By DEIRDRE C. MAYS
CHARLESTON — Over 85 leaders of Hispanic ministry from the Province of Atlanta attended a meeting of preparation for Encounter 2000 at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist Jan. 16.
This Subregional Encounter was a gathering to prepare for the millennium celebration of the fourth national Encuentro to be held July 13-16 in Los Angeles in the year 2000. The event will celebrate the rich cultural diversity of the Church in the United States.
Hispanic ministers, pastoral administrators, priests, religious and youth group coordinators attended from the dioceses of Atlanta, Charleston, Charlotte, Raleigh and Savannah. The Diocese of Richmond was represented also. The day-long meeting was sponsored by the Miami-based Southeast Pastoral Institute (SEPI).
Father Mario Vizcaino director of SEPI, said that Encuentro IV, convoked by the bishops of the United States, will focus on a multicultural process to help better integrate Hispanics into the full life of the Church. Previous Encuentros were held in 1972, 1977 and in 1985. Encuentro III led to the development of a National Pastoral Plan for Hispanic Ministry, published by the Bishops in 1987.
The theme of Encuentro IV is “Many Faces in the House of God: a Catholic vision for the Third Millennium.
“It reflects the objective of multiculturalism in the Church and a real integration,” Father Vizcaino said. “We are learning how to become a more gracious, hospitable church in the year 2000.”
SEPI was founded by the National Council of Catholic Bishops as one of eight regional offices to assist the bishops in the development and nurturing of Hispanic Catholics so they can be an integral part of the Catholic process, according to Ondina Menocal, who also spoke at the gathering.
Regional meetings of Hispanic leaders are held every two years in St. Augustine, Fla., and subregional gatherings are held at different locations in between.
“We have been doing this for 20 years,” she said. “We bring people together so they have the joy of finding other people and have a renewal of faith and formation.”
It is estimated that in 1994, there were between 18.9 million and 21.6 million Catholics of Hispanic origin in the United States, or between 27.6 percent and 31.6 percent of the 59.8 million Catholics in total. It is estimated that within the next 25 years, Hispanics will constitute the majority of U.S. Catholics.
Menocal said that Hispanics were anonymous in the past but have been recognized by the Catholic bishops as very important to the future of the Catholic Church in America.
“Many people are not aware of the Hispanic experience of the past years,” Menocal said. “The Encuentros helped get them aware of their identity.”
She explained that the subregional meeting was one step of many that helps Hispanic leaders to realize their identity and shortcomings. It helps make them aware of how important it is that they are going to be hosts of the fourth Encuentro and why.
The Charleston meeting covered a revision of what was achieved in those past gatherings and encouraged participants to come up with ideas for the future, examine some of the difficulties they might encounter, and see what other dioceses are doing.
Sister Berta Capetillo, a member of the Hispanic ministry, at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Douglas, Ga. said she came to hear different points of view.
“I did most of my missionary work in the outskirts of Mexico for 10 years,” she said. “I have not worked with any cultures other than Mexican. I want to hear what other people are doing and what their challenges are.”
Mauricio Ramirez, 19, and Andres Beltran, 18, came from St. Mary’s Church in Greenville. Both are youth group coordinators.
“We’re here because the Church needs youths to help out,” Beltran said. “We will be able to pass on what we learn to our group.”
Statements like these were what Father Vizcaino and Menocal were glad to hear.
“We want the church to be a hospitable place where we will be brothers and sisters in Christ because we have the same faith,” Menocal said.
Sister Lupe Stump, the new Hispanic Ministry coordinator for the Diocese of Charleston said the next encounter will be more than a celebration.
“It will be a coming together of faith for everyone,” she said. “Encuentro 2000 will be a multicultural integration to become one Church.”