In a message to the U.S. bishops' conference in Baltimore, Nov. 15, Pope Francis took time to endorse the process of the V National Encuentro, a pastoral dialogue led by Hispanic Catholics that is expected to involve more than 1 million people.
"Throughout your history, the Church in your country has welcomed and integrated new waves of immigrants," the pope said. "In their rich variety of their languages and cultural traditions, they have shaped the changing face of the American Church."
With that in mind, he said he "commends" the upcoming Encuentro, which he called a "great process of renewal and missionary outreach."
The Encuentro is a grassroots conversation beginning at the parish level and ending on a national stage in Dallas, September 2018. The four-year process is meant to analyze the realities facing Catholic Latinos, and how the Catholic community can address their shared concerns and experiences.
"Our great challenge is to create a culture of encounter which encourages individuals and groups to share the richness of their traditions and experience; to break down walls and to build bridges," the pope said, adding that the church is "called to go out from its comfort zone and be a leaven of communion; communion among ourselves, with our fellow Christians, and with all who seek a future of hope."
Francis said he hopes that the church, "at every level, will accompany the Encuentro with its own reflection and pastoral discernment. In a particular way, I ask you to consider how your local churches can best respond to the growing presence, gifts, and potential of the Hispanic community."
Encuentros at the parish level are slated for January to June 2017, and can be conducted as often as the parish chooses. Though parishes with Hispanic ministry or large Hispanic populations are likely to already have the program, all U.S. parishes are invited to participate.
Following the conversations at the parishes, a representative is then sent to the diocesan level to relay the conversations at the end of 2017. Then, a representative is sent to the regional encuentros, scheduled between March and June of 2018.
"Mindful of the contributions that the Hispanic community makes to the life of the nation, I pray that the Encuentro will bear fruit for the renewal of the American society and for the Church´s apostolate in the United States," Francis said.
"With gratitude to all [those] engaged in the preparation for the V Encuentro, I assure you of my prayers for this important initiative of your Conference."
[Soli Salgado is a staff writer for Global Sisters Report. Follow her on Twitter @soli_salgado.]