Local parishioners will be asked to step outside their comfort zones as they take part in a national encuentro process at their parishes this spring.
Participants will be asked to evangelize and reach out to their communities, a task that may make some participants uncomfortable, said Lynette Saenz, director of the Cultural Diversity Office for the Diocese of Rochester. The outreach component will be done in stages with participants initially approaching family and friends or coworkers before branching out to unfamiliar members of their faith communities. From there, they may branch out to people they don’t know, Saenz said.
"When you connect with a person, you find out what’s really happening," she said.
The encuentro process will offer opportunities to observe before connecting, she said. For example, a person can go and sit at the Rochester Public Market and use their senses to try and figure out what might be happening with people they see, Saenz. Then, perhaps after a couple of weeks, they may be willing to approach the people they have observed.
"It’s very ambitious to actively go out and consult with people," Saenz said. "It’s an extra step and it’s wonderful. But it’s uncomfortable for a lot of people. That’s (also) what I love about this process. … Because it’s not something we are taught to do."
Several parishes are using the themes of the V National Encuentro as a jumping off point for reflections during soup suppers or other Lenten gatherings this year. The concept of an encuentro as a gathering for spiritual discernment and reflection provides a perfect foundation for Lenten and Easter discussions, noted Saenz.
"The themes are very reflective and move people to conversion," she said.
"Missionary Disciples: Witnesses of God’s Love" is the theme for the national encuentro, which is to take place in Grapevine, Texas, in 2018. For the last 40 years, the Catholic Church in the United States has used the encuentro process as a way to develop Hispanic ministry, according to information from the website of ENAVE, the National Team of Accompaniment organizing the event (see http://vencuentro.org).
And though the Encuentro process initially developed as a response to a growing Latino presence in the U.S. church, Saenz noted this encuentro seeks to involve all Catholics in responding to the growing diversity of the church.
"The hope is integration," said Saenz, who is a regional representative of ENAVE.
More than 20 parishes in the Diocese of Rochester have signed on to undertake the encuentro process in group retreats of Hispanic and non-Hispanic parishioners during Lent or following Easter, she said. Additionally, a group of Catholic high schools, local colleges and even the Livingston County Jail will present encuentro gatherings as part of the parish-level process that ends in June.
"People are really making an effort to have this process be a real ‘encuentro’ (encounter) between people," Saenz said.
Father Robert Schrader, pastor of Rochester’s Peace of Christ Parish, said about 21 parishioners have signed up to participate in an encuentro and that most of them are not Hispanic. While the process does not meet the canonical criteria for a diocesan synod, he said it has the same feel.
"I almost see it as mini synod," Father Schrader said. "It’s an opportunity to touch base with our people and talk about the changing demographics of the area, of the times, with the Latino population being the largest growing one of the church."
"Anyway that we can better serve all members of our parish and the needs of our community on a whole is a win-win for all," added Ann Holstrom, a Peace of Christ parishioner taking part in the parish encuentro.
Carmen Trias, a St. Frances Xavier Cabrini parishioner who attends St. Michael Church, told El Mensajero Católico that she also is looking forward to the encuentro process.
"I think (the encuentro) is wonderful," said Trias, who moved to Rochester from Puerto Rico in 2000. "This process gives us Latinos the opportunity to get more involved in the mission of the church. But not just Hispanics, non-Hispanics as well. We are all part of the same faith community. We can no longer be separate but work together to bring the Good News to all but especially those who have left the church."
Participants like Trias and Holstrom will chronicle all of their experiences and conversations in journals they will receive during their parish encuentro sessions. Their written reflections will help parishes develop strategies to reach or better serve those with whom participants have spoken, Saenz said.
"Who knows what will come of this?" Saenz asked rhetorically. "We don’t often ask … what matters to other people. What impacted their faith? There are people who want to have these conversations but they haven’t been asked."
Among the next steps for participating parishes will be presenting recommendations from the parish encuentros at a diocesan encuentro this fall, Saenz said.