Deacon Félix García speaks to the crowd gathered at the Archdiocese of Portland's Encuentro.
Deacon Félix García speaks to the crowd gathered at the Archdiocese of Portland's Encuentro.
As a teenager, Pedro Rubalcava journeyed through the first Encuentro in 1972 and through the second Encuentro in 1975.

There have been five Encuentros, Spanish for encounter. It began as an attempt to evangelize Hispanics and Latinos in the country, as well as discern their pastoral needs. This current process, V Encuentro, began in 2013. It was convened by the U.S. bishops to place an emphasis on the new evangelization and involve young second- and third-generation Hispanics and Latinos. At the parish level, the process included a series of talks over several weeks, as well as a survey asking the pastoral needs of Spanish-speaking Catholics. Going forward, parish leaders will convene to discuss the survey results at archdiocesan, regional and national meetings across the country.

Rubalcava, a composer and director of music development and outreach at Oregon Catholic Press, co-chairs the national liturgy team for the fifth Encuentro. He’s hopeful that the Encuentro process is leading youths today toward leadership roles, like it did for him.

Rubalcava went on to work in various pastoral ministries before finding his way to Oregon Catholic Press.

Father David Jaspers is pastor of Ascension Parish in Southeast Portland. His parishioners participated in the process as a Lenten activity.

“It gave a tool for us as a community and archdiocese to face the reality of our church and who we are,” said the priest.

A 2013 report from the Pew Research Center found that 44 percent of Catholic respondents under the age of 30 identified as Hispanic, while 43 percent identified as white non-Hispanic and 12 percent identified as being from other ethnicities. Forty percent of Catholics in the United States identified as Hispanic, according to a 2014 survey from Boston College and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

“I think that’s one of the gifts of Encuentro — it’s forcing us to evaluate what the truth is,” Father Jaspers said.

But that’s not the only gift, he added. The process has provided a tool and vehicle to raise up new leaders for the church, empowering the growing Hispanic majority to lead well in the future.

“If we don’t as a body of Christ, we’re hamstringing ourselves for tomorrow.”

Rubalcava is optimistic that fruit will come from the Encuentro process.

“I’m hopeful that there will be young people who are 14 years old, like I was, and who will look at this as an opportunity to be called into further involvement in the church, even to look at what more [he or she] can do to become involved.”

He hopes the youths will reach out to pastors and pastors will reach out to the youths who’ve been involved in the process, inviting them to serve in a unique way.

“There are lots of exciting things happening on the horizon. I believe it. I feel it,” he said.

The V Encuentro’s survey was open to people from all ethnicities to give feedback on the needs of the Hispanic members of the parishes.

Deacon Félix García, director of Hispanic Ministry for the Archdiocese of Portland, compares the bilingual outreach to seeking input on a marriage. The two people in the marriage can see what’s right and wrong but those outside the marriage can give a different perspective on it. The same was true for V Encuentro.

“That’s going to help us be a better culture,” said the deacon. “At the same time, it’s opened the doors for these relationships. Because, you realize, for God there probably is no culture. We are sons and daughters of the same father.

“With that conversation, with that dialogue, we can basically understand that there are differences but those differences can bring us together and enrich each [of us].”

Dioceses across the country have responded to the process, said Rubalcava. Offices for Hispanic ministries have opened and conversations are being had about the reality of the large Hispanic population in the church.

There’s been a greater emphasis on working together for the whole church, he added.

“This is something that has to be a response from the whole church and Hispanics have to respond to the whole church and not just to the Hispanic office and not just to the Hispanic priests or not just to the Hispanic bishops,” he said.

“This church is all of ours.”

Deacon García has been working toward educating Catholics about the universitality of the church.

“My job for the past year has been to tell the Hispanic community that we are not a Hispanic church. We are a church. We are the part that speaks Spanish but we are part of this greater church,” he said.

“It’s why the encounter came. But I think that need is still there, to listen to people, to see how we can evangelize them, and to see how we can bring the Gospel to them — to every single person. That’s our mission. If the church loses that mission, there’s no church.”

sarahw@catholicsentinel.org