ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) — The director of the Office of Latino Ministry for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis will have a key role in welcoming to the World Meeting of Families Spanish-speaking delegates from 14 regions around the U.S. and delegates from the 21 Latin American countries.

Estela Villagran Manancero, who also is president of the National Catholic Association of Diocesan Directors for Hispanic Ministry, has been charged with leading pre-conference events for Latin American Catholics Sept. 21 in Philadelphia, ahead of the World Meeting of Families’ opening event Sept. 22.

More than 130 Catholic Latino leaders who work in family ministries are expected to attend the pre-conference events, called Primer Encuentro Hispano-Latino Americano de Familias, or First Encounter of Hispanic and Latin American Families. The Latin American bishops’ council, known as CELAM, selected the delegates from each country, Manancero said.

“The main objective” of the Primer Encuentro “is to encourage dialogue on the challenges and opportunities Spanish-speaking families face today,” a Sept. 17 press release from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops stated. “It will also explore ministerial models and pastoral strategies that impact the quality of ministry with families in the U.S. and in Latin America” and collaboration in family ministry.

Primer Encuentro has been convened by two USCCB committees that focus on the Latin American church and Hispanic affairs. Co-sponsoring the event are Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency; Editorial Verbo Divino, a publisher based in Pamplona, Spain; as well as Holy Cross Family Ministries, the National Catholic Association of Diocesan Directors for Hispanic Ministry, Oregon Catholic Press and Our Sunday Visitor.

“We have a whole day plan where we are going to go through an exercise and a process to find out what is the reality of the family in their own countries — what are their problems and blessings?” Manancero said. “It’s kind of taking the temperature of all of that.”

Latino Catholics have unique challenges and strengths to address at the world meeting, she added.

“We come from the Latin American experience, and many families are fleeing for economic reasons and political reasons,” she said. “What a great thing to have the representation, have the experience, and infuse their experience, what is their everyday life with what is the reality here.”

The discussion will include Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” and the Synod of Bishops that will reconvene at the Vatican in October for the second of two synods on the family and evangelization. The synod is not affiliated with the World Meeting of Families.

At Manancero’s suggestion, the pre-congress icebreaker will include a floating rosary — a rosary made of helium balloons filled with prayer intentions — like the one Latino Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis have constructed for special events.

Part of Manancero’s excitement about the World Meeting of Families is Pope Francis’ visit. He will be in the U.S. Sept. 22-27, joining the conference’s participants for a Festival of Families on Benjamin Franklin Parkway Sept. 26 and celebrating Mass for the conference’s conclusion Sept. 27.

Manancero said the pope’s Argentine roots give him common ground with Latin American Catholics.

“It has a huge effect. We are thrilled that there is the first Latin American pope,” she said. “He speaks the language, and that’s not the Spanish language, but the language of the poor, and that’s really important for us as Catholics and how to live. He refreshes the mission of the church. … We identify with him so much.”

She said Pope Francis’ visit to the World Meeting of Families enhances its prominence and message.

When Pope Francis arrives at Independence Mall ahead of the Festival of Families Sept. 26, he is expected to bless “the Cross of the Encuentros,” a 5-foot wooden cross that symbolizes U.S. Latino Catholics’ faith journey. The cross will be the banner for the Fifth National Encuentro on Hispanic Ministry, which will begin in January 2017 and include a national gathering in 2018.

Convened by the U.S. bishops, an “encuentro,” or encounter, is a three-year discernment process on the role of Hispanic ministry in the church. Previous national encuentros were held in 1972, 1977, 1985 and 2000, with Encuentro 2000 including multicultural representatives. They have been key to the growth of Hispanic ministry in the last five decades, according to organizers. The theme of the upcoming encuentro is “Hispanic People: Joyful Disciples in Mission.” Manancero has been working on its organization for the past year.

The World Meeting of Families is the world’s largest gathering of families and is held every three years. A brainchild of St. John Paul II, the first was in Rome in 1994. Subsequent meetings have been held in Brazil, Philippines, Spain and Mexico. The most recent was in 2012 in Milan, Italy.

In Philadelphia, conference-goers will have the opportunity to share devotionals and daily Mass, and hear presentations on family-related topics from speakers including Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles, law professor Helen Alvare and apologist Scott Hahn.


Wiering is editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.