Bishop Barnes Gerald Barnes convened the event in the continuing effort of the Encuentro process - to discern ways in which the Church can better respond to the Hispanic/Latino presence. Participants were eager to express their needs and those of their Church, including issues specific to the Hispanic community but also many other topics impacting youth and young adults and their faith.
After an opening procession, morning prayer and remarks from Bishop Barnes in Landis Auditorium, attendees were separated into three groups: young adults, Spanish speaking Adults, and English speaking adults. In their individual groups they discussed and reflected on their fears, and hopes for today’s Catholic Church and those who belong to it.
In his welcoming remarks Bishop Barnes told the packed crowd that he did not come to the V Encuentro event to tell others what actions need to be taken.
“I’m here to hear reality,” he said. “Today, we are all delegates who are here to listen, suggest, and share what our brothers and sisters are living.
“This is one of the most important steps of our Church. Our country and the world are at a critical point. We can’t be here as brothers and sisters and forget the division all over the world. We are here united to go out and spread love and unity.”
As the day went on Bishop Barnes stayed true to his word and attended parts of all three group discussions to listen to what the people had to say.
Bishop Barnes’ candor and encouragement of the people to speak their truth and that of their community helped them to open up, many said.
“We need to consider prisoners, who are also part of the Church and this country,” said Sister Maria del Rosario Coronado, E.E.P., Coordinator of Diocesan Restorative Justice Ministry in the High Desert. “They can’t be forgotten just because they are in prison or immigrants.”
While Sr. Rosario was present to speak for those in prison, Clara Pasillas from St. Christopher Parish in Moreno Valley was there to learn what she could do to boost the faith of local youth,
“Our youth is our Church’s future,” Pasillas said. “If we don’t do anything to help them grow in their faith, they will stride into bad company, and our Church will be forgotten.”
A key theme of the day was inclusion, and how to bring more people to the Church. Keynote speaker, Father Allen Deck, SJ, a Distinguished Scholar at Loyola Marymount University and a national expert in matters of faith and cultural diversity, echoed the call of Pope Francis for the Catholic faithful to go out to the margins and evangelize those who are forgotten and excluded.
One of the communities on the margins mentioned specifically by Fr. Deck was the LGBT community. He repeated the Pope’s well-known quote from 2015, “if a person is gay and seeks out the Lord and is willing, who am I to judge that person.”
To both the English and Spanish speaking audiences, Fr. Deck reminded attendees that they, as much as the sanctuary, the clergy and even the bishop, are the Church. He encouraged them to open themselves to the lived realities of those who are searching for God.
“Catechisms are great,” he said. “But you’ve got to start with the humanity that is front of you.”
While the Spanish speaking group was carefully listening to Father Decks’s advice, the English speaking group took the time to brainstorm where they thought the Church could improve.
“There’s a need for the Church and parents not to relent from passing on Catholic values,” said Sister Chilee Okoko, D.M.M.M., Director of the Diocesan Department of Life Dignity and Justice. “It goes with a lot of effort, and we need to confront today’s society and be consistent in our teaching. If there is room for the wrong issues to take place in young adults’ minds, that’s what will fuel their mind, instead fuel their minds with Catholic values, with kindness, so much that their values are strong enough for them to live a lifetime with them.”
The big surprise of the day were the Young Adults, who showed leadership and valuable contribution to all discussions.
“I’m going to be a freshman at UCLA this year, and it is hard to find Catholic groups,” shared Victoria Rojas from Holy Family Parish in Hesperia. “Thus far I’ve learned that I can keep my beliefs and who I am anywhere I go, and if there is not many groups I can join, I should create one… but I will continue to be who I am.”
Said Anthony Perez from Immaculate Conception Parish in Colton, “I will use social media positively, to share unity and faith.”
After the individual sessions all participants came together again for discussion, which included hearing from “other voices.” Amongst them were Irene Argumaniz, who spoke for the disabled.
“I am vision impaired, but it has not kept me from attending church every Sunday,” she said. “My advice to all the disabled is to practice the Gospel, and to all those who go to church to no forget the disabled.”
Also on hand to share were members of the Purepecha Community, indigenous people who reside in the Eastern Coachella Valley.
“I ask the Church to not forget about us, and our spirituality,” said Menegildo Ortiz. “We need help in continuing our faith in Mecca.”
At the close of the day, participants were encouraged to nominate delegates for the Regional Encuentro Event that will take place next April 26-29 in Visalia, CA. They wrote names on small slips of paper that were collected in baskets. The Diocese is expected to send 350 delegates to the gathering. Names will be announced in the Fall.
The Diocesan local event was said to be the first gathering of its kind among dioceses of the U.S. Representatives from surrounding dioceses came to observe the event in preparation for their own event and for the upcoming regional gatherings.
Ashely Elizabeth Limon is a freelance writer and a parishioner of Holy Innocents in Victorville.