A few months after Pope Francis revived the expression “Missionary Discipleship” in his encyclical letter “The Joy of the Gospel,” a fresh wave of missionary initiatives came over the Church throughout the world. In our country, this wave is at the core of a remarkable missionary effort that is slowly being implemented through the Office of Cultural Diversity of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. This missionary effort is known as the V Encuentro (Fifth Encounter) and it is, without a doubt, the pastoral event of the decade in the Catholic Church in the U.S.
The Fifth National Encuentro is a process of evangelization, consultation and mission that was officially launched to discern ways for the Church in the United States to help Hispanic Catholics strengthen their response as missionary disciples for the entire Church. These findings will bring increased energy, not only to Hispanic Catholics but to the entire Church in this country.
The Diocese of Bridgeport has been involved in the Encuentro process since the First National Encuentro, Encuentro 2000, held in Los Angeles, California, on July 6-9, 2000.
It was an opportunity for the Church in the United States to discover ways in which Catholic communities can be one Church yet come from diverse cultures and ethnicities. By this year, one hundred and sixty-three dioceses have engaged in the Fifth National Encuentro.
Nationwide, 38 percent of adult Catholics identify their ethnicity as Hispanic. In the Diocese of Bridgeport, it is over 20 percent, and nearly 40 percent among young adults.
Forty percent of all growth in registered parishioners in Catholic parishes between 2005 and 2010 was from Hispanic Catholics. In surveys, the vast majority say their faith is an important part of their daily life, and they are proud to be Catholic.
To better understand what the V Encuentro is all about, it is essential to revisit the Pope’s encyclical and, particularly, to read what he says about Missionary Discipleship. In the words of Pope Francis: “By virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized.
“Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love.”
And personal involvement is what the V Encuentro emphasizes. Described as a process rather than a program, it is designed to lead participants to a personal encounter with Jesus through the implementation of five simple yet profound Bible-based modules. A straightforward meeting format designed for small groups, it has the power to guide and engage people of all ages, cultures and traditions in the rediscovery of Christ’s presence and message.
When implemented, five modules that are based on the events that took place on the road to Emmaus reach into both the mind and heart in such a way that it allows participants an opportunity to experience God’s saving love, preparing them to do what Pope Francis calls a Christian challenge: to go out and proclaim the love of God.
As one leader in the Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri, so eloquently put it, “People who were alienated from the parish have come closer. People who have never led a group, now feel a desire to share their gifts. The communities and leaders with more experience are realizing that there is great potential in individuals who they have never considered or really seen before.”
Glory to God!
At the national level, 104 diocesan Encuentros have been completed and, thanks to Bishop Frank J. Caggiano, faithful of the Diocese of Bridgeport are preparing to attend their own diocesan Encuentro, which is scheduled for February 17 at St. Mary Parish in Stamford. After our diocesan Encuentro, fifty delegates will be attending a Regional Encuentro in Hartford on March 10.
In late September, the National V Encuentro conference will be held at Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center in Grapevine, Texas. The results of this conference are expected to have a tremendous impact in the life of the Church in the United States.
Father Gustavo Falla is diocesan vicar for Hispanic Catholics and pastor of both St. Mary and St. Benedict Our Lady of Montserrat parishes in Stamford.
For more information on the V Encuentro visit vencuentro.org.
Written by Father Gustavo Falla
From the January 2018 print edition of Fairfield County Catholic