“No other country has this opportunity in the same way that America does. Let’s rise to the occasion!”
– Carl Anderson
Convocation: ‘Antipasto’ for V Encuentro
By Alejandro Orbezo
For Today’s Catholic
“What about the Encuentro?” asked Cardinal Timothy Dolan to his brother bishops at their USCCB assembly in Baltimore back in November of last year. He was beginning to explain the Convocation of Catholic Leaders that would take place in Orlando, Fla., in July 2017. “Is this going to compromise that? Au contraire,” he voiced; “the Convocation is going to be great antipasto for the Encuentro the next year. It’s going to set the table for — and I think we are going to leave the Convocation even more eager for — the Encuentro.” He was referring to the V (fifth) National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry, an itinerary of communion, consultation and evangelization that responds to the same theme of the Convocation, Pope Francis’ call to announce The Joy of the Gospel in America, as well as to the changing demographics of the church in the country. The process of the V Encuentro is already taking place in parishes, lay ecclesial movements, schools and universities, and other Catholic organizations across the country. After it is lived in parishes, the Archdiocese of San Antonio will have its diocesan Encuentro on Sept. 30. Then there will be 14 regional events throughout the country and finally, there will be a national Encuentro on Sept. 20-23, 2018, to identify best practices to renew ministry, guided by the Holy Spirit.
The challenge is enormous and the stakes are high. More than one speaker quoted Pope Francis saying that “we are not living an epoch of change so much as an epochal change.” Besides the world cultural shift that this accounts for, the church in America has experienced a tremendous demographic transformation in the last half century. Dr. Hosffman Ospino, the first keynote speaker at the Convocation, explained how “Euro-American white Catholics have decreased in proportion from 85 percent to 50 percent in 50 years.” This is added to the fact that “about one quarter of all Catholics in the U.S. are immigrants,” “Hispanics account for 71 percent of the growth of Catholic population in the United States since 1960” and “approximately 60 percent of all Catholics under 18 are Hispanic.” These statistics point to a diversifying U.S. church, and that is wonderful. A more concerning change, however, is the growth of non-religious affiliation from 3 percent to 25 percent in the last 26 years. Some 14 million Hispanics in the U.S. no longer identify as Catholic.
That gloomy scene, however, really met with the joy of the Gospel throughout those four days, July 1-4, in Orlando, where a diverse audience of more than 2,500 Catholic leaders worshiped together, participated in numerous workshops and heard many wonderful speakers. Our own Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, MSpS, of San Antonio brought many to joyful tears as he invited all present to trust Our Lady of Guadalupe, witnessing as he himself was brought into this world through her intercession.
Presenters of the stature of Cardinals DiNardo, Dolan, O’Malley, Tobin and Wuerl, as well as several archbishops, bishops, renowned professors and leaders of important Catholic organizations also enkindled hearts and enriched the discussions. It was moving to see even archbishops, like the Apostolic Nuncio Christophe Pierre, participate in small group discussions with young lay leaders, all trying to better decipher the signs of the times and the best ways to turn them into opportunities for the new evangelization. Father Mike Schmitz, from Duluth, Minn., for instance, compared the challenge posed by the digital media today to the invention of the printing press in the 15th century and the Gutenberg Bible, as Scripture up to that time had always been read before assemblies. He invited listeners to reclaim the forefront of beauty through the arts that once belonged to Catholics, now through digital technologies, for the purpose of announcing the Gospel. And Cardinal Tobin questioned all participants, “How good is your peripheral vision?,” in reference to Pope Francis’ invitation to go out to the peripheries, starting by seeing people that others would overlook.
As Lucía Luzondo, one of the members of the delegation from San Antonio at the Convocation, shared, “It was a joy to see key leaders of the U.S. church united dialoguing about Pope Francis’ call to the universal church, in Evangelii Gaudium, to remember that all of us — the baptized — by virtue of our baptism, have a call to missionary discipleship which impels us to go encounter those outside the embrace of the church, that we need to do it first, that we need to listen to their hopes and dreams, accompany them and lead them back home to the heart of the church.”
The hopes were raised high as Carl Anderson, the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, said: “There is no other Catholic country in the world that has the diversity that we have in America. We have a fabulous opportunity! If we can get this right, if we can listen to the different ethnic and national communities that pray in the United States next to us…, we have the potential to do something so fantastic for the future of Catholicism in the world! And no other country, no other country has this opportunity in the same way that America does. Let’s rise to the occasion!”
Maribel Silva, Department Head of Pastoral Ministries at the Archdiocese of San Antonio, shared how the four days of speakers and sessions at the convocation provided an abundance on which to reflect. “However, what resonated in my soul,” she said, “were the three themes: conversion (openness & change of heart), connectedness (inclusiveness & accompaniment) and coverage (boldness & authenticity). As a leader of the church, I will look for ways to incorporate these cornerstones into my personal and pastoral life. I feel confident that San Antonio is ripe for harvesting new leaders, and I am ready for this missionary discipleship challenge.”