September 27, 2018, Grapevine, Texas – Sister Lois Paha, OP, Director of Pastoral Services for the Diocese of Tucson, Arizona, accompanied some 50 Hispanic Catholic delegates from her diocese to a September 20-23, 2018, national gathering of about 3,000 delegates, leaders, and representatives of national organizations.
The Fifth National Encuentro (gathering) of Hispanic/Latino Ministry was at the Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine, Texas, focusing on the theme “Discípulos Misionerios: Testigos del Amor de Dios” (“Missionary Disciples: Witnesses of God’s Love”). Years in the planning stages, V Encuentro aimed to discover ways that the Catholic Church can be more responsive to the needs of Hispanic Catholics and to empower and encourage the Hispanic Catholics to be more involved in the Church’s work of evangelization.
Nationwide, Hispanic Catholics still face a number of challenges, Sister Lois said. “I think for some of them, language is still a barrier, and being accepted by [people of] other cultures,” she said. “In serving one another in their Spanish-speaking ministries, they are accepted, but to break some of the barriers of the enculturation and the multi-cultural reality is a challenge.”
Sister Lois explained the goal of the program. “One of the efforts of this Encuentro was to identify young people, listen to their call and try to reach out” to meet those needs through such avenues as faith formation, support of the family, and leadership development.
One of the highlights of V Encuentro was a dinner attended by young Hispanic Catholics, ages 18 to 35, with about 130 bishops. Sister Lois noted that about 700 delegates were in that age range – about one-third of the delegates, and they were able to offer their thoughts as young people.
“My hopes were that the delegates would be able to see not just what’s good for Tucson but for the whole Church and how we, as a border diocese, can respond to the needs of our local community,” Sister Lois said. “My goal to energize the delegates was definitely met. As we talked with them and they went out to the breakout sessions, they saw the bigger picture of a lot of dioceses across the United States.”
Sister Lois noted that participants at V Encuentro showed their solidarity with people around the world by participating in the Helping Hands program of Catholic Relief Services (CRS). “In two lunch-time periods on Friday and Saturday, we were able to fill 20,000 bags of food for the people of Burkina Faso,” she said. Participation in this project helped participants to see the basic needs of people around the world.
V Encuentro was the culmination of years of preparation, beginning in 2014 with preliminary planning and formation and training of episcopal regional teams and leadership and diocesan and parish teams in subsequent years.
In Tucson, the first step was to set up a diocesan team, which included staff members in the Pastoral Services Department, as well as the Vocations Vicar, the Vicar for Hispanic Ministry, and leaders from various areas of the diocese. “They went through several steps, at the parish and diocesan level,” Sister Lois said. Because of the large area of the Diocese of Tucson, the diocesan gathering was held in Yuma and in Tucson – and in both locations, Bishop Gerald Kicanas celebrated Mass, greeted delegates, and showed his support for the process, she said.
The Diocese of Tucson is fortunate to have had two bishops support the ministry to the Hispanic/Latino community. The process began under the leadership of Bishop Kicanas, and upon his retirement, Bishop Edward Weisenburger has continued to support the national process and the commitment to the people of the diocese.
Delegates from Tucson then participated in a gathering of Region 13, which included 413 delegates and 12 bishops from the 10 dioceses in the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Utah. Those who participated in the process at all three levels – parish, diocesan, and regional – were qualified to be the Diocese of Tucson’s delegates to the national Encuentro.
Sister Lois is optimistic about the future. “We made a good choice in the delegation from Tucson and we see that they are willing to pick up the call,” she said. “Our next step is to decide how to implement what we heard” from the working document that will come out of V Encuentro, “not to go too fast, but to go fast enough, and also to inform the other parishes of the diocese so it doesn’t get isolated only into Hispanic or Spanish-speaking neighborhoods. We have at least one Mass in Spanish in all of our 78 parishes.”
Sister Lois said the Hispanic population in the Diocese of Tucson – and throughout the country – is mixed, with some being new immigrants or second-generation in the United States and others who have been in this country for a long time, third- or fourth-generation. But in general, the Hispanic Catholics want the Church to be a part of their lives. “They have some roots and they want the Church to be part of their reality and not just something outside of their reality,” she said. “They want the Church to be their companion, their strong support and strength” – and, for their part, to be involved in the life of that Church.
Feature photo: Among those representing the Diocese of Tucson at V Encuentro were, back, from left, Deacon Lauro Teran, delegate; Sister Lois Paha, OP, Director of Pastoral Services; Ofelia James, Pastoral Services/Formation Program Coordinator; and Joe Perdreauville, Pastoral Services/Associate Director; and front, from left, Oakford Dominican Sister Gladys Echenique, OP, Coordinator of Hispanic Ministry, and Lupita Teran, delegate.
January 26, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – Six Adrian Dominican Sisters were among hundreds of justice and human rights activists who learned about the injustice, violence, and militarization at the U.S. border with Mexico – and who expressed their solidarity and support with those afflicted by the injustice.
The Sisters had taken personal time for reflection on this eye-opening experience before sharing their experience on January 22.
For the second year, Adrian Dominican Sisters traveled to Nogales, Arizona, to participate in the Schools of the Americas (SOA) Watch Encuentro (Encounter) at the Border, November 10-12, 2017. Participating in the event were Sisters Judith Benkert, OP, Patricia Erickson, OP, Anne Guinan, OP, Michelle Salalila, OP, Helen Sohn, OP, and Marilyn Winter, OP.
The Sisters’ participation in the Encuentro and their recent presentation on the experience were coordinated by Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP, Director of the Congregation’s Office of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation.
The recent experience at the border “was much more of a witness to our solidarity with people who are coming across the border,” while the annual event at Fort Benning was “much more of a demonstration,” Sister Marilyn explained. For 26 years SOA Watch hosted annual vigils and protests at Fort Benning, Georgia, to protest the School of Americas there that taught Latin American military leaders skills such as counter-insurgency, military intelligence, and psychological warfare. In 2016, the organization begin hosting the Encuentros at the Mexican-U.S. border to call attention to the militarization of the area.
The Sisters began their Encuentros experience at the Eloy Detention Center, where immigrants accused of being in the United States illegally are held indefinitely, surrounded by the desert and four layers of razor-wire fencing. Sister Judith described the sense of solidarity as the group listened to music and poetry readings and, light-sticks in hand, walked in the desert evening to the detention center. In response to their chants of “You are not alone,” the detainees turned their lights off and on, Sister Judith recalled.
The rest of the Encuentro took place at the 18-foot, metal wall between Nogales, Arizona, and Sonora, Mexico. “I thought I would find the wall much more depressing than I found it because of the space between the bars,” Sister Anne said. The space allows people to reach out and touch one another through the wall.
During the Saturday morning rally – with stages for music and speakers on both sides of the wall – the Adrian Dominican group split up. Three Sisters crossed to the Mexican side to experience the friendliness of the people, as well as artwork depicting the experience of crossing into the United States. They returned to the Hotel Americana in Arizona on time to join the others in attending workshops about the conditions and justice issues in the border area.
In one workshop, “Stop U.S. Arms to Mexico,” Sister Helen learned of the correlation between the increasing sale by the U.S. of ammunition, explosives, gun parts, and military firearms to Mexico, according to a study by the American Friends Service Committee. “The U.S. is not the only country selling arms to the Mexican government, but the U.S. has the biggest role in Mexico’s militarization,” she said.
Another workshop focused on “The Migrant Trail,” a program that helps people to share the experience of migrants who flee into the Sonora Desert in Arizona to find a new life in the United States. Many of the bodies of migrants who died in the desert are never identified, Sister Patricia said. “Participants say there is no way to replicate the experience of the migrants walking through the Sonora Desert, but [the Migrant Trail] does give some idea of what the migrants endured – and reason to advocate for change across the border,” she explained.
The experience culminated on Sunday morning with a rally on both sides of the wall – a time for integration, reflection, and prayer, Sister Marilyn said. After an hour dedicated to poetry and music, participants chanted a long list of names of people who had died while crossing the desert into the United States, or who had been killed by military forces trained by the SOA. The closing session also included scenes with puppetistas – huge puppets on tall poles – including the hopeful scene of two puppetistas shaking hands over the wall.
Referring to the Adrian Dominican Congregation’s Mission, Vision, and General Chapter statements, Sister Patricia explained her reason for participating in Encuentro. “As Dominicans of Adrian, we state that we are outraged by the injustices of our day,” she said. “We pledge our lives to work with people who are relegated to the margins. We state we will advocate for systemic change. This is why I participated in the SOA Watch this year. When I do not educate myself on the issues of the day, when I do not demand systemic change, then I am complicit.”
Below, view a recording of the entire presentation made by the Sisters on January 22, 2018.