THE LOCAL DELEGATES: Daniel Solares, Mari Barboza, Rev. Jorge Reyes, Alina Gutierrez and Rafael Villanueva.
THE LOCAL DELEGATES: Daniel Solares, Mari Barboza, Rev. Jorge Reyes, Alina Gutierrez and Rafael Villanueva.

I was privileged to be part of the five-member delegation from the Diocese of Albany to the National V Encuentro, held Sept. 20-23 in Gaylord, Tx. We joined more than 3,000 Hispanic ministry leaders who participated in the event, representing 159 dioceses and national Catholic organizations and groups.

This Encuentro was the culmination of a four-year consultation process to develop better ways in which the Catholic Church in the United States can respond to Hispanic Catholics. Hispanics constitute about 40 percent of U.S. Catholics and almost 60 percent of millennial Catholics.

Our delegation was led by Rev. Jorge Reyes, a native of Cuba who heads the Hispanic Apostolate in Albany. Rafael Villanueva, a native of Mexico, organized our delegation. Also attending was Alina Gutierrez, a native of Nicaragua, who was a caring presence with a deep faith and sense of humor. Daniel Solares, a talented young man from Guatemala, was our representative of young adults.  

My work as relationship manager for Catholic Relief Services Services’ northeast region, which is based in the Albany Diocese, afforded me the opportunity to accompany the process since it began. CRS is the U.S. Church’s overseas relief and development agency and one of the main sponsors of the Encuentro.

This process taught me a lot about the Hispanic community. I gained a better understanding of the challenges we face, how we still struggle to fully include the Hispanic community, the dearth of Spanish-speaking priests and deacons and how, in the current political climate, faithful are afraid to attend mass for fear of being detained.

This stands in contrast to the vibrancy and deep faith of the Hispanic community. Some of those lacks have made lay leaders step in to fill the gaps.

Being in Gaylord was a time of inspiration and building community as one Church. My fellow delegates shared what  it meant to them to be there and to live the V Encuentro:

•  for Father Reyes, it “was a time of grace and hope for the Hispanic people.” He said he appreciated “the richness of the many nationalities, cultures and ethnicities represented in this country — yet, we are one Hispanic people, united by one faith and language, sharing one spirit and ready to evangelize.”

He was also encouraged by the presence of more than 120 bishops: “I saw light in the bishops that were present to support the Hispanic community, and I saw people ready to move our dreams forward and make them a reality.”

•  For Mr. Villanueva, the Encuentro was a time” to reflect, hope, be motivated and better understand the call to be a missionary disciple. It was a gift to hear voices that inspired and others that challenged me.”

We talked about the future and our dreams for the Hispanic Apostolate in the Diocese of Albany as a result of this process. One of the key needs we identified was the lack of programs for catechesis and formation for the sacraments in Spanish.

Father Reyes said he wants to establish “a Center for Lay Formation, so lay Hispanic leaders can learn in their own language and go out into the periphery, farms and other places to search for those that need to hear the Gospel.”

He has taken the first steps to accomplish this, requesting a site for a center, and Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger has accepted this request.

Another need identified in the Encuentro process the lack of a Family Ministry that can help Hispanic families and communities with material needs. Mr. Villanueva said he hopes we will “identify the needy and vulnerable in the community and prioritize how we can assist with concrete actions.

He wants to see “more Hispanic Catholics participating actively with a new way to see things, with a deep faith formation.”

•  Finally, Mr. Solares, our youngest delegate to the V Encuentro, hopes that, as a result of this process, “young leaders participate in the various ministries in the Diocese, express our needs, contribute with our ideas and be part of decision-making.”

He feels “youth have a lot to contribute — but we need formation, in evangelization and to strengthen Hispanic youth ministry.”

Mr. Solares believes that “youth can be leaders in overcoming differences of culture, age, and language and help us to fulfill our potential as one Church.”

I wholeheartedly agree. Mentoring and empowering the youth is the best way to ensure that our faith is deepened and continues to be alive. The youth are our present and our future.