Members of the delegation from the Diocese of Rockville Centre at the regional encuentro in Albany. Cesar Gonzalez photo.


By Maria-Pia Negro Chin

ALBANY, N.Y. (CNS) — The U.S. church’s national encuentro call to Hispanic Catholics to go out to the peripheries and encounter others has energized the country’s dioceses, Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros of Brooklyn told delegates at the Region II encuentro in Albany.

“It’s a time for us to be missionaries,” said the bishop, who is the region’s episcopal representative for the National Fifth Encuentro, or “V Encuentro.”

Leading up to V Encuentro, to be held in the fall, has been a multiyear process aimed at consulting Hispanic/Latino Catholics to develop pastoral priorities that will address the needs of the growing population of Hispanics Catholics in the U.S. and encourage them to be “Missionary Disciples: Witnesses of God’s Love.”

On June 22-24, bishops and about 300 Hispanic Catholic leaders from the Diocese of Rockville Centre and the seven other dioceses of New York state gathered in Albany.Region II also includes the Archdiocese of New York and dioceses of Albany, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Ogdensburg, Rochester and Syracuse. Before the regional event came diocesan and parish encuentros. This encuentro was one of the last regional gatherings before V Encuentro Sept 20-23 in Grapevine, Texas.


Story continues below slideshow. Photos by Cesar Gonzalez

Through the encuentros, “we are realizing the richness of our faith, our culture and what we can offer to a larger society,” Bishop Cisneros said.

Wanda Vasquez, New York archdiocesan director of Hispanic ministry and Region II encuentro chairwoman, said her view of ministry changed as a result of the encuentro.

Rafael Villanueva, a Hispanic leader from the Diocese of Albany, pointed out that the needs of parishioners in New York state could vary.

“In my diocese we still need resources in both languages — Spanish and English,” Villanueva said. “The challenge is not to split into two communities. It is both communities together, but it needs a leadership that is bilingual that establishes a bridge between parishioners.”

Acting as that bridge for his own parish, St. Edward in Clifton Park, he worked with parishioners to celebrate their first bilingual Mass.

At the regional meeting, delegates and bishops devoted hours to discerning the challenges, opportunities and priorities in the region, focusing on the ministerial areas that were prioritized during the parish and diocesan encuentros. These included: evangelization and mission, youth and young adults, intercultural competencies, leadership development and ministry formation, faith formation and catechesis, family ministry, immigration and ministries for people with disabilities.

The weekend combined intense work to determine the region’s priorities for the next five years along with a joyful sense of fellowship, opportunities for praise and worship and Masses.

The faith-filled gathering also showcased the diversity among the delegates themselves.

“In western New York, the Hispanic population is mostly Caribbean, but in meeting other dioceses, I’ve seen people from Mexico, Guatemala, etc.,” said Deacon Alejandro Manunta, a teacher at the Hispanic Pastoral Institute in Buffalo.

“People sometimes think that we Hispanics are just one group but we have a diversity of nationalities and cultures which makes up the richness of our ‘Hispanidad.’ All the cultures can work together and find a way to help the Catholic Church in the U.S.”

During his keynote speech, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, talked about evangelization and communion with God, with each other and with the world.

“The encounter with each other in the church should imitate the grace-filled encounter we have with God,” Archbishop Pierre said in Spanish.

Acknowledging that everyone has inherent dignity as a child of God, he said that encounters were a chance to appreciate diversity.
“This diversity is also the work of the Spirit, who desires unity without requiring uniformity,” he said.

During an interview with Catholic News Service and Fe Fuerza Vida, the Diocese of Rockville Centre’s Spanish-language  publication, Archbishop Pierre said that for migrants from Latin America, faith has become the culture due to centuries of being inspired by the values of Gospel.

“Through what Pope Francis calls the culture of encounter, we have to learn to discover who is the other and to discover his values, diversity but also the faith expressed in this culture which can enrich ours,” he said. “It does not mean that we have to be like them or they have to be like us. But we have to have an encounter.”