GRAPEVINE, TEXAS – Catholic Hispanic/Latinos in the U.S. Military are “ready to lead, not just be followers” in the Church’s mission to serve those who serve, “but they need formation, mentorship, and accompaniment” by the hierarchy. That is according to Mr. José Amaya, Faith Formation Director of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, (AMS). Mr. Amaya shared those reflections after attending the national V Encuentro conference this past weekend in Grapevine, Texas, as part of an AMS delegation gathered from U.S. Military installations nationwide and overseas.
His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, USA, led the delegation, which comprised eleven members of the Archdiocese, including active duty service personnel, catechetical leaders, and clergy from around the country and as far away as Hawaii and Naples, Italy. The delegation included Auxiliary Bishop Neal J. Buckon, Archbishop Broglio’s Episcopal Vicar for the Western United States, and Father Jesus Navarrete, Ch Maj USAF, a chaplain currently based at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Mr. Amaya coordinated the delegation’s travel, logistics, and participation in the conference.
Archbishop Broglio said: “This unique opportunity brought Catholic leaders from across the U.S. together to celebrate the cultural and religious heritage of Hispanic and Latino peoples. The gathering illustrated the depth of faith, richness of culture, and the promising future for the pilgrim Church in our Country. More great moments lie ahead.”
Some three-thousand Catholic Hispanic/Latino ministry leaders and delegates representing dioceses, faith movements, schools, universities, and Catholic organizations around the country attended the Sept. 20-23 conference under the theme, “Missionary Disciples: Witnesses of God’s Love,” in what was described as an “historic ecclesial gathering.” Encuentro, Spanish for “Encounter,” is a process initiated by the U.S. Church in 1972 to support the emergence and full integration of Hispanic/Latinos in all aspects of church life. The Roman numeral “V” denotes the “fifth” chapter in the ongoing process. According to the V Encuentro website, “the main objective of the process… is to discern the way in which Hispanics/Latinos respond as Church.”
The delegates consisted largely of young adults. During the four-day series of prayer, keynotes, breakout sessions and plenaries, they discussed a wide range of issues of particular interest to Hispanic/Latino Catholics, including immigration. “The struggle of the immigrant is the struggle of many Hispanic/Latinos in the U.S. Military,” Mr. Amaya said, “because so many have friends or family members on track to acquire U.S. citizenship under DACA (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act).” Also discussed was the abuse crisis in the Church. “The bishops requested an evening with the young people and young adults attending the conference,” Mr. Amaya said. “The bishops listened to their needs, hopes, dreams, and struggles.” He added that it was touching to experience the spiritual solidarity between “the people of God” and the bishops as they all stood in prayer, asking “intentionally” for divine help addressing and resolving the crisis.
Mr. Amaya himself addressed the full gathering, explaining the purpose of the AMS, its endorsed military chaplains, and pastoral programs supporting the free exercise of faith in the U.S. armed forces. Mr. Amaya said that until his presentation, many of the delegates, though Catholic, had not known of the AMS, and they told him they were impressed with all the Archdiocese does to minister to Catholics in uniform.
The AMS delegates described the conference as inspirational.
Ms. Linda Martinez-Greer said: “It was with many questions and doubts that I attended the V Encuentro. I am not young but I strive to share my faith with others but especially with the diverse communities that I live in community with. This experience has given me great hope for our developing and growing church. This event reflected for me what I longed for as a young person. My prayers and dreams have been answered. I feel that this Encuentro has recharged the Church in vibrant ways not only for the Latino community but for all God’s children. It is now essential that the Encuentro embrace the now, learn from the past and go forth into the future as children of God respecting all of God’s children. That is our mission to the world, one another, and our response to our Lord.”
Ms. San Juana Morante said: “What really stood out for me this weekend is what Bishop Oscar Cantú (of Las Cruces, NM) said, ‘Let’s not become tumble weeds.’ This is a time for you and me to dig deep, dig deep so that our roots may find living water. I’m going home with so much wisdom from all the wonderful bishops and delegates that walked with us this weekend. We shared and heard each other’s needs. We heard young adults that were full of the Holy Spirit, wanting to step up and be the present and future of the church. They want to be the living bread. We just have to open the door for them. I told myself to go out and make the young adults feel wanted and guide them to the living water.”
Mr. Amaya described the months of preparation, including online courses launched in April 2017 and a pre-conference, regional delegates meeting in May 2018 in Washington, DC, as an uphill climb to the conference, which he likened to a “mountain summit.” “Now,” he said, “we must go back down to our communities as witnesses in action,” inspiring greater Hispanic/Latino Catholic leadership in the church at large and the U.S. Military in particular.