By Brenda Kresky
For The Visitor
I recently had the privilege of visiting eight different areas across the Diocese of St. Cloud to provide training for the Fifth National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry (V Encuentro).
The main goal of this four-year process is “to discern ways in which the church in the United States can better respond to the Hispanic/Latino presence, and to strengthen the ways in which Hispanics/Latinos respond to the call to the New Evangelization as missionary disciples serving the entire church” (see: http://vencuentro.org).
Encuentro means “meeting” or “encounter” in English.
I have heard that this process is primarily for the Hispanic/Latino community, but I would emphasize that it is an intentional effort by which we all encounter and accompany each other as disciples of Jesus Christ.
I love that this process uses the theme of missionary disciples that comes from Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel.” A missionary disciple goes out into the world to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. It requires moving out of one’s own comfort zone and encountering others, especially those who are on the peripheries.
“The peripheries refer to all those circumstances in which sisters and brothers experience some form of hardship — material, social, cultural or spiritual” (V Encuentro Guide, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, p. 55).
Pope Francis invites us all to go to the peripheries of our church and society, and he has shown us how to do that.
This is a difficult task because it calls us to move out of our own doors, stretch our experience and do something that challenges us. It is in this way that our eyes are opened to new experiences, people and ideas. This certainly happened to me as I was going around the diocese for the trainings with Mayuli Bales, director of multicultural ministries, who led the Spanish training.
I was able to meet some Latinos. I asked one woman how long she had been in the United States. I was amazed that she has been part of her community for “20 years,” challenging my assumption that she was a recent immigrant.
I talked with another woman about her experience in an earlier Encuentro in Mexico, which made me aware that this effort has quite a history.
I also listened as Mayuli shared her experience with an Anglo women who said she was unaware of a migrant population nearby.
All of these conversations helped open my eyes to the growing diversity in our church in the St. Cloud Diocese, and the number of Hispanics/Latinos in particular.
According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, in 2015 7 percent of the Catholics in the St. Cloud Diocese were of Hispanic/Latino descent. I am sure that number has risen in the last two years, and that only includes those who are registered Catholics.
Nationally the percentage of Catholics of Hispanic/Latino descent is about 40 percent, with that number estimated to rise. Those two numbers and my conversations these past few weeks have given me new insight into how we are to be church.
The look of the Catholic Church in the St. Cloud Diocese is changing in more ways than one, but the presence of Hispanics/Latinos is a joyful, vibrant one. Sure, there are challenges — some of the same ones as in the Anglo community. But the gift of faith that we bring to each other from a different experience will only shape us in new ways.
I invite you to encounter someone new this Lent. I promise it will change your life for the better.
Brenda Kresky is consultant for faith formation for the Diocese of St. Cloud.