Although the Diocese of Gallup was founded to serve a large Native American population, current census data gives a glimpse into the projected future of the Church in America, as Hispanics are now the fastest-growing minority group in America. And while Native American ministry is still a top priority in the Diocese, a recently-introduced program has been introduced to meet the needs of Hispanic Catholics.
On Saturday, January 27th, roughly delegates from various parishes gathered for a Diocesan V Encuentro, an evangelization workshop in which participants outline goals for Hispanic-specific ministry in the Diocese of Gallup.
It all starts on a parish-by-parish level. First, a volunteer team reaches out to friends, coworkers, families, ex-Catholics, and other members of their local communities.
“In five different sessions, they prepare themselves as missionaries and they go out to different areas, especially those that are most marginalized and on the peripheries of the parish, either socially or in the Church, and listen,” said Fr. Peter Short, coordinator of the V Encuentro in the Diocese of Gallup. “[They] try to listen to them to see what their difficulties are, what their aspirations are, what their hope is – if they’ve left the Church, why they’ve left the Church; if they’re not practicing in the church, why are they not practicing in the church.”
Fr. Short is the pastor of the St. Joseph and Madre de Dios parishes in Winslow, Arizona. After decades of ministry in Argentina, he returned home to the United States to serve as a parish priest for the Diocese of Gallup. His years of on-the-ground ministry in Latin America opened his eyes to the needs of Hispanic people on both a local and Diocesan level.
“I realized that in the diocese here, strangely enough, we didn’t have any Hispanic ministry. I approached the Bishop with it – I didn’t approach it as wanting to get involved with the V Encuentro, but rather using the material to see if we could kickstart the Hispanic ministry of the Diocese…as time moved on, it moved into participation in the V Encuentro.”
The next step: using the information gathered in their local missionary efforts, the teams presented their findings in sessions during the Diocesan Encuentro.
Jessica Olivas, a member for the missionary team from Winslow, described how the outreach process had taught her to be “brave”.
“I didn’t have to go knock on a stranger’s door. I could just go speak to a coworker or a friend that has been away from the Church,” she told the room, first giving her testimony in Spanish, then switching to English. “Even to invite someone back to the church, and when that person said yes, and when that person attended Mass, and now continues to attend Mass because of that one invite. I received that bravery – to go out and be that apostle that Christ wants us to be.”
Petra Velez and her husband, Art Velez, are the lay coordinators of the Diocesan V Encuentro. Throughout the day, Velez stopped at each table, interacted with groups and facilitated discussions.
“I could actually see the people so involved in the tables, and I think that message got across,” she said. “I think a lot of people realized how it’s needed in this Diocese. This Diocese has been more of a Native American diocese, and now, because of the growth in the Hispanic population, we’re bringing some of these people out of the shadows into the light to voice their opinion.”
Velez, along with a few other selected delegates, Fr. Short and Bishop Wall, will attend the regional V Encuentro, to be held in Phoenix in late February. Region 13, which includes the states of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, is the only region with 100% diocesan participation. From there, an additional group of delegates will be sent to the national V Encuentro in September.
“This year, specifically, this is the fifth one [in the US]. They meet every 8-10 years,” said Fr. Short. Although the Diocese of Gallup entered late into the process, he hopes other parishes will also be able to adopt the process in their own communities.
“In the regional we go and talk to the other Dioceses in the region, with our priorities, with our findings,” he said, adding that “the critical one is this one, the Diocesan one, because this is the one that will most affect us. If we can encourage people to go back to their parishes and encourage the parishes to do the process, it will be very good.”
Bishop Wall attended the local session in the afternoon, listening in on the presentations and concluding the day with a bilingual Mass.
“Central to Pope Francis’ teaching and the Encuentro is a genuine encounter with the living Christ. Not just for a few, but we know that Christ is for the entire world,” he told those in attendance. Bishop Wall also recognized the efforts of Fr. Short, especially the priest’s willingness to take on Hispanic ministry efforts, joking “I kind of thrust it on him – I’m surprised he even talks to me”.
Velez was able to identify several priorities agreed on by delegates for the Diocese of Gallup: more bilingual Masses and activities, especially for youth; training Spanish-speaking people in parish ministries; and Spanish-language education for priests and deacons. In the long-term, for both Velez and Fr. Short, Hispanic Church leaders are a priority, locally and throughout the United States.
“Under 18 [years old] – I think it’s 60% now are Hispanic in the Church in the United States. So the future of the Church in the United States is clearly going to become more and more Hispanic,” Fr. Short said. “And yet there hasn’t been a corresponding growth in priests and bishops and lay ministers and leaders.”
And while the local and National V Encuentro is happening in 2018, Fr. Short and the V Encuentro participants hope to utilize their newfound efforts and goals into implementing a permanent and thriving Hispanic Ministry in the Diocese of Gallup.
“From the census data, we have 40% Hispanics in the Diocese, and that’s less than most Dioceses in the southwest simply because we have a strong concentration of Native Americans. And I can understand that our Diocese would be directed specifically towards Native Americans. But to ignore the Hispanics, I think, is wrong. We’re leaving aside a large portion of our parishes. And in speaking with other pastors, I herd some of their concerns, and I thought that would be a good thing. And the Bishop was very encouraging.”