Father Joe Herzing began the V Encuentro process in the parishes of Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Mary in Little Falls and Holy Family in Belle Prairie by touching on the topics during Mass and prayer.
He also contacted the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls who have worked with Hispanic families for a long time.
“It’s not a new ministry for them,” Father Herzing said. “The original [V Encuentro] meeting drew about 12 people, and from this two things arose.”
First, he said, was that during the six weeks of Lent, up to 30 parishioners in four small groups discussed the themes in the Encuentro guide offered by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
V Encuentro (meaning “fifth encounter”) is a four-year initiative of the U.S. church to discern how it can better journey with the growing numbers of its Latino/Hispanic members as well as reach out to people on the margins.
“Father Joe talked about how we might connect with people on the periphery,” said Bea Britz, one of the small group leaders.
“Small groups met at different times of the day and week and people signed up. Some groups chose to visit people in assisted living and long-term care facilities — and even their neighbors.
“Our group’s goal was to become more open to the Hispanic people,” she said.
V Encuentro participants recognized the presence of Latino workers at a number of dairy farms in the area and at restaurants in town.
“We wanted to invite Mexican workers and their families to Mass,” Britz said, “but we learned dairy workers have long shifts with little free time in their schedules — cattle need to be milked 24/7.”
They decided it would be best to visit a farm between shifts.
“The Encuentro meetings inspired a parishioner to invite us to his farm,” Father Herzing said. “A group of about 10 went to bless the homes where the workers stay. Father Tim Wenzel came with us for the blessing (and his Spanish is very good). Our effort was to pray with them, and to be with them.
“This led to an Ash Wednesday service at the farm with readings in Spanish, a homily and the blessing with ashes. About 15 or 16 Latinos participated in the services,” Father Herzing said.
For Good Friday, a group of seven returned to offer the passion and adoration of the cross.
“At both services we met with the same people,” Britz said. “They were very thankful and appreciative, the first time guarded, but the next time more open and friendly.”
One of the Franciscan sisters told the group about some of the Mexican immigrant workers who wouldn’t even come into town to buy groceries because of their fear of being deported, Britz said.
“Our V Encuentro groups have talked about other things that would be helpful,” she added, “like a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary during May. Celebrating Mass at the farm may happen down the road, but we’d want to offer a penance service before that. Even though we need to go slow, we want to stay connected and make the effort to be welcoming and open.”
Father Herzing described the experiences as “humbling,” noting that the Latinos have a different sense of relying on faith and the Lord.
“The experience opened our parishioners,” he said. “I think they’ll feel freer to say hello if they see their Hispanic neighbors on the street. I definitely think it helped on both sides.”
For more about V Encuentro and the Diocese of St. Cloud’s V Encuentro gathering Sept. 24 in St. Cloud, visit http://dmd-vencuentro.stcdio.org.