Pope Francis encourages US bishops in ministry to Latinos

Pope Francis kisses a relic of Bl Junipero Serra presented by Archbishop Jose H Gomez at the NAC Rome on May 2 2015 CreditLOsservatore Romano CNA 5 2 15 Pope Francis venerates a relic of St. Junipero Serra presented by Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, May 2, 2015. | L'Osservatore Romano.

In a video message sent to the US bishops' plenary meeting on Tuesday, Pope Francis urged them to continue reaching out to immigrants, especially commending the upcoming fifth national "Encuentro" on Hispanic/Latino ministry.

He said in the Nov. 15 message that while visiting the nation last year, "I was impressed by the vitality and diversity of the Catholic community … In this context, I would commend the coming Fifth National Hispanic Pastoral Encuentro."

The Church in the US has "welcomed and integrated new waves of immigrants" throughout its history, he noted, adding that "in the rich variety of their languages and cultural traditions, they have shaped the changing face of the American Church."

The Encuentro is a multi-year process meant to improve the quality of ministry among Hispanic Catholics, and is a priority for the US bishps' strategic  plan. It involves missionary activity, consultation, leadership development, and pastoral discernment.

The process will culminate with a national event held in Dallas in September 2018.

The Pope stated that "in continuity with its predecessors, the Encuentro seeks to acknowledge and value the specific gifts that Hispanic Catholics have offered, and continue to offer, to the Church in your country."

"But it is more than that. It is part of a greater process of renewal and missionary outreach, one to which all of your local Churches are called," he added.

Hispanics now constitute 40 percent of Catholics in the United States, and more than 50 percent of the nation's Catholics under age 35.

The Pope reflected that the Church's "great challenge" is "to create a culture of encounter, which encourages individuals and groups to share the richness of their traditions and experiences, to break down walls and to build bridges."

Pope Francis said the Church "is called to 'go out' from its comfort zone and to be a leaven of communion … among ourselves, with our fellow Christians, and with all who seek a future of hope."

"We need to become ever more fully a community of missionary disciples, filled with love of the Lord Jesus and enthusiasm for the spread of the Gospel," he stated. "The Christian community is meant to be a sign and prophecy of God's plan for the entire human family. We are called to be bearers of good news for a society gripped by disconcerting social, cultural and spiritual shifts, and increasing polarization."

Francis hopes that the Church in the US "will accompany the Encuentro with its own reflection and pastoral discernment."

"In a particular way, I ask you to consider how your local Churches can best respond to the growing presence, gifts and potential of the Hispanic community. Mindful of the contribution that the Hispanic community makes to the life of the nation, I pray that the Encuentro will bear fruit for the renewal of American society and for the Church's apostolate in the United States."

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