Encuentros, National Pastoral

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Three national pastoral Encuentros assembled Hispanic Catholics from across the United States in Washington, D.C., in 1972, 1977, and 1985. The meetings were characterized by frank deliberations with broad sociological, anthropological, and ecclesiological implications. After briefly surveying the situation of Hispanic Catholics in the U.S., this entry describes the National Pastoral Encuentros and their outcome.

Latino Identity. Before Vatican II, Latino Church identity was largely regional. Archbishop Robert E. Lucey of San Antonio had helped organize the Bishop's Committee for the Spanish Speaking in 1945, but it was limited to diocesan efforts. Later he guided an interdiocesan outreach to migrant workers, but ethnic concentrations of Puerto Ricans in New York, Cubans in Miami, and Mexicans and Chicanos in the West and Southwest still led the Church to more specific consideration of local challenges and opportunities. Lay involvement was generally restricted to area cofradías and parish organizations. Television and other media, however, made Hispanics of one region more visible to those of other areas. World War II and national civic organizations such as the G. I. Forum strengthened the bonds of national identity. The burgeoning civil rights movement added to the ferment and led to the organization of other national Hispanic publications and conferences.

New theological and ecclesiological dialogue in Catholic South America, reflected at Medellín, also affected U.S. Catholic Hispanics. In 1969 Chicano priests organized Padres Asociados por los Derechos Religiosos, Educativos y Sociales (PADRES) and two years later Chicana Religious formed Las Hermanas. Lay movements such as the Cursillo, Marriage Encounter, and the Christian Family Movement swept the country, creating national networks and training thousands of new leaders. César chÁvez, a cursillista, began to organize farm-workers, and in 1970 Patricio Flores, himself a farm-worker, was ordained the first U.S. Hispanic bishop. A coalition of many of these leaders, led by Virgilio Elizondo, founded the Mexican American Cultural Center (MACC) in 1972.

The First National Encuentro. All these events were indirectly essential remote preparation for the first national Encuentro. Its immediate organization began at a 1971 meeting between Robert Stern, director of the Spanish Speaking Apostolate for the Archdiocese of New York, and Edgar Beltrán of the Latin American Episcopal Conference.

The 1972 Encuentro consisted of a few hundred participants, mostly Church leaders, who demanded full participation of Hispanics in all aspects of Church life. As a result, ecclesial authorities began implementing changes. The Division for the Spanish Speaking in the United States Catholic Conference became an independent secretariat with layman Pablo Sedillo as director. Regional offices for Hispanic ministry were initiated or reorganized. More Hispanics were ordained bishops, and dioceses founded agencies for Latino ministry. A permanent committee of Bishops for Hispanic Affairs was also created. These were important steps obtained as a direct result of a national effort of U.S. Hispanic Catholics who worked together toward common objectives.

At the first Encuentro, although there were inevitable tensions between the various ethnic groups later labeled Hispanic, there was also dialogue. The first Encuentro had a sparse representation of laity, women, youth, or the poor, but it set in motion a national networking and consensus building that continued to grow. Recognition of the importance of the Spanish language and Hispanic culture, and the acknowledgment of Latinos' rightful role and contribution to the entire U.S. Church, accelerated significantly after the First Encuentro.

The Second Encuentro. The process of the second Encuentro addressed many previous tensions. Almost five times as many delegates and observers attended, the fruit of a national consultation of over 100,000 people. Rather than a series of presentations, this Encuentro was a working session of grass roots organizers. Spanish was the official language. The second Encuentro elicited more episcopal participation in its proceedings that were published by the United States Catholic Conference. The conclusions called on both the participants and the entire Church to: (1) continue with the consultative Encuentro process; (2) form Basic Christian Communities; (3) correct injustices within and outside the Church using an option for the poor; (4) promote ecclesial unity based on diversity; and (5) foster lay ministry. Of particular note was the heightened profile of youth.

The Third Encuentro. Unlike the first two, the third Encuentro of 1985 was convoked by a pastoral letter of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops titled The Hispanic Presence: Challenge and Commitment. This was the first NCCB publication dedicated solely to Latino concerns. After an overview of the reality of U.S. Latinos, the bishops summarize the achievements of Hispanic ministry and outline consequent pastoral implications. Further, they make a "Statement of Commitment" that pledged to the Church the use of its resources for the temporal and ecclesial needs of the Hispanic community. Finally, they convoke the third Encuentro to help them to "face our responsibilities well."

The bishops expressed a desire to draft a National Pastoral Plan for Hispanic Ministry based on the conclusions of this Encuentro. Diocesan and national teams began the process of massive consultation with particular emphasis on previously under represented groups. The great majority of participants had taken part in the exhaustive process of local, diocesan, and regional preparation that reached an estimated 200,000 people through this classic Church event. Efforts paid off in a balanced delegation that included more women and the poor, but young people were still under represented.

Specific themes coalesced into a working document presented to almost 1,200 delegates representing over 130 dioceses. The open and genuine dialogue included some disagreement, for example, several hundred Encuentro delegates staged a protest until the emphasis on the value, equality, and dignity of women was restored to the text of the concluding statement. However, this organized protest itself witnessed to the success that the Encuentro process had achieved in promoting lay leadership in general and women leaders in particular. Ada María Isasi-Díaz, Yolanda Tarango CCVI, Ana María Díaz Stevens, María Luisa Gastón, Rosa Marta Zarate, María Iglesias SC, Ana María Pineda RSM, Olga Villa Parra, Dominga Zapata SH, and countless others witness to the fact that virtually all the extant Hispanic national leadership among women was involved in the Encuentros.

Based on the conclusions of the third Encuentro, the NCCB published the National Pastoral Plan for Hispanic Ministry (NPPHM) in 1987. As in the case of the proceedings of the prior Encuentros, the implementation of the NPPHM has been mixed. The process, if not all the documents, however, represents a milestone in the history of the U.S. Church.

Enduring Influence of the Encuentros. Sociologically, the Encuentros fostered greater national networking among Latinos. Numerous diocesan and regional offices attest to this fact, as well as the National Secretariat, and the growing number of national Hispanic Catholic organizations such as the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States (ACHTUS). Anthropologically these assemblies defended, even celebrated, the right of all Church members to be at once both universally Catholic, and peculiarly distinct in language and culture. No other ethnic group in the country has incarnated this insight as successfully. Ecclesiologically they championed a Church that is communitarian, evangelizing, and missionary. Indeed, some of the Encuentro proceedings predate both of the similarly collaborative U.S. pastoral letters on peace (1983) and the economy (1985).

Only greater historcal perspective will afford a comprehensive evaluation of the Encuentros, but it can already be said that their influence did not end in 1985. The Encuentros gave rise to noted national organizations such as the Instituto de Liturgia Hispana, and they have continued to grow and mature. Many dioceses began their first coordinated efforts at serving and empowering Latinos as a direct result of the National Pastoral Plan. The best example of the enduring influence of the Encuentros is the National Catholic Council for Hispanic Ministry. In 1990 some eighteen regional and national Hispanic Catholic associations founded this consortium precisely to continue the collaborative efforts so successfully pioneered at the Encuentros. By 1995 the NCCHM counted forty-nine member organizations. Among their activities was a national Congress held in Los Angeles in 1992, and another in Chicago in 1996. In method and content both the NCCHM and its congresses purposefully follow and consciously continue the three national Encuentros.

The post-Encuentro period has seen a boom in the publication of documents concerning Latinos through the USCC, and other editorials, as well as a plethora of periodicals devoted to Hispanic ministry. Latino representation on theological faculties and in such organizations as the National Conference of Catechetical Leaders, while still small, continues to expand.

Bibliography: j. p. dolan and a. f. deck, Hispanic Catholic Culture in the U.S.: Issues and Concerns (Notre Dame 1994). s. galeron, r. m. icaza, and r. urrabazo, Prophetic Vision: Pastoral Reflections on the National Pastoral Plan for Hispanic Ministry (Kansas City 1992). m. sandoval, On the Move: A History of the Hispanic Church in the United States (Maryknoll 1990). s. a. privett, The U.S. Catholic Church and its Hispanic Members: The Pastoral Vision of Archbishop Robert E. Lucey (San Antonio 1988). a. m. stevens-arroyo, Prophets Denied Honor: An Anthology on the Hispanic Church in the United States (Maryknoll 1980).

[k. g. davis]