HUNDREDS OF HISPANIC CATHOLIC leaders from across New York State gathered in Albany last weekend for the Regional V Encuentro, discussing how the Church in America can best serve the needs of the Hispanic/Latino faithful. Above, Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger celebrates the opening Mass. (Emily Benson photo)
HUNDREDS OF HISPANIC CATHOLIC leaders from across New York State gathered in Albany last weekend for the Regional V Encuentro, discussing how the Church in America can best serve the needs of the Hispanic/Latino faithful. Above, Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger celebrates the opening Mass. (Emily Benson photo)
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The Albany Diocese was proud to be the site where the 2018 Regional V Encuentro was held June 22-24.

The Regional V Encuentro was part of a series of meetings that are being held over the next four years, discerning how to better connect with and involve the Hispanic and Latino Catholic community in the Church. The Albany event drew more than 300 delegates from the eight dioceses in New York State.

Working groups of delegates discussed how to strengthen evangelization among the Hispanic and Latino faithful. A prayer for the Regional V Encuentro asked God to “make us all missionary disciples, and stay with us always, as we seek to share the joy of the Gospel with people of all generations, from every race, language, culture and nation.”

In Spanish, that prayer asks: “Envianos a todos como discípulos misioneros, y quédate con nosotros siempre, mientras nos dedicamos a compartir la alegria del Evangelio con generaciones de toda raza, lengua, cultura y nación.”

Growing concern

According to Catholic News Service, more than half of Catholics born in 1982 or later are Hispanic or Latino. Just by itself, the number of young Hispanic and Latino Catholics warrants inquiry into how the Church can be more welcoming to this growing community. One goal of Encuentro is to reach members of the Hispanic and Latino community on the peripheries, as well as creating more leadership roles for people in ministry.

Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger, who is fluent in Spanish, celebrated a bilingual Mass for the Regional V Encuentro June 23 at the Desmond Hotel in Albany. Bishop Richard Malone of the Diocese of Buffalo was the homilist. The Regional V Encuentro followed a meeting in the Archdiocese of New York in February.

“It means a lot just to have [Regional V Encuentro] here in Albany itself,” Bishop Scharfenberger told The Evangelist. “We are an area in which the Latino population has been steadily growing, and I hope this brings some attention to the entire Diocese of how important their witness is.”

Alina Gutierrez of St. Anthony’s parish in Schenectady attended the Encuentro to voice what changes she wants to see in the Albany Diocese.

“This is an event all about our beliefs, and this is a contribution of all of us for everything in the Church that we would like to change: our necessities in the whole community, for example, for not only faith, but social justice [and] immigration,” she told The Evangelist.

Many meetings

In January 2017, parishes around the United States began conducting consultations in parishes to better discern the needs of the Hispanic and Latino community.

Maria Barboza, relationship manager for Catholic Relief Services’ northeast region, is based in the Albany Diocese assisted with the Regional V Encuentro. (CRS is the U.S. Church’s overseas relief and development agency.)

Mrs. Barboza explained that the parish reports were passed on to respondents’ respective dioceses and reports were compiled from the information. The Regional V Encuentro will “prioritize and organize all the information that came out” of the diocesan reports, she said.

A regional report will then be compiled for use at the National Encuentro, scheduled for Sept. 20-23 in Grapevine, Tx.

“Topics like vocations, immigration, multicultural ministry, how do parishes that are primarily English speakers welcome and interact with the community: All those issues will be [explored] in-depth,” said Mrs. ¬≠Barboza.

What we need

Just looking at this area’s report, she said, tells a lot about what locals are feeling in terms of their fears and needs: for instance, “because of the immigration issue, some of them are afraid to come to church.”

Mrs. Barboza said it was “very timely” to have the Encuentro now. She called it “a great opportunity to look to the future and see what we can do” to help the Hispanic and Latino community.

Mrs. Barboza also mentioned the need for bilingual priests in the Albany Diocese. Though Rev. Jorge Reyes, OSA, director of Spanish Apostolate for the Albany Diocese, is one such priest and “there’s a few deacons,” she said, “there’s a lot of challenges, because [the Diocese] is such an expansive area.”

Lucia Gutierrez of St. Anthony’s in Schenectady, part of the Albany Encuentro Committee, reiterated the call for more bilingual priests to cover the Diocese’s 10,000 square miles, and said that everyone needs to “be aware of what we [Spanish-speaking Catholics] offer,” because “we bring a lot to the Church.”

“It’s a population that has a deep faith and can really enliven [the Church],” Mrs. Barboza agreed. “If we think about ways to involve them, to invite them to our parishes, they can really bring a lot of life.”

Previous Encuentros were held in 1972, ‘77, ‘85, 2000 and ‘06. Other noted guests at last weekend’s Regional V Encuentro included Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Vatican’s apostolic nuncio to the U.S.; Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Brooklyn Diocese, who celebrated the event’s closing Mass; and Auxiliary Bishop Robert Brennan of the Rockville Centre (Long Island) Diocese, who delivered the homily at that Mass.

Materials for the 2018 Encuentro note that “Hispanics/Latinos to continue to walk as God’s people, to raise our prophetic voice once more and to discern pastoral priorities and strategies that are most appropriate to the present time. With the V Encuentro, we are called to be a ‘Hispanic Community: Joyful Disciples in Mission.’”

(Learn more at https://vencuentro.org.)