First of all, V Encounter is not something that your parish’s Grupo de Oración (prayer group) came up with all of a sudden. It is the product of the prayer, deliberation, and initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, with the approval and encouragement of Pope Francis. That said, the implications that a process such as this will have far exceed our immediate parish community and our immediate future. It is a process that is set to have lasting and profound impact on the Church in the United States and, because of the influence this country has on the world, the Universal Church.
By gaining a better understanding of the needs and strengths of the Hispanic members of the Church, the Bishops seek to be better equipped to aid the Church in stopping the hemorrhaging of people from our faith that She is currently experiencing.
As it is clearly expressed in the vision of this process, Hispanics, who are the immediate working focus of this process, are to be empowered to live our vocation more fully as joyful missionaries to the whole Church. Not only that, but an express goal of the V Encuentro is to reach third and fourth-generation Hispanic young people as well, people who might not speak Spanish, or even consider themselves Hispanic anymore.
And yet, as my involvement in this process shows me, it seems in practice as though the goal in our own Diocese was to reach and serve the older first generation immigrants, and a few of their second generation youth and young adult children—if they want to come.
What does this mean for the young adult in our Diocese? It means that at two levels, their place has not been fully recognized. Young adults may feel excluded on two bases: age and ethnicity. Those that are Hispanic have not been included enough by their older relatives and friends, if they have been included at all, and those who are not Hispanic may not have even been told that there is such a thing as V Encuentro; although, if you ask the majority of Hispanic young people what they know about it, you’ll be fortunate if they respond with “It’s the Hispanic thing.”
That said, I fear that our Diocese may have greatly erred in the application of the methodology laid out by the V Encuentro’s national leadership. The spirituality is simple, and it goes hand in hand with that of Pope Francis. It is the Road to Emmaus: Jesus approaches the disciples, He asks them what happened, the disciples explain what they experienced, Jesus illuminates them about the Scriptures and what was to happen, He eats at their house then reveals Himself to them, and after He disappears, the disciples go joyfully back to Jerusalem to serve the Lord and the Church. I have to clarify that I do believe we are moving forward as a Diocese, and that progress is being made in this national effort, to some extent.
But that progress is undoubtedly limited by the lack of application of the V Encuentro process to young people, Hispanic and otherwise.
Notice, as well, the last part of that journey to Emmaus, and how after the disciples were fed, they went to serve others. Those that have been given the preferential option for a moment are meant to then serve the Church as a whole, and this is an aspect that may have been completely overlooked by many in our Diocese. The reciprocal action of the Hispanics, young and old, towards all other ethnic groups has not been given sufficient attention and, as a result, many young people may not only feel excluded from the V Encuentro, but their vision of it may be severely distorted. This may cause some Hispanic young people, as it may have caused older Hispanic people, to feel entitled, and at the same time it may cause young people of other ethnicities to become resentful. Still others, as it is the tendency in the United States among young adults to have a strong sense of inclusivity, may feel upset at the divisive nature they perceive in V Encuentro, and reject it outright.
It is not my purpose here to give the impression that V Encuentro is a failed effort in our Diocese. In fact, there are some parishes that have given exemplary contributions to it. However, I do intend to raise important questions about whether we are truly being faithful to the vision set forth by the Bishops and the national leadership team, especially as it regards the young people. How are we to motivate the young Catholics to act and be involved in the life of the Church if what we present to them—even what was meant for them—does not speak to them? Instead of giving them the back seat, we must give them the preferential option, because at this moment, that is truly their place.
Jesus Puentes is a third year philosophy student at the University of California, Riverside and Volunteer Coordinator of Young Adult Ministry at St. Mary Parish, Fontana.