ALEXANDRIA, Minn. (CNS) — The energetic spirit of the 200-plus people who gathered in Alexandria April 13 and 14 for the Region VIII encuentro captured the heart of St. Cloud’s Bishop Donald J. Kettler.

The event was one of the year’s highlights for him, he said during a presentation to the gathering.

Later in an interview with The Visitor, St. Cloud’s diocesan newspaper, he said that he was impressed with the “willingness among the people to develop their faith and share their faith. That evangelization spirit is here. I like their enthusiasm and their interest. … There really is an energy here.”

The “V Encuentro” process is an initiative of the U.S. bishops, calling Catholic leaders to “listen with profound attention to the needs, challenges and aspirations that the growing Hispanic/Latino population faces in daily life.” It also seeks to prepare Catholics “to better recognize, embrace, and promote the many gifts and talents that the Hispanic community shares in the life and mission of the church.”

Regional meetings are the latest phase of a multiyear preparation process for “V Encuentro,” or the Fifth National Encuentro, to be held Sept. 20-23 in Grapevine, Texas. First came parish-level encuentros, then diocesan gatherings and now the regional meetings.

Previous national encuentros were held in 1972, 1977, 1985 and 2000.

The U.S. church’s Region VIII covers Minnesota and North and South Dakota, and dioceses in those states sent delegates to Alexandria.

The regional encuentro had seven areas of ministry focus drawn from input given at the diocesan level: leadership development and pastoral training, families, youth and young adults, evangelization and mission, faith formation and catechesis, liturgy and spirituality, and immigration.

Attendees heard from bishops and other leaders. In addition to Bishop Kettler, other bishops attending were Auxiliary Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens of St. Paul and Minneapolis and Bishop Robert D. Gruss of Rapid City, South Dakota.

“Our mission as missionary disciples is to evangelize,” Bishop Kettler said during his address. “In the process of evangelization, walking with the people is necessary, and it proclaims that Jesus Christ is alive and he fulfills all of his promises. All of us have the responsibility to accompany, to ‘walk with’ our neighbors, so that they will encounter Jesus Christ and become missionary disciples of the Lord.”

Bishop Kettler said there are many ways in which people can accompany others, including “our ministry to young people, our families, out on the peripheries with the poor, the immigrant, the refugee.

“The peripheries,” he added, “include Catholic people who have drifted away. We want to bring them back.”

There also was time for small and large group sharing. Together, the groups identified multiple strategies that could be used to address these concerns in what they called a “regional working document.” Information gathered at the April conference will be passed on for use at the national “V Encuentro.”

Maria Sinchi of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis was part of a 13-member team of young adults who attended the regional encuentro from St. Stephen Church in Minneapolis.

Sinchi said what excited her most about the Alexandria gathering was the motivation to go and evangelize.

“It has been very informative and very encouraging to see what we can bring back to our parishes,” she told The Visitor. “I think our next step will be to regroup and try to figure out how to continue evangelizing in a better way. Sometimes we might feel disorganized, but we are planting seeds and it’s growing immensely.”

The youth have a lot of responsibility in the church today, Sinchi said.

“I think part of why we are here is also to encourage the older generations that there are young adults who are really interested in their faith and are really searching for something,” she said. “A lot of this culture is telling them not to search in the church, (but) the world is full of lies. For 25 years of my life, there was something missing that I was trying to grasp and it was God all this time. So I’m just a witness of what God has been doing in the parish at St. Stephen.”

She added that the young adults want the older generation to know that they should keep encouraging and motivating them.

“There are beautiful young adults who just want to grow in their faith,” she said. “So many people are looking for Jesus and just don’t know it yet. That’s a huge responsibility for us — to share the Gospel with everybody in the most intentional way and build friendships out of that. God is good and is doing a lot of work, and we also have lots of work to do.”

Arturo Salgado, a member of St. Mary Church in Melrose, in the Diocese of St. Cloud, was most excited about the relationships the regional encuentro offered him.

“I met with people from other parishes and dioceses. We are all working for the same point so this is very exciting,” he said.

He is most enthusiastic about all becoming “better Catholics” and building up the youth.

“I want to share with my whole community about what we are talking about here,” he said. “I would like to work really hard with the young people and also with adults. I am really happy because this process shows that all of us are working really hard together.”

The event also featured a procession with the regional “V Encuentro” cross representing all 10 dioceses of the region, a talent show with cultural flair, a Holy Hour and Mass. A commissioning ceremony for all the delegates traveling to the Fifth National Encuentro concluded the celebration.

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Anderson is a reporter with The Visitor, newspaper of the Diocese of St. Cloud.