Bishop's Interview: V Encuentro calls all of us to missionary discipleship
Editor: Bishop, the V (fifth) Encuentro process has begun in our diocese. Tell us more about this process.
Bishop Vásquez: The V Encuentro is a four-year process of reflection and action for the entire church in the U.S. At the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ meeting in Baltimore last November, the bishops approved and prioritized the V Encuentro going forward. The main goal of the V Encuentro is to discern ways for the church in our country to better respond to the ever-growing Hispanic presence, and to help Hispanic Catholics to strengthen their Christian identity and their response as missionary disciples for the entire church.
The theme and the purpose of V Encuentro is “Missionary Disciples: Witnesses of God’s Love,” which is based on Pope Francis’ call to be a church that is missionary and reaches out to those on the peripheries of society. We are not a church that waits for people to come to her, rather we are a church that engages others and gives witness to God’s love, particularly to the young and to families. Through this process, we also want to form leaders in our parishes and in our diocese.
This process, which has begun in our parishes, will continue over the next year and a half and will culminate with the national V Encuentro in the fall of 2018. The V Encuentro will be held in the Diocese of Fort Worth, and more than 3,000 delegates representing dioceses throughout our country are expected to attend. However, before we get there, the process starts in our parishes, moves to the diocesan level, then to our region and finally to the national V Encuentro.
The church in the U.S. is divided into 14 regions. The dioceses of Texas belong to Region X, which is composed of Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. I serve as the lead bishop for V Encuentro for our region. I have been tasked to assist my brother bishops with this process throughout the region.
Editor: To be clear, the V Encuentro process is for everyone, not just Hispanics, correct?
Bishop Vásquez: Yes! The bishops have made it very clear that the V Encuentro is an effort of the whole church in the U.S. Therefore, all Catholics are encouraged to participate as much as possible. The reason some may be confused is that the previous Encuentros were primarily focused on responding to the growing Hispanic church in the U.S. This upcoming Encuentro, the fifth Encuentro, is about involving as many Catholics as possible to participate in this process because we of our call to be missionary disciples. In this process there is a specific focus on the growing Hispanic population in our nation with an emphasis on forming leaders in our church. We want Hispanics, and all Catholics for that matter, not only to participate but also to take more active roles in their faith communities.
Editor: Why is the V Encuentro important to you and to the Diocese of Austin?
Bishop Vásquez: For me, this process is critical because the Diocese of Austin, as well as all of the dioceses in Texas, is seeing rapid growth in the number of Hispanic Catholics. According to a CARA Report on cultural diversity in 2010, the total Catholic population in the Diocese of Austin was 682,123, and 65 percent of self-identified Catholics were Hispanic. That growing presence of Hispanics in our diocese, tells us that we need to be welcoming and more aware of their needs. We must strengthen ways in which Hispanics respond to the call of the New Evangelization.
Currently 38 percent of our seminarians studying for the priesthood are Hispanic, which is a blessing. Of the 123 parishes and missions in the Austin Diocese, 39 have an assigned Hispanic Ministry coordinator; 42 parishes have some type of Hispanic Ministry currently taking place; and 63 parishes offer at least one Spanish Mass regularly. We also have various Hispanic movements that are thriving in our diocese, such as Pastoral Juvenil (a ministry for young adults), the Cursillo movement (a retreat ministry), Movimiento Familiar Cristiano (a ministry for families), as well as at least 27 charismatic prayer groups for Spanish speakers. We must reach out to all of our Hispanic Catholics because the most saddening statistic is the high number of Hispanics who were once Catholic and have left the church.
Last fall at our USCCB meeting, Pope Francis blessed the U.S. bishops’ efforts surrounding the V Encuentro. In his message, he said, “Our great challenge is to create a culture of encounter which encourages individuals and groups to share the richness of their traditions and experience; to break down walls and to build bridges.” I think this is precisely what the V Encuentro process is designed to do.
Editor: How does the V Encuentro process compliment the diocesan Pastoral Plan, which is currently being implemented?
Bishop Vásquez: The diocesan Pastoral Plan has been well-embraced by our parishes and by many of the movements within our diocese. We are seeing good fruit from parishes who are studying the plan and using it to help transform their communities. There are many similarities between our Pastoral Plan and the National Encuentro Plan. I see our Pastoral Plan and the V Encuentro process as very complimentary, particularly because they are both focused on a process of encounter with Jesus Christ. Encuentro means encounter, and we know that an encounter with Jesus leads to a transformation in the person and ultimately to a transformation in the community of faith.
Both plans also call for greater collaboration among our ministries to reach out to those on the peripheries, those who are no longer connected to the church, and to those who have not heard the Good News of Jesus. It is important to remember that the peripheries are closer to us than we think. Someone on the periphery could be our next door neighbor, the divorced person sitting next to us during Mass, or the family ahead of us in line at the grocery store. We are called to be a church that reaches out to them and offers healing. Pope Francis encourages the church to be a field hospital that reaches out and embraces those who are hurting.
Editor: What is the role of the Catholic in the pew as we prepare for the V Encuentro?
Bishop Vásquez: We are called to get involved as much as possible in this V Encuentro. When you hear that these sessions are going on in your parish, please participate. This process is going to give the entire U.S. church a direction for many years to come. We must be engaged and participate as we discern where God is leading the church in the U.S. This is truly an exciting process open to all of us.
Editor: What is your prayer for the V Encuentro?
Bishop Vásquez: My prayer for Encuentro is that more people will become aware of what is going on in our country, in our diocese and in our own parishes. I pray we will embrace the call to be missionary disciples and step out of our comfort zones to bring the Good News to others so that they might also experience the gifts we have experienced in our church. Through our faith in Jesus Christ, we are sustained and we are given joy, hope and grace. This is our opportunity to share those gifts with others. Through the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the star of the New Evangelization, may God bless all of our efforts in the V Encuentro.