Delegates from several parishes in the Diocese of Gallup traveled to Grapevine, Texas on September 20th, 2018 for the National V Encuentro, a culmination of an effort over a year in the making.

Hispanic Catholics are the fastest-growing demographic in the American Church. The V Encuentro is a movement on the parish, Diocesan, and national level that seeks to continually work with Hispanic Catholics on relevant issues such as Spanish language translations, outreach to youth, and vocations.

Early in 2018, around 30 delegates from parishes throughout the Diocese of Gallup gathered for a local V Encuentro, followed shortly in February by a regional conference in Phoenix. A select handful of these delegates were selected to travel to the national Encuentro to represent the Diocese of Gallup. Along with thousands of other Hispanic Catholics from nearly every Diocese in the United States, over 100 bishops, and the Papal Nuncio to the United States, the delegates from the Gallup Diocese participated in daily Mass and sacraments, workshops, and group sessions.

Bishop Wall accompanied the group from Gallup, along with the Diocesan director of Hispanic outreach, Fr. Peter Short, pastor of Winslow parishes in Arizona.

“The idea of these Encuentros – this is the 5th one [nationally] – is to try and promote leadership among the Hispanics so that their voice and their participation is felt in the Church,” said Fr. Short. “Sometimes it’s not proportionally felt. So this strives to remedy that.”

One of the chief concerns of the Encuentro, on both the Diocesan and national level, was outreach to young Hispanic Catholics.

“So about 30 or 40% of the delegates there were young people,” noted Fr. Short. “And they had a certain preference – for example, one night, they alone had dinner with the different bishops, 120 bishops or so, in which they were able to sit down and discuss with them some of their thoughts and what they would like to see in the Church.”

Humberto Bañuelos and his wife, Martha, attended as representatives of the Diocese of Gallup. Nominated on a Diocesan level by their parish priest, Fr. Dan Kassis of Show Low, AZ, the two were eventually selected to attend the national conference. Bañuelos also names outreach to youth as one of his chief concerns.

“The main thing is focusing on the youth, Hispanic youth. And bringing in young people involved in the Encuentro, or priests or even sisters, to help out with the youth,” he said. “Because we are losing people – Hispanic youth and others – to other religions.”

Another issue – underrepresentation, especially on the chancery and administrative levels.

“We need more leadership in the Diocese – Hispanic leadership,” said Bañuelos. “That way they know that the people there represent our culture, and our thoughts.”

Fr. Short noted that representation of Hispanic culture and leadership also goes hand-in-hand with language issues.

“They gave the example that in many Dioceses, they’ll have one spokesman for the Hispanic ministry, when 30 or 40 other people in the chancery may not even speak Spanish,” he said. “Obviously, they would like to see more possibilities of bilingualism, whether it be in the Mass or sacraments or in the catechesis, in formation programs and things like that.”

But despite a need for priests and religious who speak Spanish and understand the needs of Hispanic Catholics, Fr. Short didn’t see much evaluation on how to promote vocations in those communities.

“They want the vocations to exist, but there’s not the corresponding concern on the part of the families and the communities and among the Hispanics to promote that vocation,” he noted. “So I think that there’s some work that has to be done there.”

In other areas, notably social work and outreach, Fr. Short noticed that Hispanic Catholics are ahead of many communities in the American Church.

“They’re very concerned about the poor, very concerned about the marginalized that are on the peripheries, which was another one of the emphases put in this Encuentro.”

Fr. Short now hopes to take what was learned and discovered in the national conference and hold a second Diocesan conference.

“If we want to truly promote Hispanic ministry here in the Diocese, we’re going to have to look at our own difficulties and what we’re working with,” he said.

Much of this includes outreach to Catholics who have fallen away, or who were never properly catechized, or who attend Mass sparsely.

“That was pretty much the theme and the objective of the process on the community level, which was to form missionaries in a very simple way but a very direct way and to go out and to encounter and to engage those that felt themselves on the peripheries of the church or on the peripheries of society, and were not active in the Church,” Fr. Short said. “So the process itself would give you both the materials and the means to do just that, to engage those who feel themselves outside of the Church.”

Bañuelos also expressed his thanks to his pastor, Fr. Kassis, and to Bishop Wall for their efforts to involve delegates in the Encuentro on both the Diocesan and national levels.

“It’s almost a proven – that [the Encuentro] is working, you know? At the end of everything, I’d like to thank Bishop Wall and [Fr. Dan]. Because they picked us, and they’re very involved in the Encuentro.”

While the National Encuentro has concluded, the process of engaging and building a ministry for Hispanic Catholics in the Diocese of Gallup has only just begun.

“It was a very beautiful encounter. I think the delegates came away very enthusiastic and encouraged. It was like a pep rally for the Hispanic community on the National level,” said Fr. Peter, who now hopes to build on the national conference, perhaps even with a second Diocesan Encuentro. “And at the same time, it gave them a lot of things to think about, materials to work with, in order to promote Hispanic ministry in the different Dioceses. So I’m hopeful that here in our Diocese, we’ll also be able to make a couple of steps forward with this in the very near future.”

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