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New thrust for unity drives hope for cross-cultural encuentro in 2000


In July 2000, U.S. Hispanic Catholics are having a meeting. But unlike previous encuentros (“encounters”) -- the Hispanic Catholic national gatherings of 1972, 1977 and 1985 -- the U.S. bishops are inviting the entire church by focusing on American parishes, all 20,000 of them.

The question before the U.S. church, suggests Ronaldo Cruz, who directs the bishops’ Hispanic Affairs Secretariat, is “How do you do community” when the parishioners come from so many varied cultural, ethnic and linguistic groups?

What the secretariat’s recently issued parish guide, “Many Faces in God’s House: a Catholic Vision for the Third Millennium,” offers (in English and Spanish) is a program for a series of six two-and-a-half hour parish sessions that can draw into a single discussion Catholics of differing cultures.

“There are Hispanics in parishes where five years ago there wasn’t a Latino in the town. They’re in the poultry industry and auto industry in Kentucky and Tennessee,” Cruz said. “They’re in Saginaw, Mich. and on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

“But it’s not only the mobility of [31 million] U.S. Latinos. It’s Asians and Eastern Europeans and Africans, too,” he added. “Many parishes are no longer homogeneous when only a few years ago they were. So it’s this reality that created the focus for the next encuentro.”

The new thrust for unity, however, is not limited to North America. “The idea of inviting all dioceses, parishes and small faith communities to participate,” said San Bernardino Bishop Gerald Barnes, “and the vision of Encuentro 2000, is right in line with the [1997] Synod of the Americas’ call to be one church.”

The Hispanics, now around 10 percent of the U.S. population, are attempting an answer that -- if the program succeeds -- will itself be “a sign of unity,” said Barnes, who heads the bishops’ Hispanic Affairs Committee.

Each session in Many Faces in God’s House provides a six-part methodology (with theological underpinnings) that pulls on several strands in the Catholic tradition, including the “see, judge and act” of the Jocists (Belgian Cardinal Joseph Cardijn’s Young Christian Workers movement), which is also the skeleton of the U.S.-founded Christian Family Movement.

So, for example, the first session, “Many peoples, one Catholic church,” takes its scriptural foundation from First Corinthians 12:13: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.”

The format is one Catholics understand: a 15-minute welcome and prayer, then three 40-minute segments that include “sharing our experience,” scriptural foundations, proposing steps for taking actions, a “gathering in of ideas” and a closing 25-minute faith celebration.

By getting out the parish guide now, the secretariat’s hope is that well before the July 2000 proposed national meeting, U.S. Catholics in parishes will look around in the pews, recognize their differences, decide their faith common bonds, override those differences and begin to make it so.

National Catholic Reporter, August 27, 1999