Brian T. Olszewski, The Catholic Virginian

Fourteen people from the Diocese of Richmond, including Bishop Barry C. Knestout, were among the more than 3,000 people to participate in the National Fifth Encuentro, Sept. 20-23, in Grapevine, Texas.

For the bishop, participating in Encuentro was “a blessing.”

“There was such an expression of the vibrancy, beauty, and the joy of our faith that everyone showed as we gathered together,” he said. “It was a rejuvenating experience for me.”

Bishop Knestout said the presence of young adult Hispanics was a “good sign for the Church.”

“They see themselves as having a significant impact not only on the Church, but also in the whole process of inculturation and renewing the life of the Church by their presence and activity, and as leaders,” he said. “They are expressing that in very tangible ways through catechesis, charitable work, liturgical life — all aspects of the Church’s life.”

Like Bishop Knestout, Sheri Kemp, associate director of the diocese’s Office of Christian Formation, was impressed by the number of young adults who participated in Encuentro.

“They took time to go through the whole (Encuentro) process — almost two years. It’s hard to get commitment like that from volunteers, people in the parishes who are not staff,” she said. “That energy and desire and commitment they had to their faith and family and parish community was inspiring.”

Noting that young adults, ages 16-30, are the largest part of the Hispanic population, Kemp said the Church must welcome them. 

“They certainly need to be having a voice, having a role, having doors opened, and welcomed into leadership positions. There is a need for youth and young adults to have opportunities to use their gifts in their parishes,” she said, adding that this was also a concern among Anglo youth and young adults “for years.”  

Daniel Villar, regional minister in the diocese’s Office of Hispanic Ministry, said Encuentro’s emphasis on young adults was applicable to the Diocese of Richmond. 

“We have to be open to allowing them to take leadership positions,” he said. “We are here to guide them, we are here to make sure that we mentor them in leadership and that when we step back and retire they are able to lead and serve the community.” 

Villiar noted that older participants welcomed the young adults.

“They (older participants) felt like the Church is going to continue in the hands of these individuals, and the young adults were saying to the older generation, ‘We need you to guide us, to mentor us; we need you to open doors for us,’” he said.

Discussion about the sexual abuse scandal “came up a lot,” according to Villar.  

“We are a community that already comes with a lot of stories of survival. There’s a certain empathy that occurs,” he said. “Even with that being the case, the community came together and said (to the bishops), ‘We’re here to help you.’”

Villar noted that participants’ concern was for the entire Church.

“We want to make sure the Church does get better, to make sure the Church will be a Church for everyone in the future, and to make our Church more transparent, and to help our bishops, priests and deacons to really move into the future with that in mind,” he said.

Referencing St. Augustine’s words about that the Church is a Church of the sick, Villar continued, “We need to help each other to evolve and move upward toward being a better, holier Church.”

Father Joe Goldsmith, administrator of Sacred Heart, Prince George; St. James the Greater, Hopewell; and St. John Nepumucene, Dinwiddie, termed Encuentro “overwhelmingly positive and uplifting.”

Noting that the process for the Encuentro had begun 20 months ago, progressing from parish listening sessions to regional sessions, Father Goldsmith saw the national gathering — the first one in 18 years — as a “huge success.”

“The spirit of Encuentro, of encountering one another, was marvelous,” he said. “In doing it, we accomplished it. Encuentro was made real because we were listening and praying. The fruits of it were happening right now.”

The priest said Encuentro participants were the “cream of the crop” in Hispanic ministry.

“They have innovative ideas, they’re practicing the New Evangelization, serving in parishes and dioceses,” Father Goldsmith said. “These are the ones who have figured it out; it’s real, it’s out of love of Christ.”

Noting that “60 percent of young Catholics” are Hispanic, he said he networked with others who are looking for answers to some of the questions raised during the event: Where are the Hispanic young adults? Why aren’t they in church? Why do they walk away? What is the model for a way of connecting with them?

Although he could not quantify what he learned at Encurentro, Father Goldsmith said, “The experience is going to stick; I’m reinvigorated and renewed by it.”