In his reflection at the L.A. Encuentro, Archbishop Jose Gomez encouraged other Hispanics to see themselves as leaders and members of the Church, and not outliers.
"We are not new-comers or late-comers or outliers," Gomez said. "The first Catholics in this country were Latinos! From Spain and from Mexico! Never forget that, my brothers and sisters!"
The National V Encuentro comes at a time when Hispanics make up one of the largest contingents of the Catholic Church in the country, representing about 40 percent of the Church in the United States in 2016.
The Hispanic population is particularly large among youth and young adults in the Church in the US: 50 percent of Catholics ages 14 to 29 are Hispanic, and 55 percent of Catholics under 14 are Hispanic. Though immigration rates from Hispanic countries have begun to slow in recent years, the percentage of Hispanics in the Church in the US is expected to continue growing during the next decade.
Hispanics have also contributed to religious renewal in the Bible Belt, where some Protestant churches are closing doors while some Catholic churches are bursting with new, mostly Hispanic, members.
The first National Encuentro in the United States was held in 1972, and it is a process that has continued at local, regional, and national levels ever since. The most recent Encuentro prior to the Grapevine meeting was held in 2000, with a related youth meeting held in 2006.
According to a letter issued by the U.S. bishops' conference, the V Encuentro is an opportunity "to listen with profound attention to the needs, challenges and aspirations that the growing Hispanic/Latino population faces in daily life. It especially prepares us as a Church to better recognize, embrace, and promote the many gifts and talents that the Hispanic community shares in the life and mission of the Church and in the society."
"The main objective (of Encuentro) is to find new ways of responding to the Hispanic and Latino presence in the Church, and for Hispanics and Latinos to better respond as missionary disciples in service to the entire Church," Alejandro Aguilera-Titus, Assistant Director of Hispanic affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a video message produced by the bishops' conference.
In his 2016 message for the V Encuentro, Pope Francis said that it was a way for the Church to discern how to "best respond to the growing presence, gifts, and potential of the Hispanic community."
"Mindful of the contributions that the Hispanic community makes to the life of the nation, I pray that the Encuentro will bear fruit for the renewal of the American society and for the Church´s apostolate in the United States."