More than 250 Hispanic/Latino Catholics from throughout the Archdiocese of Hartford gained further inspiration for their work as “missionary disciples” — evangelizers of the Catholic faith in their local communities — when they met for the archdiocesan encuentro, or “encounter,” on Sept. 16 at the Archdiocesan Center at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield.
To deepen their commitment to the New Evangelization, the full-day event included speakers, music, small group discussions and Mass with Archbishop Leonard P. Blair. The Mass was concelebrated by the many priests and deacons who serve the more than 20 Hispanic/Latino communities in the archdiocese.
The archdiocesan encuentro was part of the “V Encuentro,” or “Fifth Encounter,” a national initiative called by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in which the Catholic Church gathers with Hispanic/Latino Catholics, the fastest-growing Catholic community in the United States.
Referring to their efforts to date, Archbishop Blair told the Hispanic/Latino missionary disciples, “Thank you to each and every one of you for what you’re doing. For me it is the seed of a beautiful thing for our whole archdiocese and for our whole country. The Hispanic/Latino community has such a beautiful contribution to make.”
Participants were also welcomed by Sister Mary Grace Walsh of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, provost of the Office of Education, Evangelization and Catechesis; Father Steven Boguslawski, vicar general and moderator of the curia; and Sister Clare Millea, director of the Office of Faith and Culture.
Father Boguslawski shared a poem in Spanish, and Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Peter A. Rosazza led the group in the V Encuentro Prayer.
Father Diego Jimenez, pastor of All Saints Parish in Waterbury, gave an animated talk titled “Taking the First Step.” He spoke passionately, urging the crowd to keep doing what missionary disciples are supposed to do — go out as the face of the Catholic Church and bring people closer to God and the Church. He received a resounding round of applause from the attendees.
Father Israel Rivera, pastor of St. Joachim Parish in New Britain, preached an impassioned homily on the day’s Gospel reading about the importance of true forgiveness.
In the afternoon, the audience seemed charmed by two young adults who shared their thoughts on evangelizing the faith.
Juan Arroyo of St. Joachim Parish in New Britain spoke at length. So did 20-year-old Andrea Rivera, leader of Youth in Action with Christ at St. Augustine Parish in Hartford.
The young Rivera discussed the need to encounter others, even within one’s own parish. “It’s important to show them how much we care,” she stressed. Rivera noted that she tries to be aware of everyone around her at Mass. “I think, ‘Who are these people? Can I be friends with them? Or will we be strangers forever?’”
Encountering others involves true listening, she said. Young teens in particular need to be listened to, she said, since they are “vulnerable to all these things they’re seeing.” And, as a youth leader, she has found that the quiet ones are the curious ones, who often have the most questions about the faith.
It’s also vital to share our faith with others, she said, to lead them to God and to the peace that we have found. “The only way you can be happy,” Rivera said, “is by knowing that you’re not alone … and that God loves you.”
Father Carlos Zapata, parochial vicar at St. John Paul the Great Parish in Torrington, was among the concelebrants of the Mass. He saw the archdiocesan encuentro as a significant moment for the archdiocese.
“For me, it represents a collective commitment to bring the light of Christ to many corners of our parishes where it’s missing,” he said. “With the grace of God, we’re going to be able to reinvigorate our communities.”
Father Zapata also noted the number of young adults present. “It’s a great hope that we see so many young people here willing to help us in leadership,” he added.
Music was provided throughout the day by guitarist and composer Silvio Cuellar. Cuellar is chair of Episcopal Region I for the V Encuentro and coordinator of Hispanic ministry for the Diocese of Providence. He was accompanied by singer Lourdes Rodriguez from Father Zapata’s parish.
Hispanic/Latino deacons from throughout the state were also invited. Deacon Santos Garcia and his wife Elba, of the Cathedral of St. Augustine in Bridgeport, attended as representatives of the Diocese of Bridgeport.
They said their diocese, which is led by Bishop Frank J. Caggiano, is in the very early stages of the encuentro process. “We’re trying to get a little more info,” Deacon Garcia explained.
“It’s good that we came here to see it,” Elba Garcia added, gazing at the new evangelists as they got to know one another at lunch. “It will be great for us, too.”
Ana Maria Alstrum, coordinator of the archdiocesan committee for the V Encuentro, was pleased with the attendance and the response from participants. “The event went wonderfully well,” she said. “The parishioners, the staff, the committee — everyone put their heart into this.
“The people who showed up showed we have a strong root, and now we have to grow it,” she added. “They are eager to keep working and to keep welcoming people who are away to come to the Church.”
Alstrum visited many Hispanic/Latino parish communities during the summer as they began their five sessions of evangelization and reflection activities. She said it quickly became clear that the parish-level sessions had many benefits for the merged parishes. They got people working together. “I’ve seen the parish sessions as a healing process, as a coming together,” she observed.
“This is God’s mission; he has something in mind for us,” Alstrum said. “The way it’s going to develop, only he knows — but it’s already amazing.”
A regional encuentro will be held May 12, 2018, at the archdiocesan center. Delegates will be sent to a final meeting, the Fifth National Encuentro, which will take place Sept. 20-23, 2018, in Texas. There, 3,000 delegates from dioceses throughout the United States will gather as the voice for Hispanic/Latino Catholics.