By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. — The bishops of the United States want to hear from the Hispanic faithful — their needs, their wants, their joys and their hopes, Father Pablo Hernandez told a group of Hispanic and Latino Catholics June 25. The bishops, he continued, want to “accompany” these Catholics and that is “very beautiful.”
Father Hernandez, pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Church in Hodgenville, Ky., was addressing about 40 parishioners of St. James Church in Elizabethtown, Ky.
They were gathered for a “parish Encuentro,” an event that is planned at several parishes with Hispanic and Latino communities around the Archdiocese of Louisville. The events are designed to examine the state of local Spanish-speaking communities and their needs.
Parish Encuentros are part of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s preparation for the Fifth National Encuentro, a meeting of Hispanic and Latino Catholics set for September of 2018. Prior to the national meeting, dioceses around the country are holding local and regional gatherings, too.
The bishops hope the Encuentro process will uncover the pastoral needs of Hispanic and Latino Catholics — an estimated 30 million in the U.S. — and find the best way to improve the quality of their ministry.
Local preparations for the national gathering of Hispanic and Latino Catholics, which will take place in Grapevine, Texas, began in January. Preparation has included small-group discussions, opportunities for reflection and evangelization.
Francia Bennett, a member of St. James and a leader in the Spanish-speaking community there, said about 40 parishioners attended St. James’ discussion and reflection sessions at the end of May.
And 27 people from those discussion groups took part in evangelization missions — visiting people in their homes and reaching out to others where they work. Some reached out to people at hospitals and two parishioners, whose husbands serve in the Army, reached out to other military families at Ft. Knox U.S. Army post.
Father Hernandez, who led the parish Encuentro at St. James, told his listeners that their “voices need to echo” all the way to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). He urged them to let this gathering be an “incentive” to follow through with their baptismal call to be evangelizers. “Everyone is called to walk on this path,” he said.
It’s very important, he noted, to listen attentively to others and to discern how best to use one’s “God-given gifts.” He urged them not to put away their gifts, but to use them for the “benefit of others.”
Father Hernandez described the participants in the Encuentro as “laborers,” who God is sending out to his vineyard. “We need to go as faithful disciples who listen to the master,” Father Hernandez told his listeners.
After breaking into three groups, participants discussed what they heard during their ministry of evangelization over the past few months. Among the things they identified were:
- Resentments, due to personal experiences, have caused people to fall away from the church or believe that God isn’t involved in their lives.
- Some people said they have faith, but have not found the support they need in the Hispanic community and at times do not feel welcomed at church.
- Others have drifted away from the church in the U.S. because of a language barrier and a reported lack of spiritual support.
- Practical reasons, such as a lack of transportation, also contribute to a lack of church attendance among some Hispanic and Latino Catholics.
Overall, participants said, most of the people they encountered have faith in God and the church, but more should be done to reach out to them. One parishioner said she sees a need for more Hispanic and Latino women religious to reach out to the community.
The participants’ findings and other input is being compiled into a working document and will be submitted to the Archdiocese of Louisville. Each parish that conducts Encuentro preparation will also compile a report.
When the documents have received approval of their pastors, they will be combined into an archdiocesan document which will be used at the regional Encuentro, said Eva Gonzalez, director of Hispanic Ministry in the Office of Multicultural Ministry.
The report that comes out of the regional event will then be used at the national Encuentro, she said. The final report will go to the USCCB.
Upcoming parish Encuentros include:
July 8 — Holy Name and St. Peter the Apostle churches.
July 15 — St. Rita and Epiphany churches.
July 22 — Annunciation and Immaculate Conception churches.
July 22 — Christ the King Church in Tompkinsville, Ky., and St. Helen Church in Glasgow, Ky.
July 29 — St. Edward and St. Bartholomew churches.
A diocesan Encuentro will be held this September and a regional Encuentro is planned for 2018, prior to the national event.