By Katrina Genereux/Staff Writer, OND
On January 14, St. Francis de Sales, Moorhead, hosted an Encuentro event as part of the national V Encuentro process.
The title “V Encuentro” begins with the Roman numeral “V” because this is the fifth such nation-wide process. The word “encuentro” is Spanish for “encounter”. The first Encuentro was held in 1972. The process includes gathering input from all different levels – parish, diocesan, regional – before culminating in a national gathering.
Father Raul Perez-Cobo is Pastor of St. Francis de Sales and St. John, Georgetown. He and Sister Lucy Perez-Calixto, the Guadalupe Minister at St. Francis de Sales, have coordinated the process in the diocese.
“What we are planning to do today is to see what the needs of our communities are,” said Father Perez-Cobo prior to the Jan. 14 Encuentro event.
“The main purpose was to meet in each parish, but the only parish that has an established Hispanic ministry is here,” said Father Perez-Cobo. He noted that the Cathedral has monthly Spanish Mass, and is building a community even without a formal ministry in place.
“We want to share this experience with them and we appreciate their faithfulness and willingness to meet with us and be part of this,” he said.
Bishop Michael J. Hoeppner celebrated Mass in Spanish at noon to start the event.
“The bishop really supports the ministry, so we are grateful that we have a supportive bishop,” said Father Perez-Cobo.
“We join together to receive Jesus in word and sacrament. We are also here to bless the ministry among us. We pray for the Catholic Church in the United States, especially in its ministry to Hispanic families and Hispanic people,” said Bishop Hoeppner at the beginning of Mass. “We think and pray about the V Encuentro, a gathering of God’s people in prayer and reflection, so that we might be open to God more in our lives and know who we are as children of God and then minister to our world and to our country, particularly to one another and all in need.”
Around 50 people stayed for the Encuentro event and lunch following Mass. Through a large group discussion facilitated by Father Perez-Cobo and Sister Lucy, people from St. Francis de Sales and Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception were able to share what they see as areas of priority and needs at the parish and diocesan levels.
VISION OF V ENCUENTRO
Estela Villagrán Manancero, the Director of the Office of Latino Ministry for the Archdiocese of St. Paul & Minneapolis, is one of the national co-chairs of the Process Committee for V Encuentro. She was present for the Encuentro event at St. Francis de Sales.
According to Villagrán Manancero, 5,000 parishes in 162 of the 197 dioceses in the country are participating in the process.
The V Encuentro is based on Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” or “The Joy of the Gospel.”
“Because Pope Francis invited us to go out and be these missionary disciples, that is what we are asking the people; actually to go and encounter someone else and be bold,” Villagrán Manancero said.
She emphasized that it was not a mission to preach, but to reach out and encounter someone, listen to their story and walk with them.
“The vision of this Encuentro is good because they give us some activities where we, instead of being on one side of the Church, they are asking us to be active and be progressive on the New Evangelization to reach others, especially people in our own language that sometimes say ‘I don’t go because I don’t understand.’ That is not right. That’s what these Encuentros are showing to the Hispanic community, that the Church has been always present for them and will continue being present,” said Father Perez-Cobo.
“The vision is … we are not segregated, we are part of the diocese, we are part of the region, and also we are part of the nation,” he added.
BEGINNING IN THE PARISHES
The process began in parishes throughout the nation with small group gatherings.
Using guides provided by V Encuentro, Father Perez-Cobo and Sister Lucy led sessions at St. Francis de Sales and at Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Crookston.
The small groups focused on discovering the call to missionary discipleship.
Villagrán Manancero said meeting in parish-based small groups is something that can continue beyond V Encuentro.
“The process is most like a small Christian community where you share your life, so it doesn’t have to be the same every single week,” she said. “We are going to produce more material for the small group so they can keep on doing it so it can really revitalize the whole parish.”
According to Father Perez-Cobo and Sister Lucy, fruits of these sessions are already apparent.
“I want to make the Hispanic community part of the parish, that we are not a separate entity, we are one Church,” said Father Perez-Cobo. He said there were efforts this Advent to share cultural religious devotions such as gathering for the Novenas of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Baby Jesus Novena.
Each year, St. Francis de Sales hosts a parish mission. This year, they are bringing in a priest from Mexico. Father Perez-Cobo and Sister Lucy have been coordinating with the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception to have the mission also offered in Crookston.
“That is part of the result of these meetings, the fruit of these meetings,” Sister Lucy said, speaking of the sessions in Crookston. “People were asking ‘we would like to do this, we would like to do that,’ so we want to recognize that they are part of the process, we can share our blessings with them.”
They are planning additional fellowship opportunities at St. Francis de Sales, and are working with Bishop Hoeppner on ways to reach out to Hispanics in the diocese.
“Bishop and the diocese support Hispanics,” said Father Perez-Cobo. “With Encuentro, people can get more fired up and continue the ministry, continue the growth. We are here for you, whatever your need is we try to respond … let us grow together.”
THE NEXT STEPS
The input from the Jan. 14 Encuentro gathering at St. Francis de Sales will be compiled and brought to the Region VIII gathering in Alexandria April 13-14. There, delegates from Catholic dioceses of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota will gather to continue the process.
Villagrán Manancero said each diocese that attends will bring a document detailing what was discussed at the diocesan gathering, what the needs are and how the people are growing as missionary disciples. Each of the fourteen episcopal regions will have similar gatherings with their dioceses and compile information and experiences to bring to the national V Encuentro near Dallas, Sept. 20-23.
Each diocese is allotted a number of delegates for the national gathering based on the numbers of Latinos. The Diocese of Crookston is able to send four representatives, said Villagrán Manancero.
As the regional coordinator, Villagrán Manancero has been attending the diocesan gatherings throughout Region VIII.
“I am very grateful for the response of the bishops in our region,” she said. “This is a small region of mostly farms and we don’t have a lot of people, but yet there has been the support economically and spiritually … it has been this accompaniment from them that I felt and I am very thankful and blessed because of that.”
For more information about V Encuentro, visit www.vencuentro.org. For more information about the Guadalupe Ministry at St. Francis de Sales, visit www.stfrancismhd.org/english for English or www.stfrancismhd.org/espantildeol for Spanish.