Southwestern Indiana's Catholic Community Newspaper

Encuentro Sets Priorities For National Pastoral Plan

By Sharon A. Burns, Special To The Message

Each day we are called to walk with Christ, accompanying our brothers and sisters through the earthly life and toward eternal peace with God.  Similarly, the dioceses of the United States were called by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to hold an encuentro, or encounter with the Hispanic and Latino people to assess their gifts and talents and ascertain the opportunities and challenges in their lives in our communities and the Church.

This article is the final in a series of three and describes the outcomes that were discussed and prioritized at the V Encuentro held in Grapevine, Texas in September.  (Four previous Encuentros were held over the past 40 years.) The final outcomes or priorities arising from the discernment of the almost-3,000 participants will comprise a national pastoral plan for ministry to our immigrant friends, families and parishioners. Throughout the two years of the V Encuentro process, common themes emerged in the encounters, discussions and discernment periods.


All regions of the U.S. Church agreed that intentionally developing lay and ministerial leaders from among our Hispanic and Latino parishioners was critical to the faith development of individuals as well as the sustainability of our parishes and dioceses in the future.  Lay leaders would include volunteers who may serve as sacristans, lectors, Eucharistic Ministers, and musicians for liturgies as well as serving on advisory councils and committees, and leading faith development efforts such as RCIA, preparation for the sacraments, and small group prayer.

It is critical as we progress in our Church history that we assist those who exhibit a special talent or gift for faith development to gain the appropriate and necessary professional education in order to serve as paid catechetical leaders on parish teams.  This education may include formal college degree programs, but should also allow for those with other work histories to complete certificate and ongoing education in faith formation.  While there was a separate emergent theme for inspiring priestly and religious life vocations, we realize that vocations include marriage and enhancing the dedication to all vocations is imperative for a robust Church.

Youth and Young Adult.

More than 50 percent of youth (age 35 and under) in the U.S. Catholic Church are of Hispanic or Latino descent.  They are not just the future; they are the now.  Offering guidance, direction and faith formation for the youth will result in a stronger church now and for generations to come.  This priority requires an intentional plan to serve and educate young people as a Body of Christ.  Youth leaders must not only be culturally sensitive, they must be culturally adept and in-tune.  Fluency in the language is a simple but necessary step, but fluency alone is limiting.  An understanding of the Hispanic family, economic system, faith traditions, and the variations among countries of origin are critical for youth leaders to be successful.


The Church’s support of fair immigration policy and its understanding of family security as a critical component of immigration policy is well advanced.  As one Body of Christ, we are called to welcome the immigrant, particularly those who are migrating because of unbearable social and economic distress.  Welcoming the immigrant includes assisting them with legal processes as well as inviting them into full communion in our parishes, places of work and local communities.

These three themes were paramount but there were seven others holding priority status.  All are intertwined – how can one form a church leader if her family is insecure (there’s a priority on the family)?  How can a young person become fully involved in the church without leaders who can provide culturally relevant contexts in programming and communicate in the youth’s language? 

The V Encuentro Pastoral Plan is expected to be released in 2019 and provide a roadmap for serving, forming and enjoying the fruits of a diverse Church for generations to come.  Please join the Church in being a welcoming and inclusive people.

Burns is Director of the Diocesan Office of Hispanic Ministry.