The Archdiocese of Hartford welcomed 280 Latino/Hispanic delegates on May 12 from within the archdiocese as well as those drawn from the surrounding dioceses of Bridgeport, Norwich and Springfield to celebrate the Catholic Church’s episcopal Region I South Encuentro. The delegates gathered at the Archdiocesan Center at St. Thomas Seminary.
The delegates spent much of the day at the regional gathering discussing the challenges to and opportunities for Hispanic ministry within the Church in preparation for the Fifth National Encuentro or “V Encuentro” September 20-23 in Grapevine, Texas. They also set priorities in 12 ministerial areas, ranging from family ministry to youth ministry to leadership development.
Numerous bishops and priests were on hand at the regional meeting to celebrate Mass for the delegates. Archbishop Leonard P. Blair of the Archdiocese of Hartford was the principal celebrant. Father Diego Jimenez, pastor of All Saints Parish in Waterbury, was the homilist.
“I am so glad to be able to host here, in the Archdiocese of Hartford, this wonderful gathering,” Archbishop Blair told the delegates and dignitaries from the four dioceses during Mass. “Our house is your house.”
The concelebrants included Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Bishop Michael R. Cote of the Diocese of Norwich, and Msgr. Christopher Connelly, vicar general of the Diocese of Springfield, Mass.
Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of the Diocese of Springfield joined the delegates later in the day. Cardinal Sean O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, and Region I lead bishop for the V Encuentro, who had hoped to be present, was called away to Washington, D.C. to celebrate a funeral.
Numerous priests and deacons from participating parishes in each diocese also attended.
The encuentro is a multi-year process in which the U.S. Catholic Church is striving to better understand the realities of an estimated 30 million Hispanic Catholics in the United States, to propose responses to their needs and aspirations, and to commit to the New Evangelization.
The delegates who attended the regional encuentro participated in earlier gatherings in their parishes and at the archdiocesan or diocesan level. Through the multi-year process, delegates read and prayed, deepening their connection to Jesus Christ and the Church. They also spent time evangelizing the faith in their local areas, reaching out to those on the peripheries of society, as Pope Francis has requested.
The Region I South gathering included a full day of presentations in both English and Spanish, prayer and singing. The Association of Pastoral Hispanic Musicians provided spirited music.
At the start of the day, Bishop Caggiano welcomed the delegates.
“God has called you here so that you might listen to his will and open your hearts to what he’s asking of us as we move forward in this great work of evangelization,” Bishop Caggiano said.
“We have good news for a world that is oftentimes looking for hope and direction. When many people are alone, when many people are searching for more, we have good news. We have come here to relearn what that good news is. So thank you for … your leadership.”
Bishop Caggiano also shared his hopes that the good work at the regional encuentro might spread to the national gathering in Texas and beyond to the whole country.
Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Peter A. Rosazza of the Archdiocese of Hartford and Sister Mary Grace Walsh, provost of the Archdiocese of Hartford’s Office of Education, Evangelization, and Catechesis, also welcomed the delegates.
Throughout the day, the regional delegates broke into small work groups to discuss regional priorities and national strategies for accompanying Hispanic/Latino Catholics.
Romer Santana, 27, of the Archdiocese of Hartford, was part of a delegation of 15 people from All Saints Parish in Waterbury. During the breakout sessions, he met with delegates from other parishes and dioceses to focus on priorities and recommendations for the benefit of youths and young adults in Region I South.
“We were discussing how we should be involving youths in youth Masses,” he said. “We can have them go into different ministries as lectors, the chorus — it depends because it varies in different parishes.”
He said his work group also discussed the importance of “integrating disabled youth into ministry” on the advice of another delegate at the table. The young woman, an immigrant from South America who only spoke Mayan on arrival, told her story of feeling like an outcast until someone went to her house and invited her to Mass. She urged others to “go to the peripheries” of society to invite anyone who might be feeling left out.
Santana said his home parish already has experienced early fruit from the encuentro. The process of reflection led to the recent creation of a youth ministry, which he believes will have numerous benefits.
“Our parish is the result of a fusion of six parishes,” he explained. “Through the youth, we can get everyone together.”
Michael Navarro, 20, attended as part of a group of five delegates from the Diocese of Springfield. In the small work group sessions, he also focused on youth ministry.
“There’s a lot of things we need to work on,” he said. “At least at my parish, there’s no youth group. I hope I can start one. We also want to do retreats and events that are fun,” he said, in the hope that they will attract youths and then youth ministers can “guide them to Mass.”
Sister Leidy Castillo, a pastoral associate at both St. Mary Parish in Norwich and Sagrado Corazon de Jesus Parish in Windham, said, “It’s great to be here to join with other parishes and dioceses to learn how we can do more for Hispanics and work together to build the Church.”
A member of the Oblates to Divine Love, Sister Leidy said participation in the encuentro process has already led to “more commitment” to the faith among the people in her parishes.
Video testimonies of four young adults, one from each participating diocese, punctuated the plenary group presentations. In the video, Romer Santana represented the Archdiocese of Hartford; Jessica Rodriguez, the Diocese of Norwich; Leonidas Mateo, the Diocese of Bridgeport; and Jaquelyn Luna, the Diocese of Springfield.
Luna said the encuentro experience compelled her to “bring the light of Christ to others.” The experience also taught her “how to make a community welcoming and a good experience for others,” she said.
This is exactly what the encuentro is all about and is music to the ears of existing Hispanic Catholic lay ministers.
“The Hispanic/Latino community is working to form leaders to carry on the future of the Catholic Church in the United States,” said Ana Maria Alstrum, the Archdiocese of Hartford’s director of Hispanic catechesis. Young people, like those in the video, Alstrum said, are a perfect start.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is paying close attention to Hispanic/Latino Catholics, the fastest-growing Catholic community in the United States. The V Encuentro process is a priority activity of the USCCB’s strategic plan for 2017-2020.
Ken Johnson-Mondragón, coordinator of research for the V Encuentro, addressed the delegates at the Region I South Encuentro and shared findings for Region I from the consultation and research component of the V Encuentro, which entailed surveys of Latinos/Hispanics within each diocese. Johnson-Mondragón works in collaboration with the V Encuentro Leadership Team (VELT) and the National Team of Accompaniment of the V Encuentro (ENAVE).
His office is responsible for disseminating findings about Hispanic Catholics at the national, regional and local level.
According to ENAVE’s “Consultation Report” available online at vencuentro.org, in 2016 about 40 percent of all Catholics in the United States were Hispanic; 50 percent of Catholics ages 14 to 29 were Hispanic; and 55 percent of Catholics under the age of 14 were Hispanic. For additional national statistics, visit https://vencuentro.org/consultation-report/.
Regionally, the percentage of Hispanics in New England (Region I) increased by an average of 80 percent between the years of 2000 and 2016. Within New England, the top three dioceses with the greatest number of Hispanic Catholics in 2016 were the Archdiocese of Boston with 246,000; the Archdiocese of Hartford, with 153,000; and the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., with 86,000.
A more detailed look at one diocese — the Archdiocese of Hartford — shows that between the years of 2000 and 2016, the Hispanic population increased by 71 percent, jumping from 185,993 to 318,230. In 2016, about half of all Hispanics — or 153,000 — were estimated to be Catholics.
By contrast, in that same time frame, the archdiocese’s Asian population increased by 58 percent, its black population increased by 27 percent, and its white population decreased by 11 percent. Overall in 2016, the estimated population of Catholics included 519,000 whites, 153,000 Hispanics, 19,500 blacks, and 14,000 Asians.
In that same year, the vast majority of Hispanics surveyed in the Archdiocese of Hartford reported they were born in the United States. Another sizeable segment was born in a U.S. territory; others became naturalized citizens. A small percentage of Hispanics were not U.S. citizens.
Also, the vast majority of Hispanics in the Archdiocese of Hartford said they were of Puerto Rican heritage. This very large group was followed by considerably smaller percentages of Mexican, Dominican, Ecuadorian, Colombian, Cuban, Peruvian, Argentinean, and other Hispanics from Central and South American countries.
For more information on the ENAVE report for the Archdiocese of Hartford, visit https://vencuentro.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/110-Hartford-EN.pdf.