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.