By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
About 120 Hispanic parishioners representing a dozen churches in the Archdiocese of Louisville heard Sept. 16 that they are part of a “great tradition of immigrants.”
They were gathered at the Flaget Center, 1935 Lewiston Drive, for an archdiocesan “Encuentro,” an event designed to examine the state of Spanish-speaking communities and their needs.
Father Joseph Rankin — pastor of St. Rita Church and vicar for Hispanic ministry — offered a pastoral reflection on missionary discipleship during the event. Speaking in Spanish, he opened by noting that the first Catholics in the area settled in what’s known as Kentucky’s Holy Land — Nelson, Marion and Washington counties — more than 200 years ago.
As more Catholic immigrants traveled to the region, there was suffering — such as discrimination and violence inflicted on Irish immigrants in the 1800s, said Father Rankin.
In fact, prejudice against immigrants led to what is known as Bloody Monday in Louisville, when Catholic immigrants became the target of violent riots
on an election day in August of 1855.
Though most Hispanic immigrants came later, they’ve known their share of suffering too, said Father Rankin.
Those first immigrants brought gifts of faith, hope, culture, duty and responsibility. Their faith carried them through the hard times, he said.
Oftentimes, said Father Rankin, the poor and downtrodden make the best disciples. It’s okay to be poor and part of the “great immigrant tradition” living in a “moment of grace,” said Father Rankin to his Spanish-speaking listeners.
The archdiocesan Encuentro followed six parish Encuentros which took place between June 25 and July 29. These events are part of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s preparation for the Fifth
National Encuentro — a meeting of Hispanic and Latino Catholics convened by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The national meeting is set for September 2018 in Texas. But first, dioceses around the country are holding local and regional gatherings.
The U.S. bishops hope the Encuentro process will uncover the pastoral needs of Hispanic and Latino Catholics and find the best way to improve the quality of their ministry.
Maria Beletzuy and Eduardo Matias, members of Church of the Annunciation in Shelbyville, Ky., attended the archdiocesan event with their daughters, 12-year-old Jackeline and 4-year-old Jade.
The Guatemalan natives said taking part in the Encuentro process has brought them closer to God and given them the opportunity to reach out to some who’d withdrawn from the church.
“The most important thing is to open our hearts and deepen our relationship with God and encourage others to do the same,” said Matias.
They are hoping the Fifth National Encuentro will serve to help the wider church get to know the Hispanic and Latino communities better. Beletzuy said she still doesn’t quite feel accepted by the community in Shelbyville, where her family has lived for the past 13 years. Matias said it’s important for the church to open its doors wider to the Hispanic community, so they can fully be part of it.
Mirna Lozano — a 19-year-old member of St. Dominic Church in Springfield, Ky., who attended the event — is hopeful the Fifth National Encuentro will present an opportunity for young people to be heard.
Lozano — a Mexican native who was brought to the United States at the age of 4 — is one of the 800,000 young people temporarily protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
“We get to express our thoughts” during an Encuentro, said Lozano, a student at Bluegrass Community College in Lexington, Ky. “They will be able to find out we’re contributing to society and that we just want to be of service to others.”
The event included small group discussions and a plenary session where participants discussed programs they felt needed to be implemented in the archdiocese and ways to help with the mission of evangelization. The day concluded with Mass celebrated by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz.
A regional Encuentro is planned for 2018 prior to the national event. For more information on the Fifth National Encuentro, visit https://vencuentro.org/.