Javier Alvarado Gomez of St. James Parish in McMinnville listens during the Encuentro gathering in Salem Jan. 27. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Javier Alvarado Gomez of St. James Parish in McMinnville listens during the Encuentro gathering in Salem Jan. 27. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)

SALEM — Scores of western Oregon Catholics came forward, dropping signed cards at the foot of a cross. They promised to live as missionary disciples who will go to neighborhoods, streets and marketplaces to share their personal encounter with Jesus.

The ritual was a key moment in the Archdiocese of Portland’s Jan. 27 Encuentro, a gathering of about 170 Hispanic parish delegates held at St. Joseph Parish in Salem. The day was part of a national movement that will include regional meetings between now and June and a national Encuentro Sept. 20-23 in Grapevine, Texas.

In addition to creating zeal for disciples, the nation’s bishops are using Encuentro to get to know the struggles of Hispanic Catholics.

During a Mass after the sessions, Archbishop Alexander Sample acknowledged the special problems immigrants face now, plus the normal trials of marriage, parenthood and employment. 

“In the midst of all of this, the Lord challenges us not to be afraid,” the archbishop said. 

Prior to the day, about 360 western Oregon Hispanic Catholics filled out an online survey explaining their needs and hopes. Immigration fears topped the list, which also included fair pay, language training, more opportunities to serve in the church and more Hispanic vocations to priesthood and religious life. 

Deacon Félix García, coordinator of Hispanic ministry for the archdiocese, held up a printout of the survey results. “Here are the dreams of the people,” he said. 

Of the 455,000 Catholics in western Oregon, 60 percent are Hispanic. But many are not involved in parishes. The Jan. 27 delegates are seen as the best people to reach their inactive peers and work on the needs of the community. 

“Everyone is called to be disciples of Jesus Christ who are also missionaries to others,” the archbishop said, saying the time to act is now. “No one can escape this responsibility.” The work of missionary disciples begins with an encounter with the risen Christ, the archbishop explained. 

A team of youths attended the Encuentro and sat at a discussion table with the archbishop throughout the day. There was simultaneous translation on a cell phone app.

This is the fifth national Encuentro. The first was in 1972. Nationwide, there are 163 dioceses and archdioceses and more than 2,500 parishes involved. In all, about a quarter million U.S. Catholics have participated. As a result of the sessions, almost 300 parishes in the nation have initiated new Hispanic ministry, said Pedro Rubalcava, a manager at Oregon Catholic Press who sits on the national steering committee for Encuentro V. 

“Believe in the mission we have to go out and proclaim the good news,” Rubalcava told the Salem crowd.

He said the diocesan Encuentros help people see beyond their parishes to the “depth and breadth” of their community. “They see we are all in this together.” 

Delegates shared good ideas for parish ministry. The Tualatin Valley Vicariate, for example, reported that each youth retreat includes a panel of people speaking about vocations. Napo Reyna of St. Patrick Parish in Portland explained the parish’s family evangelization program.

“There is a lot of need, especially for our people who are not legally here,” said Deacon Raúl Rodriguez of St. James Parish in McMinnville. “How can we minister to them? We can take Jesus to them, yes, but what about their social needs?”

The regional Encuentro for the Northwest is set for June 22-24 at Portland State University.  

Eloisa Hernandez, a member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Salem who has taken part in past Encuentros, is at it again. “The light that we develop here is the work we are going to do in the next 10 or 20 years,” she said. “It is very important to get to know what our needs are.”