For the past three years, Hispanic leaders in the Diocese of St. Petersburg have been volunteering to serve on parish committees to bring the joy of the Gospel to the peripheries of our community. This process of encountering people in our families, neighborhoods and work places who don’t have a relationship with Jesus and taking the time to understand their concerns, is known as “The Fifth Encuentro,” a national initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The focus of this effort is missionary discipleship, which is a also a priority for Courageously Living the Gospel.
“Our priorities are present in one way or another in the vision of Courageously Living the Gospel in the goals for Youth and Young Adults, Evangelization and Family Ministry,” said Carlos Flores, Director of Hispanic Ministry, Diocese of St. Petersburg.
Flores oversees our diocesan participation in this Encuentro process. On September 7, he organized a province-wide Encuentro meeting for seven dioceses in Florida that was held at St. Patrick Parish, Tampa. Nearly 200 people attended, including 50 from our own Diocese. Since 2016, the organizers of Encuentro have held diocesan, regional and national meetings. The purpose of the province meeting was to learn about the conclusions of the National Encuentro, create a state-wide plan of strategies and train leaders to implement the plan.
Participants are committed to working with parish clergy and staff on priorities that enhance evangelization and missionary outreach, promote stewardship and development, enhance ministries to family and youth, foster vocations, increase participation in the liturgical and sacramental life and expand ministries to Hispanics and other cultures.
During the opening Mass, Archbishop Thomas Wenski urged participants to pray and grow closer to Christ each day.
“We can’t proclaim the Gospel of Jesus if we haven’t encountered Jesus and know Jesus,” said Archbishop Wenski.
He also reminded the attendees who are from many different Latin and South American countries that they have important gifts to share with the Church.
“Diversity in the Church enriches us, it doesn’t divide us. Sin is what divides us,” Archbishop Wenski said.
Maria Flores, Coordinator of Liturgy at Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission in Wimauma, attended the Encuentro gathering for inspiration on becoming a more effective missionary disciple.
“I am hoping to train myself and other leaders on how reach out to the lost and the forgotten. This takes courage but the Encuentro is empowering me to do this,” said Flores.
Father Stephen Brown, pastor of St. Joseph, St. Petersburg, also attended Encuentro. He recently introduced a Spanish Mass at his parish and he’s looking to start other ministries that will be helpful to the Hispanic community members who live in the area.
“The Encuentro process has been grassroots and the people have been learning what is the best way to evangelize their community. They have a strong connection with the community and what they have learned will be helpful to all who seek to evangelize, not just Hispanics,” said Father Brown.
What are the peripheries?
Shortly after Pope Francis began his papacy, he said we are called to “reach all of the peripheries in need of the light of the Gospel. This includes people who are ignored by hierarchical and governmental systems, as well as those who are illiterate or judged by their race or condition in life, immigrants and refugees, the imprisoned, the impoverished (spiritually or materially), the elderly, the sick and even the unborn.
What is a Culture of Encounter?
Pope Francis coined the term Culture of Encounter as an alternative to the Culture of Indifference. In a 2016 homily, he said that this creating a culture of encounter means doing more than looking at another person but rather encountering another and valuing their dignity as children of God. He said, “seeing is not enough, no: look — if I do not stop, if I do not look, if I do not touch, if I do not speak, I cannot create an encounter and I cannot help to create a culture of encounter.” In his 2014 World Day of Communications message, he said “It is not enough to be passersby on the digital highways, simply ‘connected’; connections need to grow into true encounters. We cannot live apart, closed in on ourselves. We need to love and to be loved. We need tenderness.”
What is the theme of the V Encuentro?
Missionary Discipleship is the central theme of V Encuentro and the focus is on the spirituality of encuentro and accompaniment as illustrated in the Bible passage of The Road to Emmaus, which ends with the Disciples joyfully walking toward Jerusalem. Moreover, there is a focus on continued pastoral conversation that allows the Church, consistent with its missionary nature, to respond with more fidelity and enthusiasm to the Hispanic/Latino presence in parishes and dioceses. The Church will empower the Hispanic/Latino people to live their vocation more fully as joyful missionaries to the whole Church.