More than 350 people gather with bishops and archbishops after Mass for a photo during the V Encuentro in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold.
More than 350 people gather with bishops and archbishops after Mass for a photo during the V Encuentro in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold.

By Jennifer Mauro | Managing Editor

Looking to Jesus’ rapport with the Apostles as an example, hundreds of faithful came together April 28 as missionary disciples in an effort to grow Hispanic ministry in the U.S. Church.

“Knowing Jesus is a two-way relationship – not only to encounter Jesus, but allowing Jesus to encounter us and know us as we really are,” said Andres Arango, national representative for Region III of the V Encuentro, delegates of which gathered in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, to celebrate the Regional Encuentro.

“What are we doing to help others know Jesus Christ? If we ask to be missionary disciples, it’s Team Christ. …First we encounter Christ, second we follow Christ and third we share Christ. Never stop communicating.”

Photo Galleries: V Encuentro, Region 3
                            Regional Encuentro

Video:  Watch the Livestream from the Regional Encuentro Mass

Communication was indeed at the forefront as about 355 delegates from New Jersey and Pennsylvania – the two states that make up Region III – gathered to discuss best practices in Hispanic Catholic ministry, outreach, intercultural and leadership development, immigration and more as related to the New Evangelization. Of the hundreds of Catholic lay leaders, clergy and religious, 50 were from the Diocese of Trenton.

“It’s a wonderful occasion for us, and I’m so happy to welcome people from Region III,” said Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.

In the Trenton Diocese, he said, “The Hispanic and Portuguese population is growing leaps and bounds, so an occasion like this gives us a chance as a Diocese to lift up our Hispanic people to make sure that they feel welcome and an important part of our growing Diocese.”

The discussions – one of 14 regional Encuentros taking place around the country ahead of the national V Encuentro in September – were a continuation of work that has been ongoing at the parish, diocesan and regional levels. The delegates were working on a document that represents the best practices in Hispanic and Latino ministry for Region III.

That document will go to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and ENAVE – a team consisting of national Catholic organizations committed to serving the Hispanic Latino community – to influence the responses the Church will take on a national level. Those responses will eventually make their way back to the parishes of each region for implementation.

As delegates grouped together by area of ministry such as evangelization, catechesis, and youth and young adults, among others, got to work at tables in the parish hall, Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Ruth Bolarte spoke of the task at hand.

“Dialogue is essential. Many times we are just waiting for the top to make decisions, but the Encuentro process starts on the level of the people, the base. We are planning with the people, not for the people,” said Sister Ruth, director of the Office for Cultural Diversity Ministries in the Diocese of Metuchen.

Finding Joy in Work

Supporting the delegates in their work, bishops and archbishops from Region III joined in discussions and talked with the faithful one on one.

Mid-morning, Bishop O’Connell joined his fellow bishops in serving as principal concelebrants for the day’s Mass. He was joined by Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen; Bishop Manuel A. Cruz, auxiliary bishop of Newark; Bishop Dennis Joseph Sullivan of Camden; Bishop Edward M. Deliman, auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia, and Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton, Pa.

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R, archbishop of Newark, was principal celebrant and homilist.

“The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of those who meet Jesus,” Cardinal Tobin said in his homily, which he preached in Spanish. “The V Encuentro should be fundamentally an encounter with Christ, an encounter that fills us with joy, an encounter that invites us to a new time of evangelization, marked by that joy, and that guides the Church in the coming years.”

He continued. “If we have everything if we have Christ, because the Father is in him and he is in the Father, what more do we need to live deeply and know his salvation?”

“Faith needs patience and meekness to be able to take root, little by little.”

Opportunities for Growth

Juliana Cano, youth ministry coordinator in St. Joseph Parish, Keyport, is representing second-generation Hispanic youth ministry leaders in the V Encuentro process. She said youth is an important priority being reflected in the documents.

“If we don’t work with youth now, there won’t be a sixth Encuentro, a seventh or an eighth,” she said. “We need to make them more aware that they’re important. … They’re the ones who are going to carry on the baton for future generations. When you tell them that the ball is in their court, they feel, ‘Ok, so I have a responsibility; it’s my job to keep moving forward.’”

Karla Gonzalez, coordinator of Hispanic Ministry in St. Joseph Parish, Toms River, said the Encuentro experience has already been bearing fruit on the parish level. She’s part of a team that has been evangelizing in people’s homes around town.

“It’s been wonderful. We were able to meet so many new people and interact with a lot of new cultures,” she said, explaining that being Guatemalan, she has learned more about different Spanish cultures and how their communities are involved in the Church. 

“The V Encuentro is such an important process because it leads us to bigger faith in our Church; we are able to come together in a culture we didn’t know much about – the American culture – and we have been very welcomed.”

Marriage ministry is another area of focus for the V Encuentro, which is how Theresa and Eugenio Porras became involved in the process. The Metuchen Diocese couple work with marriage encounter in their parish, St. Joseph, Bound Brook.

“We have to work with giving more training to the adult community so they become better parents,” Theresa Porras said, stressing that includes migrant workers, too. By educating them in the Church before they return to their countries, “We’ll have permanent people who will work in the Church.”

With immigration being one of the topics discussed, Cardinal Tobin said the V Encuentro puts a human face on a controversial issue.

“It takes away the caricatures and gives us instead a glimpse into the gifts that people bring,” he said. “This Saturday represents a lot of other meetings that went before and will follow afterwards. [V Encuentro] is tremendous and dedicated people working for the good of all, especially those who are on the margin.”

“I think they’re great gifts,” he said of the delegates.

Cardinal Tobin also stressed the importance of praying for the V Encuentro process. “Hopefully it will soften American hearts. The hardness of heart is something I’m very concerned about – God has a hard time penetrating a hardened heart.”