PHOENIX — Five years ago, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop’s Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs requested that leaders of the Hispanic/Latino community continue the process of Encuentro, which incorporates the Church’s New Evangelization while emphasizing the importance of involving second- and third-generation Hispanics/Latinos.
There had been four other Encuentros (which means “encounter” in Spanish.) Since that call from the USCCB in 2013, the V Encuentro process was undertaken in dioceses throughout the United States.
One of the final steps in the process was the regional meeting in Phoenix Feb. 22-25, which was attended by 56 delegates from the Diocese of Salt Lake City.
The V Encuentro process took place over the past four years in local parishes, organizations and dioceses. The regional Encuentro was meant to bring forward the ideas, insights and recommendations from the local level to the regional level, and to prepare for the national V Encuentro, which will take place Sept. 20-23 in Texas.
The V Encuentro’s Region XIII is comprised of 10 dioceses and archdioceses in Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming.
“It was an extraordinary opportunity to be part of this event in which we had three days to share with all the representatives of Region XIII,” said Marilyn Acosta, who has been part of the Diocese of Salt Lake City’s V Encuentro since its inception.
“As a region we were able to share and presented proposals and strategies that we will present at the national Encuentro,” she said.
Acosta said that this effort was made to be able to respond and assist the realities of today’s world as “true missionary disciples offering testimony of God’s love, and focusing specially in our youth, who are the engine and the future of our Church.”
The most Rev. Oscar A. Solis, Bishop of Salt Lake City, accompanied the Utah V Encuentro delegation and said that “the youth are not only the future, they are the treasure of our Church.”
Bishop Solis and Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe celebrated the closing Mass at the Region XIII Encuentro. Archbishop Wester served as the ninth Bishop of Salt Lake City.
“This was a great blessing,” said Joel Romero, another member of the diocesan delegation. “We felt so close to our Church.”
For Romero, being with the bishops, “who sat down and listened to the voice of their people … for me that meant the world. They made us feel close to them, that they are there for us.”
Romero added that he came back from Phoenix recharged and stronger and with hope so that he can keep working hard for the local Church.
“As a lay person here in Utah I have been serving for years, but now I have a new perspective on how to reach our youth, on how to be present and closer with our bishops, and how to work side by side with them and with everyone,” Romero said.
Maria Cruz Gray, director of the Diocese of Salt Lake City Office of Hispanic Ministry, has led the local V Encuentro since its beginnings. For her the whole process has been lots of hard work but also a dream come true.
“This process is just the beginning of many good things to come,” Gray said. “We have to always keep our dreams alive. We can always make them happen and this regional V Encuentro … will keep on going. Now we are preparing for the national V Encuentro, and keeping up the hard work here, too.”
Among the speakers at the regional V Encuentro was Dr. Hosffman Ospino, an associate professor of Hispanic Ministry and Religious Education at Boston College who is a member of the Core Team of the V Encuentro as well as co-chair of the Process Committee, and a member of ENAVE, a group of national organizations involved with the Encuentro and serve the Hispanic/Latino community.
Ospino is also author of Called and Sent to Encuentro: A Pastoral Theological Vision for the Fifth Encuentro Process.
“The Hispanics desire renovated ways to be Church,” Ospino said at the regional V Encuentro.