Delegates listen to introductions April 28 before the start of roundtable discussions on Hispanic ministry in Trenton, News Jersey. About 350 delegates from Pennsylvania and New Jersey attended a regional encuentro at St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral in Freehold, N.J. (CNS photo/Jeff Bruno)

FREEHOLD, N.J. (CNS) — Looking to Jesus’ rapport with the Apostles as an example, hundreds of faithful came together as missionary disciples in an effort to grow Hispanic ministry in the U.S. church.

“Knowing Jesus is a two-way relationship, not only to encounter Jesus, but allowing Jesus to encounter us and know us as we really are,” said Andres Arango, national representative for Region III of the V Encuentro.

About 350 delegates from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, which make up the region, gathered at St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral in Freehold April 28 to participate in a regional encuentro, one of 14 nationwide leading to the V Encuentro Sept. 20-23 in Grapevine, Texas.

“What are we doing to help others know Jesus Christ?” Arango asked. “If we ask to be missionary disciples, it’s Team Christ. … First we encounter Christ, second we follow Christ and third we share Christ. Never stop communicating.”

Bishop David M. O’Connell of Trenton, New Jersey, called the gathering a “wonderful event” for the diocese.

“The Hispanic and Portuguese population is growing leaps and bounds so an occasion like this gives us a chance as a diocese to lift up our Hispanic people to make sure that they feel welcome and an important part of our growing diocese,” he said.

The meeting continued work that had started at the parish and diocesan levels. The delegates were preparing a document recapping best practices in Hispanic ministry.

Throughout the regional process, dialogue is essential, said Sister Ruth Bolarte, director of the Office for Cultural Diversity Ministries in the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey.

“Many times we are just waiting for the top to make decisions, but the encuentro process starts on the level of the people, the base. We are planning with the people, not for the people,” said Sister Ruth, a member of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Supporting the delegates in their work, bishops and archbishops from the region joined discussions and talked with the faithful one on one.

The bishops also concelebrated Mass for the delegates. The group included Bishop O’Connell, Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen, New Jersey; Bishop Manuel A. Cruz, auxiliary bishop of Newark, New Jersey; Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan of Camden, New Jersey; Bishop Edward M. Deliman, auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia; and Bishop Joseph C. Bambera of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, archbishop of Newark, was principal celebrant and homilist.

“The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of those who meet Jesus,” Cardinal Tobin said in his homily, which he preached in Spanish. “The V Encuentro should be fundamentally an encounter with Christ, an encounter that fills us with joy, an encounter that invites us to a new time of evangelization, marked by that joy, and that guides the church in the coming years.”

He continued. “If we have everything, if we have Christ, because the father is in him and he is in the father, what more do we need to live deeply and know his salvation? Faith needs patience and meekness to be able to take root, little by little.”

Juliana Cano, youth ministry coordinator at St. Joseph Parish in Keyport, New Jersey, is representing second-generation Hispanic youth ministry leaders in the encuentro process. She said young people are an important priority being reflected in the documents.

“If we don’t work with youth now, there won’t be a sixth encuentro, a seventh or an eighth,” she said. “We need to make them more aware that they’re important. … They’re the ones who are going to carry on the baton for future generations. When you tell them that the ball is in their court, they feel, ‘Okay, so I have a responsibility; it’s my job to keep moving forward.'”

Karla Gonzalez, coordinator of Hispanic ministry in St. Joseph Parish, Toms River, New Jersey, said the encuentro experience has already borne fruit. She’s part of a team that has been evangelizing in people’s homes.

“The V Encuentro is such an important process because it leads us to bigger faith in our church,” she said. “We are able to come together in a culture we didn’t know much about, the American culture, and we have been very welcomed.”

Marriage ministry is another area of focus for the V Encuentro, which is how Theresa and Eugenio Porras became involved in the process. The couple work with Marriage Encounter at St. Joseph Parish in Bound Brook, New Jersey.

“We have to work with giving more training to the adult community so they become better parents,” Theresa Porras said, stressing that the effort includes migrant workers. By educating the faithful in church practices before they return to their home countries, “we’ll have permanent people who will work in the church,” she said.

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Mauro is managing editor of The Monitor, newspaper of the Diocese of Trenton.