 25. "So, we grow together in faith."
Olga de Samper said that the process already is helping with one important goal in her estimation — to unite Hispanics throughout the diocese. A native of Colombia, her experience in the small brainstorming group from St. Anne Parish in Rochester and Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Brighton was probably different from those of the urban or rural churches, she noted.
Those parishes have resources and willing volunteers but few connections to other parishes with Hispanics, de Samper explained. But through the encuentro process, they have learned of celebrations like Our Lady of Guadalupe and plan to become more involved in Hispanic ministry, she added.
"That (Mass is) a beautiful way to begin to get to know each other," del Sempar said.
Jainer Erick Viloria said that he heard similar feedback about a lack of awareness among the group he led at Rochester’s Peace of Christ Parish, such as not knowing how to find Spanish-language Masses.
As a seminarian from Colombia, the process was mutually beneficial because he learned about the needs of the Hispanic community in the diocese along with the parishioners.
"It was an enriching experience," he added.