Fifth Encuentro Takes Center Stage at Assembly for Evangelization
More than 4,000 people attended the diocese’s Assembly on Evangelization conducted Friday and Saturday, April 27 and 28 at St. John’s University, Jamaica.
The theme of the gathering was “Put Out Into the Deep,” a favored phrase of Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio.
Catholic school teachers and catechists attended on the first day, while the second was open to the entire diocese and included the plenary session of the diocesan observance of the Fifth Encuentro, a national process that seeks new ways to bring the faith to the increasing Hispanic membership in the Church in the United States.
Bishop DiMarzio was the main celebrant of the liturgy on Saturday morning. Concelebrants included Archbishop Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to the United States, and five Auxiliary Bishops of the Diocese of Brooklyn: Octavio Cisneros, Paul Sanchez, Raymond Chappetto, James Massa and Neil Tiedemann, C.P. They were accompanied by more than 40 priests and 30 deacons. Other deacons and women religious were in the congregation.
“Spring has been a little late in coming outside, but look at it here. Isn’t this wonderful? Even I noticed the flowers,” Bishop DiMarzio said at the beginning of his homily to thunderous applause. He was referring to the arrangements of cherry blossom branches on the temporary altar erected in Carnesecca Arena. Flanking the makeshift altar were the Fifth Encuentro cross and a large icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Bishop DiMarzio explained the symbolism of spring. “Saint John Paul II in his letter ‘At the Beginning of the New Millennium’ […] said that the Church will undergo a new springtime, and that’s what the new evangelization is about, it’s about a new springtime in the life of the church. […] Spring is about hope, and that’s what we are about.”
This New Evangelization, the bishop said, requires “new methods, a new zeal and the formation of new evangelizers, who are you, the faithful of the Church.”
Archbishop Pierre then delivered his keynote speech both in English and Spanish.
“Our great challenge is to encourage a culture of encounter,” the archbishop said, quoting Pope Francis. We need to get out of our comfort zones to become “a community of missionary disciples.”
He explained that the Holy Father has a dream that the Catholic Church be a missionary Church.
“Pope Francis dreams of a poor Church for the poor, … a Church which conveys the tenderness of God, … a Church willing to put out into the deep for a great catch!”
He said that all the members of the Church are called forth to make the joy of the Gospel known to the whole world.
Again quoting Pope Francis, he said, “So many of our brothers and sisters are living without … friendship with Jesus.”
“It is the Church’s mission to facilitate this encounter,” the archbishop said. “The Lord’s Resurrection cannot be understood as a mere recollection of a past event; rather, He continues to live.”
In order to make Jesus known, the archbishop said that the Church must first be a Church of Mercy.
“Everything is revealed in mercy,” he said, quoting the Holy Father. “Mercy is fundamental to the face of God revealed in Christ Jesus.”
He explained that the Church must have “a heart for the lost, the forgotten … for sinners. … Mercy is at the heart of the Gospel,” he said, noting that this will be Pope Francis’ great contribution to history.
He added that the Church must be more than just doctrine, more than just an idea. “The Church must witness to this mercy,” he maintained.
In order to do so, he said that the Church must rediscover its identity as a mother. “She is a Mother, who announces that God has a heart for sinful and suffering humanity.”
He emphasized that mercy must be found in all the members of the Church, not just the clergy, who, he said, should “place themselves wholeheartedly at the service of the Gospel and the lay faithful.”
“The whole People of God has a collective responsibility to evangelize,” he said.
He called for the Gospel to be inserted into a culture that has grown increasingly more secular. He added that it is more difficult to transmit the faith in a culture where people don’t always respond to each other’s outreach.
“The mission is daunting, but it is our mission: to make sure that ‘the joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and minds of all who encounter Jesus,’” he said. “That is Pope Francis’ dream for the Church – right here in Brooklyn.”
More than 1,500 delegates participated in the observance of the diocese’s Fifth Encuentro of the Hispanic/Latino Ministry.
They had previously participated in a five-session long evangelization process and consultation in their home parishes.
The diocesan meeting was the key event for the diocese in the four-year National Encuentro reflection process. The preparations for that process started in 2014.
Javier Hernandez, a delegate from Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Sunset Park, said: “We need to take that first step and encounter people where they are. We also need to work more on our faith formation and a greater commitment to the Church.”
Asked about the results he expects from the Fifth Encuentro, he said: “My hope is that this process will help us to reach so many young people who are losing their faith and leaving the Church. I hope the V Encuentro process will give us the tools we need to reach those young people.”
Mario Paredes, the former director of the Northeast Pastoral Center for Hispanics, spoke in Spanish on the topic, “You are the light of the world. You are the salt of the earth,” reflecting on “the present of our past” and “the future of our present.”
Paredes, author of “The History of the National Encuentros: Hispanic Americans in the One Catholic Church,” told his audience that the very idea of the Hispanic Encuentros was born in the Diocese of Brooklyn in the early 1970s.
He said that when the first National Encuentro was held in 1972, there was just one Hispanic bishop in the United States: Bishop Patrick Flores of San Antonio, Texas. Today, there are more than 40 Hispanic bishops in the country.
After a brief recounting of the previous Encuentros, Paredes analyzed the present situation of the Hispanic community before inviting his audience to look into the future.
He said that even though poverty and low education level are still prevalent among Hispanic immigrants, more and more people with high academic, social, cultural and economic levels – and consequently, with the necessary qualifications to access the centers of political and economic power – are coming to the U.S. from Latin America.
According to Paredes, the Church in America needs to develop pastoral plans for the Hispanic community taking this new reality into account.
Arturo Vásquez Díaz, a delegate for Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish agreed.
“We need more Spanish-speaking deacons and priests to do the pastoral care the Hispanic community needs. We need dynamic parish communities and we need to know more about our faith if we want to evangelize in our neighborhoods and communities,” he said.
Delegates also participated in several workshops in Spanish. Dr. Hosffman Ospino, an associate professor of Hispanic ministry and religious education at Boston College and member of the Core Team and Co-Chair for the Process Committee of Fifth Encuentro, talked about the implementation of the five steps of evangelization: Taking the first step, being involved and supportive, bearing fruit and rejoicing are taken from Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium.”
Brother Ricardo Grzona and Father Juan Sosa from the Archdiocese of Miami, Fla., also led sessions.
Mayra Rifino, a participant from Our Lady of the Angelus parish, Rego Park, said the event had been “wonderful and moving, I feel blessed. I hope this whole process will result in better faith formation methods. We need to know more about God and get closer to Him. You need to strengthen your faith in order to bring Jesus’ message to other people who are waiting to hear it.”
The Diocesan Encuentro was organized by a team chaired by Bishop Cisneros and Deacon Jorge González. Deacons Jorge Castillo and Guillermo Gómez; Cruz-Teresa Rosero, from the Charismatic Renewal; Connie Torres, from the Jornadas de Vida Cristiana; Mari Fernández, from the Cursillo Movement, and Christian Rada, from the diocesan School of Evangelization, were also part of the team.
After the Diocesan Encuentro, the next step will be the New York Regional Encuentro, which will take place from Friday to Sunday, June 22-24 at the Desmond Hotel in Albany. Bishop Cisneros is the coordinator of the Regional Encuentro of New York, which will include the eight dioceses in the state.
Participants in the assembly said they were impressed by the cultural diversity and the powerful images of the day.
Father Ricky Manalo, C.S.P., an expert in intercultural liturgical issues, was one of the workshop leaders. “Today we see so many people here celebrating different cultures, but we are here together as one,” he said.
Sister Mary Jane Rolston, O.P., of Our Lady of Light, St. Albans, shared the same sentiment.
“Seeing so many cultures is so powerful. Just being able to see and listen I am learning so much,” she said. “This really is needed in today’s world. We need to share and be challenged by other cultures so we ourselves can be better. We are all trying to grow and better ourselves.”
Kelsey Reed, a second-grade teacher at St. Mark’s, Sheepshead Bay, added, “Having the opportunity to see so many people come together as one and show how strong the faith is in the diocese truly moved me. The Mass was able to celebrate and represent so many cultures and was so beautiful. The presentations throughout the day were all so enlightening and were able to cast out the doubts I had. I know I will be able to bring back and share all I learned with my students.”
“Seeing so many people celebrate their faith is so powerful,” said John Murray of Blessed Sacrament, Jackson Heights. “Last week I was at Brooklyn Catholic Youth Day as well and between the two events, I am truly inspired about where the Church is at and will be going. The diocese did an excellent job of putting the faith on display.”
For Jonathan Mangar of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Sunset Park, and a teacher at Bishop Loughlin M.H.S., Fort Greene, he felt he was “getting such a renewed sense of what I do. I have been a catechist for seven years and things can get routine at times. So events like these always bring the passion back. We are reminded of our mission and what we are a part of. Seeing all the bishops celebrate together was a wonderful thing for me to see.”
Nebiyat Woldemichael of St. Sebastian’s, Woodside, commented, “Seeing and realizing my role as a laity has been eye opening and as the bishop said I have to be a true evangelizer. The whole day has been fabulous and has showed that so many people are here trying to learn and improve.”
Delia Bigay-Boyce, also from St. Sebastian’s, added, “I am so moved by how powerful today is. The music was very moving and was a perfect way to start the day and set the mood. Bishop DiMarzio is so loved by everyone and the way he presents himself is always so moving to see.”
“The Mass was excellently done, and seeing the portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the San Damiano Cross were powerful images but also welcoming sights to all the different cultures of the diocese,” said Jim Yhap of St. Nicholas of Tolentine, Jamaica. “Bishop DiMarzio gave great insights as to where we are headed and it is inspiring to hear.”
Dan Colgan, founder of Rock Paper Team, was helping to organize and coordinate the event.
“Seeing so many people come together is fantastic,” he said. “The day has been a great celebration of so many people being able to come together. I really believe the people are taking the gift of wisdom and are learning so much that will be able to help their parishes and schools.”
A group in Carnesecca Arena listened to Polish Sister Gaudia Skass, O.L.M., who studied painting in Warsaw before entering the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. Her thought-provoking talk honed in on the devil.
Sister Gaudia put the enemy in focus when talking about temptation from the fall of Adam and Eve and relating that to trusting, or distrusting God. She painted the picture when Eve was tempted and how clever the enemy can be in one’s thoughts. Rather than pointing fingers, she shared with the audience that it is God’s mercy that allows His creation to have new life in Christ, even through failure and sins.
Sister M. Inga, O.L.M., gave a talk about relating one’s relationship with God as seen through the eyes of a father to a son/daughter relationship with childlike trust. One attendee personally thanked the religious sister, who is originally from Slovakia, after being moved to tears by her talk.
“I started to feel God’s mercy,” said Margie Enerio, who joined the Charismatic group at Immaculate Conception, Astoria. “You have to dive (into the deep) to know Him. Sometimes you forget that He can fix our troubles. Sometimes you go straight to other people for help.”
For Sister Gianna Maria, a Sister of Life, focused her presentation on “Life to the Full: The Gospel of Life and the Art of Receptivity.”
“Life to the full is to find myself in surrender to the One who loves me and to find Him in me,” said Sister Gianna.
Her talk focused on multiple topics including leisure, receptivity, reality and accepting reality. When she spoke about leisure, she reminded the audience how imperative it is to allow one’s heart to receive the gift of beauty.
The idea of leisure resonated with attendee Debra Laidlow, a second-grade catechist at Mary, Mother of the Church in East New York.
“What touched me the most was finding that quiet time, the leisure time,” said Laidlow. “Just find that quiet time to communicate with God. When you do, to me, it will make your life a whole lot easier. Music calms me down so I kind of understand that what she was saying. Just find something that will bring you back in touch with God.”
“It’s a long day, but we’re surviving and learning a lot,” said Rose Arbouet. “The Mass was enjoyable. Bishop DiMarzio was excellent.”
She has been taking part in one of Bishop DiMarzio’s initiatives, the ARISE program, a spiritual renewal process at the parish level that helps build a church community and is focused on group talks about Scripture.
For Arbouet, the Haitian Creole version of ARISE, also known as LEVE KANPE, the program has become a community of parishioners she meets with every week.
“We stick together,” added the parishioner from Holy Family, Flatlands. “We became a family. After the program is finished, we go in a group, we go to a restaurant, we sit down, we talk, we eat and we stay as a family. We pray, we talk about whatever is going on for the week. We learn a lot.”
Session for Teachers
Catholic academies and schools throughout the diocese were closed on Friday, April 27 so that every principal and teacher could attend the first part of the diocese’s two-day celebration of evangelization.
They were there because Bishop DiMarzio specifically requested their presence, explained Theodore Musco, secretary of the diocesan secretariat for evangelization and catechesis.
“When I first presented this (event) to Bishop DiMarzio, he asked one question,” Musco said, “‘How are we going to involve the Catholic school and academy teachers and principals?’”
Looking upon the faces of nearly 1,500 diocesan educators gathered in Carnesecca Arena, he said, “This is an expression today of nearly 100 percent of the staff of our Catholic schools and academies in the diocese, and for that I commend you.”
Father Joseph R. Gibino, coordinator of the diocesan secretariat for evangelization and catechesis, set forth an overview of the schedule and his thoughts on how attendees should approach the day.
“Each one of us is here because of our dedication to the Catholic mission and ministry of education,” said Father Gibino, who teaches theology and religious studies at St. John’s University.
He invited educators to spend the day focusing on the value of partnership as a school community, faith formation in every aspect of classroom learning, and the need for continual growth in unity with Christ Jesus so as to effectively pass on the faith.
Educators learned from Paulist Father Ricky Manalo’s keynote presentation about changing trends in religious practices today, and how that informs the study of religion in the classroom.
With the rise of digital media, he said there has been a decline in traditional religious identity, as expressed through belief, belonging and behavior. The result has been a growing body of “nones,” those who claim no religious affiliation.
To effectively evangelize this group and their children, Father Manalo spoke about the need for teachers to rethink how they teach. He suggested they try to employ practical strategies and media tools to make connections between the classroom and the wider world.
An example of this could be having students identify celebrities who do charitable work and then presenting Catholic Charities as the charitable arm of the Church.
That idea resonated with Margie Baynes, a kindergarten teacher at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Academy, Bushwick, who was already thinking of ways to apply that suggestion to her classroom.
“They (students) are always talking to me about Mario Kart and all the levels they reach, so I’m sitting there thinking how I can bring that interest back to God, and how does that relate to God,” she shared.
“A little video game can be used to open their minds, and we can get more out of it,” she said, in terms of teaching about the faith.
Presentations geared toward specific grade levels rounded out the afternoon. Speakers included John Collins, national religion consultant for William H. Sadlier, Inc. book publishers, and Frances DeLuca, principal of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Academy, South Ozone Park.
Collins offered ideas for hands-on learning in religion class, like flip books for the seven sacraments or a flannel board with the 10 Commandments, and also directed teachers toward free online webinars, games and resources at the Sadlier website.
“Getting kids excited about the faith is really important,” said Jessica Marra, fourth-grade teacher at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, S. Ozone Park.
“I was taking notes today of things I can do. Even though it’s May, it’s still not too late.”
She appreciated that the day also afforded time for her to grow in relationship and knowledge of Christ during a mid-afternoon session with Sister Inga, who spoke about the Divine Mercy image and message.
Further spiritual nourishment was provided during Mass, celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Tiedemann. Special concelebrants included Auxiliary Bishops Cisneros, Sanchez and Massa.
Contributing to this report were Marie Elena Giossi, Melissa Enaje, Jorge I. Domínguez-López, Matthew O’Connor and Ed Wilkinson.