The V Encuentro was an awesome and humbling experience. I had the opportunity to participate in the local and national events over the last two years. The national gathering took place over September 20-23, 2018 and was comprised of 3,000 ministry leaders from across the country. This most recent national event is the culmination of a two-year process that began with parish, diocesan, and regional gatherings focused on Hispanic ministry that has involved over 30,000 leaders across the country. The focus throughout the pastoral-theological process was how to respond to the challenges and share the gifts involving Hispanic ministry in the United States.
As part of the delegation for the Diocese of Brownsville, I was enriched by the many conversations and prayers of the local ministry leaders, especially the young adults. They shared their dreams and desires to share their gifts and talents within the church. I was equally upset to learn of their difficulty in getting involved in local parishes and sharing their talents. Unsurprisingly, this reality was not unique or isolated. Trends and patterns of under-served and under-utilized youth and young adults surfaced in the many conversations and prayers; some which seemed to not only impact Hispanic communities.
Given my role as a project coordinator for youth ministry services for the Center for Ministry Development, I found myself discerning what the implications of these rich interactions meant for effective youth ministry in any parish. Below are some highlights from the V Encuentro process.
- Need to nurture on peer ministry: It was clear from many small group conversations, panels, and keynote addresses that we need to be intentional about forming effective ministry leaders, especially youth and young adult leaders. Many faith communities are not cultivating a new generation of leaders. Rather, they are leaning on leaders that have been serving in their roles for decades. Effective pastoral leadership requires formation and preparation. Throughout the country, many young people want to contribute and get involved but are not being mentored, formed, and grown into leaders. The issue is multifaceted and ranges from attitudes about who is qualified to serve to available programs and accessible funds for leadership development. Many Hispanic leaders are finding it difficult to connect and integrate into existing parish structures. These structures can be perceived as rigid, un-inviting, and un-welcoming to new leaders. Many of the personal stories shared at the V Encuentro testify to a tenacity, innovation, and drive that Hispanic leaders have had to exercise to overcome these challenges. Since admittedly there is no one solution to everyone's challenges, it is the local community that best knows their challenges, resources, and opportunities to grow in faith. Consequently, the solution is usually born of a creative process from its well-formed and prepared local leaders. It is a pressing matter to discern and respond to the challenge of fostering leadership among a new generation. As Dr. Arturo Chavez of the Mexican American Catholic College mentioned, "We desire full membership in the Church. We no longer wish to be guests. We desire a future of hope for ourselves, but especially for the young."
- Seeking engagement with young people: Most effective pastoral strategies include forming small faith communities and building meaningful relationships. Many faith communities seem to attempt entertaining young people. Rather than wrestling with the questions and situations that young people are dealing with, many parishes operate from a mindset that young people don't care or are not interested in the faith. This could not be farther from the truth. There is a gap in what young people need and what faith communities are offering. The pastoral work of listening is something we need to practice and embody more thoroughly in our ministry. Many Hispanic families are facing challenges and situations that parishes are not equipped or willing to respond to. Some parishes refer their Hispanic families to other parishes rather than taking up the work of responding to these pastoral challenges.
- Doing youth ministry in a family context: Another important implication that was quickly evident was the need to partnering with parents in any efforts of youth ministry. There were many conversations about Hispanic families and how many current ministry offerings do not meet their needs. With limited opportunities and offerings of youth ministry in a family context, many times we continue to separate the young person from their family. We need to break the molds of youth ministry only happening in the same age group. While the Church has spoken about the importance of family ministry and involving parents for decades, there is still much work to be done to practically empower and partner with parents in local settings. Hispanic families have a unique and palpable sense of family that is robust and enveloping.
- Focus on fostering a culture of caring for young people: Many of the approaches that faith communities take on are programmatic and institutional. They involve budgets, staff, and strategic plans. While these things are important to sustaining and operationalizing certain aspects of pastoral ministry, it's not as a simple as launching a program. These elements must serve as means to creating and supporting an environment and culture that provides small and consistent opportunities to discuss faith. It is everyone's responsibility to care for young people. We need parish communities that know and care for their youth and develop appropriate and relevant responses to what they are experiencing. We need more people that are trained and equipped to serve as gente puente ("bridge builders") that can connect people of diverse backgrounds.
- Prayer and personal sanctity are vitally important: Beyond attending to all our pastoral planning and discernment, we need to tend to our personal prayer and sanctity. In his homily, Archbishop Jose Gomez (Los Angeles) offered the lives of San Juan Diego and Oscar Romero as examples of holiness for both clergy and laity. He reminded us that God used a lay person to evangelize the Americas through San Juan Diego and spoke of the important role that lay people play in the life of the Church today. This is a unique time is the 'hour of the laity' in which all the faithful are reminded of their baptismal call and vocation. We are integrated in the pastoral work and evangelization of the church by virtue of our baptism. We must embrace this truth and boldly live it out. As Archbishop Jose Gómez said in the Closing Mass, "Brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ has a message that he wants you to deliver with your lives. And it is absolutely necessary that you yourself go to deliver it. So, let us go always forward with confidence. Let us be men and women of encuentro! May each of us lead many people to their own beautiful encounter with Jesus Christ."
There are many things I am still discerning about my experiences related to the V Encuentro. What does this mean for the Center for Ministry Development? What does this mean for my parish? What does this mean for the young people I work with every Wednesday night? What does this mean for family?
I find insight and inspiration in Bishop Oscar Cantu's address (San Jose) that the answer lies in maintaining the long view and not losing sight of our personal spirituality and growth in Jesus Christ. He challenged us to tend to the roots as to avoid becoming spiritual tumbleweeds that would become quickly uprooted in difficult times. He also recounted a story of thirsty man that was satiated by a delicious and savory peach. He found it so delicious that he wanted to share it with his family. But the seed of the peach was not much to look at as it was dry and ugly. With proper care though, that same seed could be cultivated to provide the same delicious and savory fruit for others.
As we continue to discern the implications of the V Encuentro, we are steadfast in tending to our faith from "the roots to the fruits" and inviting Jesus to show us the way.
The V Encuentro on Hispanic/Latino Ministry has been a momentous event for the Catholic Church in the United States. Over the last few years, pastoral leaders throughout the country have been reflecting, discerning, and responding on how to better respond to the Hispanic/Latino presence, and to strengthen the ways in which Hispanics/Latinos respond to the call to the New Evangelization as missionary disciples serving the entire Church. Needless to say, there are many implications for young people and their families.
Join us in this conversation as we explore some important implications of the V Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry for parish youth ministry. Marilyn Santos, Associate Director of the USCCB Evangelization and Catechesis Staff, will be our guest panelist along with Tom East (Director) and Angel Barrera (Project Coordinator) of the Center for Ministry Development. Joan Weber (Project Coordinator) will facilitate the online event as emcee and Susan Searle (Project Coordinator) will lead us in our prayer experiences.