Preparing for V Encuentro – A snapshot of Hispanic/Latino ministry in the Diocese of St. Cloud

Catholics across the country are preparing for the V Encuentro (“fifth encounter”), a national process of discerning ways in which the church in the United States can better respond to the growing Hispanic/Latino presence.

In light of the national effort, Catholics in the Diocese of St. Cloud may be wondering: Is this outreach a new area of ministry for our local diocese? What has been done already? What still needs to happen?

These are some of the questions that the local Encuentro event planned for Sept. 24 at the River’s Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud hopes to address with people in the pews.

“The ultimate goal of Encuentro is for the diocese to come together to talk about the experiences of what it means to ‘encounter’ one another,” said Timothy Johnston, director of the diocesan Worship Office and one of the event’s organizers.

Johnston is hopeful that all people of the diocese will consider participating in the Encuentro process because every voice matters, he said.

“As the Hispanic/Latino population grows in our diocese, it presents us with the chance to invite each other into relationship with one another and with Christ, to identify, foster and develop all of our gifts,” he added.

From migrants to neighbors

In order to look forward, it often helps to take a look back. In the Diocese of St. Cloud, one can track the beginnings of Hispanic/Latino ministry to the migrant workers who came to the area as far back as the early 1950s. They were typically seasonal workers who arrived mainly from Mexico and southern Texas from early spring to late fall to help in the fields.

By the mid 1970s, shifts in the economy were beginning to take place due largely to technological advances in farming operations such as the booming sugar beet industry in the upper northwestern quadrant of the diocese. This led to a reduction in the need for seasonal workers.

By the 1990s, local factories, often meat-packing plants, were expanding and growing. There weren’t enough people to fill the gaps in their employment needs, especially in some of the least-desirable positions. The plants began to advertise in the South and attracted many people with the promise of higher wages and year-round work.

Around the same time, more farming operations along what is locally known as the “parade of farms” on the Highway 10 corridor were in need of year-round workers. More and more of the workers coming from the South found jobs in the area and became permanent residents — neighbors — in our local communities.

A diocesan report from 1997 recorded an estimated 2,000-3,000 seasonal workers with about 500 permanent Hispanic/Latino residents in the diocese. A 2004 report notes an increase to 7,000-8,000 Hispanic/Latino residents. By 2010, that number jumped to between 21,000-24,000 Hispanic/Latino residents living in the 16-county diocese. It is estimated that 70 percent of this population is Catholic.

According to U.S. Census data, the Hispanic/Latino population in Minnesota grew from 2.9 percent (145,301 people) of the state’s total population of 4.9 million in 2000 to 5.2 percent (284,214) of the statewide population of 5.5 million in 2015.

Research conducted by Hosffman Ospino, assistant professor of Hispanic ministry and religious education at Boston College, shows that Hispanics/Latinos account for 71 percent of the growth of the Catholic population in the United States since 1960. About 6 percent of all Masses in the United States are now celebrated in Spanish.

What do the statistics mean?

The numbers call on Catholics “to put our faith into practice, to be missionary disciples,” said Mayuli Bales, diocesan director of multicultural ministries.

“This is a call to recognize the many faces in God’s house — African-Americans, American Indians and particularly the presence of the Hispanic/Latino communities. [It is an] inspiration when we see the cultural diversity in the Catholic Church,” she said. “The presence of diversity in our universal church is a gift for all.”

Bales said it is the responsibility of Catholics to explore the identity of Hispanics/Latinos in the New Evangelization and create a vision for the third millennium.

“These statistics tell us about America’s changing religious landscape and the need to be visionaries. [We need to] include everyone in our mission and diocesan pastoral planning, leadership development and formation, decision-making processes and collaboration,” she said.

“We need to come to the realization that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all,’ specifically, in reaching out to Hispanic/Latino Catholic youth.”

What’s happening now?

In almost every corner of the diocese, there are examples of Hispanic/Latino ministry. Some initiatives have been ongoing for many years while others are just bursting onto the scene. Here is a sampling of some of them:

  • This summer, two monthly Spanish Masses have been added: one at St. Henry Church in Perham and one at Holy Family Church in Belle Prairie.
  • Seven parishes have weekly Spanish Masses: St. Boniface, Cold Spring; Assumption, Morris; St. Mary of Mount Carmel, Long Prairie; St. Andrew, Elk River; St. Leonard, Pelican Rapids; St. Joseph, Waite Park and St. Mary, Melrose.
  • The immigration reform crisis also has been a challenge. Those who are undocumented fear traveling to public places including church. Regardless of their status, there is still a need for ministry to all those living within the boundaries of the diocese and their families.
    Bales and others have collaborated with the Mexican consulate and immigration attorneys to assist immigrants in working through the legal process as well as to educate and inform them of their rights and responsibilities.
  • Earlier this year, Bales and Brenda Kresky, diocesan consultant for adult faith formation, traveled to eight different areas across the Diocese of St. Cloud to provide training for V Encuentro using themes from Pope Francis’ “The Joy of the Gospel.”
  • In Perham, Mary Kerekes, director of religious education at St. Henry Parish, recognized that many from the Hispanic/Latino community were missing their sacraments. She began talking with families and creating opportunities for Hispanic/Latino youth to receive education and the sacraments.
  • Individual parishes continue to come up with new ways to unite communities, such as St. Joseph Church in Waite Park which designed an Advent project to match Hispanic/Latino and non-Hispanic/Latino people to pray for each other.
  • Local religious communities continue to play a crucial role in carrying on the mission work started by them in many areas of the diocese. In 2015, Franciscan Sister Aurora Tovar, a native of Mexico, developed a Hispanic outreach program called “Families Count,” or “Las Familias Cuentan,” that she implemented in Hispanic/Latino communities in Melrose, Long Prairie and Pelican Rapids.
  • Recent opportunities for local dialogue included workshops in Melrose and Collegeville by Hosffman Ospino as well as a diocesan-wide leadership day last April featuring Alejandro Aguilera-Titus, assistant director of Hispanic Affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Overcoming obstacles

While the idea of a growing church is exciting, it doesn’t come without some obstacles. In her work, Bales has discovered there are different levels of desired support, including spiritual and educational needs.

“The communities are looking to belong,” she explained. “I hear from them, ‘Yes, you welcome me, you give me opportunities for Mass and sacraments. But I want to be embraced by you.’ Many desire a sense of belonging, acceptance, invitation and inclusion. They want a pastor and community who wants them here and who loves them.”

Bales said they are looking for people who speak the language and understand the culture, people who can “put both feet in two cultures.”

“They are called ‘gente puente,’ or ‘bridge people’ — people who can serve the communities with the purpose of connecting each culture, who can say both cultures are valuable,” she said. “In a church under the same roof, it’s very important that these two groups know each other. But that’s a process. That’s where we get stuck.”

Although many have stepped forward to act as “bridge people,” already, she said there is still a shortage of trained ministers to serve in this way.

“There is a shortage, yes, but there is not a shortage of people who are capable and willing to be trained in leadership positions,” she said.

“There is a hunger among the Hispanic/Latino people who want to serve their communities by becoming educated in ministry.”

One effort in the planning stages is a pastoral leadership formation program for Hispanics/Latinos in the region — one that may include participants from other area dioceses as well.

The program, called Instituto de Liderazgo Pastoral, is a collaborative effort with the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois.

Beginning as early as this fall, instructors from the university would travel to the St. Cloud Diocese monthly for intensive weekend-long training. About 60 people have expressed interest in being part of the first cohort.

Bales is hopeful that forming these intentional disciples will help bridge some of the cultural divides and enrich parish communities by giving a voice to Hispanic/Latino people.

Enriching our local church

“The Hispanic/Latino people bring a lot of gifts to the local church,” said Franciscan Sister Adela Gross, a pioneer in Hispanic/Latino ministry in the diocese.

Sister Adela spent many years working with people in Latin America. In 1998, she returned to the diocese and began work as the first diocesan director of multicultural ministry.

“One of the biggest gifts is their very strong faith. It is so ingrained in them. They also have a strong sense of family, which is so important,” she said.

“I have found that where there is collaboration and an attempt to come to know one another, there is a deep appreciation for the values on each side.”

In 2016, Ospino presented workshops in Collegeville and Melrose. In an interview with The Visitor he noted that, “Hispanics bring a vibrant faith, shaped by centuries of presence of the Catholic Church in Latin America, the Caribbean, and in regions of the U.S. whereHispanics have been present for a long while. It is a faith rich in traditions and expressions. Hispanics value profoundly the importance of popular religiosity.”

He also remarked that Hispanics are young and tend to have large families “so much youth is an opportunity to build fresher and more vibrant communities.

“These Hispanics are our sisters and brothers, they are members of our communities, they are the church along with many others,” Ospino said. “Helping our Hispanic sisters and brothers to face those realities is an opportunity for our church to reclaim its prophetic voice and do everything in its power to make a difference in their lives.”

So, what does the Encuentro process offer both Latinos and non-Latinos in our diocese?

“Part of our goal of being church is recognizing Christ in one another,” Johnston of the diocesan Worship Office said. “In order to trust one another and connect with one another, we have to engage in each others’ stories. I think Encuentro will be a place to hear and share personal narratives.

“It is so important to know those stories as we become more diverse in this country,” he continued, “to truly know one another, to understand our histories, to have a common place where we accompany one another in faith, hope and love.”

About Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is a multimedia reporter for The Visitor newspaper.

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