Parishes’ Encuentro gathering fosters understanding

The Diocese of St. Cloud will host a Diocesan Encuentro (meaning “encounter”) gathering Sunday, Sept. 24, at the River’s Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud. It is part of the fifth national Encuentro, an initiative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to discern how the church can better journey with the growing numbers of its Latino/Hispanic members.

To begin the four-year process, parishes are hosting meetings that offer a scriptural basis for engaging with their neighbors.

On April 1, the paired parishes of St. Joseph in Waite Park and St. Michael in St. Cloud held their first Encuentro session, “Called to a Loving Encounter with Jesus.”

Franciscan Sister Carol Virnig, one of the organizers, was pleased that both parishes were well represented, with a good mix of Latinos and Anglos.

“We had an enthusiastic turnout, with very strong Latino leaders,” she said. “Both cultures crossed over to learn more about the other. People opened their hearts to understand.”

She described Holy Thursday traditions in which her parishes have included Latino members — some of the readings are done in Spanish and Latinos participate in the washing of feet.

“On Good Friday, we do the Way of the Cross in Spanish at Bel Clare Estates,” Sister Carol said. “We walk the streets with a plain cross, with the Liturgy of the Word and a Communion service at their clubhouse. Lots of people come to watch, not just Latinos, but Vietnamese and others.”

Sister Carol knows integrating takes time. “We want our Latino families to be integrated into our parishes, not assimilated, where they lose their culture. Now I realize that the elders still need to hear Mass in Spanish — they pray their best in their native language.”

After the Encuentro session, she said, women were eager to connect with their Latino neighbors, learning a single word, “Hola,” to say “Hello,” and questions to ask respectfully.

“This connecting and learning enriches us all. And it is happening, even since Saturday,” Sister Carol said.

The two parishes are planning their next session during Pentecost.

About Nikki Rajala

Nikki Rajala is a writer/copy editor for The Visitor newspaper.

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