MANHATTAN — Hispanic Catholics in the Diocese of Brooklyn and across the country would normally be preparing for the Encuentro, an opportunity to discuss and address how the Church responds to the Hispanic presence and the ways Hispanics respond to the Church in kind.
Usually, it is a meeting that highlights the vast experience of Hispanic Catholics — from those who have migrated to the U.S. in the past days, to those who were born in the states. But, like many other things in 2020, it will turn over a new leaf via Zoom, on Oct. 9-10.
The National V Encuentro, held in 2018 at the Gaylord Texan Convention center in Grapevine, Texas, marked the end of a four-year-long process of identifying and developing resources and initiatives to better serve the fast-growing Hispanic population in dioceses, parishes, and ecclesial movements across the country.
“All the leadership were energized by the coming together, by experiencing their faith, by sharing the different ideas and activities that throughout the United States were being generated at that moment,” Bishop Octavio Cisneros, who was the coordinator of the Encuentro in the diocese of Brooklyn and the episcopal representative for the Encuentro in the New York Region, said of the national reunion.
Reflecting on the 2018 diocesan Encuentro, held at St. John’s University, Bishop Cisneros said “It was unbelievable that we came together, not only the Hispanics but also the English speaking community. It was a sense of unity, a sense of Church, a sense of the new evangelization.”
The Encuentro is about being “en salida,” or out with others to evangelize, explains Deacon Jorge Castillo, a member of the diocese’s Encuentro team. “We encounter people where they are … some of the parishes went to the subway stations outside the service stations and they asked, ‘When was the last time you went to church? You haven’t been in church? And what can we do for you to come back to church?’”
That polling information is exactly what arrived at the Encuentro held at St. John’s, and later in Texas on a national level. Training and counseling for families, faith formation, youth integration in parish life and evangelization within the Hispanic community are some of the ministerial priorities that the diocesan team has been working to continually develop and implement.
The process of implementing the initiatives discussed at the national meeting in Texas started after the National Encuentro. However, the coronavirus has been an unfortunate hurdle for the National Encuentro to jump, Bishop Cisneros explained. “It has isolated the people … people no longer were able to worship together and share their experiences, and have their meetings together, it was difficult times.”
“In the end, everybody is kind of frustrated in the fact that we keep them waiting,” added Deacon Castillo. “It’s 25 percent in churches, and even less in prayer groups, if some of them are really being very careful and not allowing people to get together.”
While parishioners can no longer meet others in person, “right now what we’re doing is, number one, praying that this pandemic is over soon, so we can start meeting again, sitting with the social distancing, and sharing a screen and a computer, so they can work on the virtual event that will happen in October,” said Deacon Castillo.
Learning to navigate the ongoing effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the Latino population — the most at-risk and impacted group in New York City — has been heavy on the minds of Encuentro leaders, delegates, and organizers like Cruz-Teresa Rosero, a member of the Encuentro’s diocesan committee.
“So many of our families are struggling because they have lost a loved one in their families,” she explained. “I know
people who have had to go back to their countries and be deported, or they’re still here, but are struggling because they don’t have the resources they need to go home”
It’s important, now more than ever, that when people need the Church, they need to hear that others are helping them, she said. And even though going virtual has posed a challenge, local leaders haven’t let up in making sure the Hispanic community is supported.
“We are here for that,” even despite the social distance, Rosero explained.
In September, the Brooklyn Diocese had a gathering of leaders via Zoom, and all eight dioceses in the State of New York have also met virtually. The goal? Find three priorities to be worked on throughout the region. These goals will also be brought to the diocesan team to Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio for his approval.
“I’m a Latina, so I know their struggles, I know their needs. I know their suffering,” Rosero shared. “So I can’t be there for them right now in person, but we can reach them out through the computer, through social media, through the forums. We can hear their voice, we can see them.”
This shift to online evangelization, though challenging, has been a reinvigorating positive for the Encuentro.
“Little by little, we have been using what is available to us. We’ve been using the technology that is available to us,” Bishop Cisneros told The Tablet. “I think the spirit is moving us, as we go through the Zoom meetings, we begin to see the reawakening of people, the desire.”
“We all feel connected like this is not over,” Rosero agreed. “Here we are. We have a pandemic but we have to do
something with it, we can’t ignore it. We have to reach out to give them tools to feel that we are connected, that we are together in this. We are working on this.”
While the Encuentro may not be able to solve those problems directly, it can serve as a voice for those in need. “We can let the pastors know,” Rosero said. “We can let the people who have more resources know, so they are there for them. We can let the prayer groups know.”
“I’m in this because I want to walk with them,” she said, just as Jesus did with the disciples in the Gospel of Luke. “We want to walk with people, but not just when we see them, but when we do not see them. Now we have to walk through social media. It doesn’t matter because we still hear each other — we still see them.”