By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service
BALTIMORE (CNS) — The Catholic Church in the United States is gearing up for the fifth National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry, to be held in September 2018 in Fort Worth, Texas.
The effort got a personal endorsement from Pope Francis during a Nov. 15 video message to the U.S. bishops at their fall general assembly in Baltimore.
"The church in America as elsewhere is called to go out from its comfort zone and be a leaven of communion –- communion among ourselves, with our fellow Christians, and with all who seek a future of hope," Pope Francis said in the message.
"The Christian community is meant to be a sign of prophecy, of God’s plan for the entire human family," the pope said. "We are called to be bearers of good news for a society gripped by disconcerting social, cultural and spiritual shifts and increasing polarization."
The theme for the "V Encuentro," as it is known in shorthand, is "Missionary Disciples: Witnesses of God’s Love," according to Auxiliary Bishop Nelson J. Perez of Rockville Centre, New York, chairman of the bishops’ Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs.
"It is a great opportunity for the church to reach out to our Hispanic brothers and sisters with Christ’s message of hope and love," he said. "It is a time to listen, a time to develop meaningful relationships, a time to learn and bear abundant fruits, and a time to rejoice in God’s love."
The V Encuentro will be the culmination of parish, diocesan and regional encuentros, in which the bishops anticipate more than 1 million Catholics participating over the next two years.
Starting in January and going through June next year, missionary activity and consultation will take place. Parish encuentros will take place around the country next May and June in an estimated 5,000 parishes.
In the fall of 2017, diocesan encuentros are scheduled, with expectations that more than 150 dioceses will be taking part with a hoped-for 200,000 participants.
Regional encuentros are slated for March-June 2018, with 10,000 delegates expected; the regions will conform to the U.S. bishops’ 14 episcopal regions.
Then comes the V Encuentro, to be held Sept. 20-23, 2018, in Fort Worth. But that’s not the end as there will be a post-encuentro working document written to implement the V Encuentro’s results.
The ultimate goals of the encuentro process are "two sides of the same coin," Bishop Perez said. "To discern the ways in which the church in the United States can better respond to Hispanic/Latinos, and strengthen the ways in which Hispanics respond to the call to the new evangelization."
Among the outcomes Bishop Perez said should result from the V Encuentro are the identification of best practices and pastoral initiatives in the development of resources in parishes, dioceses, schools and national organizations; an increase in the number of vocations to priesthood, religious life and the permanent diaconate; an increase in the percentage of Hispanic students in Catholic schools from the current 15.5 percent to 20 percent; to identify at least 20,000 emerging leaders ready for ongoing formation and ministry in the church; and an increased sense of belonging and stewardship among Hispanics.