The universal Catholic Church was visible during the Encuentro Hispano Saturday, Oct. 31 at the Arkansas State Fairgrounds in Little Rock. The crowd estimated at more than 1,000 people, many originally from various Spanish-speaking nations in Central and South America as well as other states now living in Arkansas, attended the daylong gathering, which was centered around the theme of "Young Man and Young Woman: Listen to God's Call."
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor discussed how he discerned his calling to the priesthood and urged the youth to take time to pray every day asking for guidance, and to take time to listen to what God has to tell them. Msgr. Scott Friend, diocesan vocations director, spoke about the priesthood and how it has enriched him by allowing him to know God's people. Other speakers included diocesan seminarians and members of different orders of women religious from around the diocese.
Throughout the day people stopped by different tables around the Hall of Industry to talk with representatives of different women religious orders, representatives from diocesan offices, seminarians, view the children's art exhibit, get a flu vaccination, speak with members of the Hispanic Knights of Columbus, or Fuerza Transformadora, a group from Rogers that develops young leaders but originated as an organization to rescue at-risk youth. People could also get a health checkup or buy religious goods.
People also had a chance to go to confession in Spanish.
Carlos Alberto Mancilla came from Springdale. He said this event was new to him, but he had recently joined a charismatic prayer group and had attended a retreat. He said he liked what was happening throughout the day.
"We are all here with God," Mancilla said in Spanish. "We are all following the same path. We are people from many different countries, but we are all the same."
Guadalupe Herrera, a member of St. Barbara Parish in De Queen, said it was not her first Encuentro, but it had been several years since she had been to one.
"I like everything, but most of all the workshop presentations," she said. "It was also nice to see others I have not seen in a while."
For example, she said, she had attended a Cursillo weekend and there were other Cursillistas there she had not seen in a while.
"This is very beautiful, this gathering of Hispanics," she said.
Erica de Avalos, a member of St. Joseph Church in Conway, said she enjoyed the speakers and attended last year.
"It is nice to get together with other Catholics," she said.
"Here we are with God, it is something marvelous," said Maria Nava of Jacksonville. "I tell my children, when you are sick, you take medicine to make you well. If you do not, you will get sicker. This is medicine for the soul. To me, God is my doctor, judge, father, brother."
The concluding Mass was preceded by a eucharistic procession with the monstrance containing the Eucharist carried by Bishop Taylor through the hall, around the building and back, as the people followed behind their parish or group banners. The procession also included an icon of Cristo de Esquipulas, also known as the Black Christ, which had been making its way through different parishes, with significant numbers of Hispanics, in the state over the last several months.
Father Jose Antonio Galvez-Orellana, administrator of St. Barbara Church, gave the history of the Cristo de Esquipulas.
The Spaniards came to Guatemala and converted the inhabitants, he said. But the indigenous people still worshiped their gods, so the Spanish decided to build their churches over the temples.
An artist was commissioned to create a sculpture of Christ on the cross for a church in Esquipulas, Guatemala, to help teach the inhabitants about Christ's' sacrifice for us, he said. In Europe at that time, Christ was portrayed as victorious. Here they needed an image of Christ's suffering. The artist used light-colored wood. Over time, the wood turned dark, similar to the skin tone of the natives. At first, many thought it might have been caused by the soot from the candles in the church, but it was not the soot. People would touch the cross and their fingers would not be smudged.
So many people touched the wooden statue that part of it was worn down, Father Orellana said. It was sent off for repairs and as they cut into the wood, they saw the wood had all turned darker. Cristo de Esquipulas is revered throughout Central and South America. Only Our Lady of Guadalupe, who appeared in Mexico, is revered more, he said.
Early during the Encuentro, Deacon Marcelino Luna, director of the diocesan Hispanic Ministry Office, introduced 37 Hispanic lay leaders from around the diocese. He asked those present that if they did not have a representative, to ask their pastor why not, adding that if the priest asked them to lead, to step up and accept.
Music for the conference and Mass was provided by the Diocesan Hispanic Choir.
Next year Encuentro Hispano will celebrate its 20th anniversary.
Printed with permission from the Arkansas Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Little Rock.