By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
More than 100 leaders in Hispanic ministry from six dioceses gathered at the Flaget Center in South Louisville May 23 to discuss the role of Hispanics in the church in the United States.
They heard from several speakers who encouraged their ministry, including Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz who said their work is essential to the renewal of family life in the United States.
The Encuentro Provincial (or Provincial Gathering) included delegations from dioceses that belong to the province of the Archdiocese of Louisville — Louisville, Covington, Lexington and Owensboro in Kentucky and Knoxville and Memphis in Tennessee.
The meeting was organized by the Southeast Pastoral Institute (SEPI) to prepare Hispanic leaders for the fifth national Encuentro to be held in 2018.
The day began with Mass celebrated by Archbishop Kurtz. He told delegates that Hispanic Catholics are living in a historic time. For starters, he noted that they’d gathered on the very day that Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero was being beatified in El Salvador.
Blessed Romero — who spoke against human rights violations and oppression of the poor — was fatally shot on March 24, 1980, while celebrating Mass in San Salvador. He has long been regarded by the Hispanic community as a martyr.
Archbishop Kurtz also noted that the Holy Father will soon canonize Blessed Junípero Serra, the Spanish Franciscan widely credited with bringing Christianity to indigenous people of California in the 18th century.
The archbishop’s words were received with a hearty round of applause and some shouts of excitement from the audience.
He reminded those in attendance that the day was, in part, a preparation for a bigger mission — the fifth national Encuentro.
“It is important to ask the Holy Spirit to open your hearts and allow you to speak in a way that will open your hearts to Jesus,” the archbishop said.
He also told them he plans to attend the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Family, scheduled for Oct. 4 to 25.
He asked his listeners to pray that three important issues would be forefront at the synod — the beauty of marriage, the importance of the witness to marriage and the importance of accompanying families who are hurting.
“You are the yeast,” the archbishop said, referring to the Hispanic community. “The presence of Latino families in the United States is essential if we are to be renewed in family life.”
Piarist Father Rafael Capó, director of the Florida-based SEPI, opened his keynote address by telling Hispanic ministers that the beatification of Archbishop Romero and the impending canonization of Blessed Serra has created a moment of grace for Hispanic Catholics.
“The Holy Spirit is calling us to be missionary disciples,” said Father Capó. He told his listeners that the Encuentro Provincial serves as a marker, not only on their way to the national encuentro event, but on their journey as believers.
“We are on our way to an encounter — an encounter with God, with each other and with the church,” said Father Capó. The prerequisite, he noted, to getting there is an examination of who Hispanics are in the context of the church and the United States.
“In order to know where we are headed we need to know who we are and where came from,” he said. He told them that Hispanics are a diverse group —ranging in ethnicity.
“The church needs our cultural diversity and our leadership,” he said, noting that Hispanics make up 17 percent of the U.S. the population and is a growing group within the Catholic faith.
Most importantly, he said, is to realize that Latinos are not newcomers to the church, that their history is deeply rooted in Catholicism.
He noted that some of the first evangelizers to arrive in the U.S. were the Spanish Franciscans.
“It is important for us to reclaim the history of Hispanics in the United States,” he said.