New Hampshire’s Hispanic Ministry and the Future of the Church
The rich tradition of spirituality that Hispanic Catholics bring to the Church was evident when more than 500 delegates from the Manchester diocese and six other dioceses throughout New England gathered at a regional Encuentro to discuss the future of Hispanic ministry.
Deacon Ramon Andrade, who is Cabinet Secretary for Multicultural Ministry for the Manchester diocese, was among New Hampshire’s delegation of 57 members from parishes throughout the state who joined in the March 10 meeting held in Attleboro, Massachusetts.
What is an Encuentro? The word is Spanish for “meeting,” but the term “encounter” better hits the mark. Delegates and parishes in dioceses throughout the country have participated in local and regional level Encuentros as part of a national effort by the U.S. Catholic Church to engage Hispanic and Latino Catholics. The goal is to identify how the Church can better meet their pastoral needs through evangelization, promoting opportunities for pastoral leadership, serving those who are in at-risk situations or who have drifted from their faith, and stimulating a new wave of faith formation.
“The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are saying that the future of Catholicism in the United States depends on Hispanics, and we need to welcome them,” says Deacon Andrade of St. Anne-St. Augustin Parish in Manchester.
This Encuentro is the fifth—or V Encuentro—to occur since they began in 1972. It is a two-year process in which Hispanic Catholics identify areas of concern in their communities as well as opportunities for growth and leadership. Meetings began at the parish level, progressed to diocesan and regional Encuentros, and will culminate this September with a national session in Texas. Part listening, part reflecting and part visionary, each Encuentro seeks to capture the current experience and discern a path forward.
“We’re creating awareness about Hispanic Catholics in New England, having a conversation about what that means in our local communities,” said Dr. Hosffman Ospino, Associate Professor of Hispanic Ministry and Religious Education at Boston College and author of Called and Sent to Encuentro: A Pastoral Theological Vision for the Fifth Encuentro Process.
“There is a rich spirituality that Latino Catholics have brought to New England,” Dr. Ospino says, “including traditions that are informed by piety, and more public expressions of faith, such as the Way of the Cross.” Efforts like the Catholic Charismatic Renewal and Cursillo movement showcase the spiritual energy in the Latino community.
The New Hampshire delegation presented findings gleaned from their local and diocesan meetings at the regional Encuentro. Key issues included the need for more training and leadership roles for Hispanic Catholics; the desire to serve the poor; to share their experiences of faith and evangelize; to make parishes more welcoming; and to value the contributions of people of all backgrounds.
“The mission of the Catholic Church tells us that we have to bear witness and help others, to get involved with the most needy, to share with them and to bring them the word of encouragement and peace,” the statement from the Manchester Diocese reads.
Bishop Peter A. Libasci will join Deacon Andrade and six other New Hampshire delegates at the U.S. Catholic Church’s Fifth National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry, or V Encuentro, this September, bringing with them the hopes, prayers and observations of the state’s Hispanic and Latino Catholics. The last national convening—IV Encuentro—was held in 2000.
V Encuentro comes at an opportune time in the Church, Dr. Ospino observes. “It’s very positive, because more dioceses are open to Latino ministry… the average age of Hispanics is 28, it’s a sign that we’re a young population. It is part of Pope Francis’ vision of building community and going out to speak this beautiful truth [of the Christian message] to young people.”
Compared to other parts of the country, New Hampshire has a relatively small Hispanic population, though census data shows they are one of the fastest growing groups in the state.
“Sixty percent of Catholics under the age of eighteen in America are Hispanic,” Dr. Ospino notes, “And like other young people, if they don’t find the Church to be a place for them, they drift away. Our number one priority is to do something to reach out to them.”
Though the overall vision is bright, Hispanic Catholics face some significant challenges today. Issues related to immigration and fears about deportation cast a cloud over the Encuentro process, Andrade says, adding, “We have people who were afraid to come down to Massachusetts for the regional session because they were afraid of being separated from their families.”
These concerns are echoed throughout the region and the country, Dr. Ospino says, as many Hispanic Catholics worry that the cultural and political climate has grown more hostile toward Latino immigrants. Ultimately, that drives a wedge between brothers and sisters in Christ, and the Encuentro is seeking a positive way forward in the Church. Dr. Ospino points out that through the Encuentro there is great hope the Church can continue to embrace the contributions of Hispanic Catholics as fellow “workers in the vineyard" in evangelizing the American culture in the twenty-first century.
“We have a great future in Catholicism with the Hispanics that are in the state,” Deacon Andrade says, noting that the support they receive from the diocese and Bishop “says a lot about the importance to our Church of the Hispanic community.”