Encuentro: Celebrating what we are already doing

By Charlene O’Connell
Guest Columnist

It has been one year since Bishop Joe Vásquez officially promulgated the diocesan Pastoral Plan, “Encounter that Leads to Transformation.” The implementation of the plan continues in a multi-pronged process at the parish and diocesan levels. 
The starting point for implementing this plan is to acknowledge and to celebrate what parishes are already doing by examining the plan’s goals, initiatives and objectives. For example, when the plan was developed, the people who attended listening sessions described the benefit of participating in a parish retreat and how that experience radically transformed their perceptions about living as disciples of Christ. Thus, hosting parish retreats became one of the plan’s objectives. So if a parish already has a cycle of vibrant parish retreats, then celebrate the presence of this very effective ministry! 
The diocese is also reviewing the work of the offices and recognizing the ways the Pastoral Plan is already being implemented, especially through the workshops and retreats offered by the various departments. Another important process that the U.S. bishops have invited all dioceses to participate in is the V Encuentro. 
According to the V National Encuentro web site, www.vencuentro.org, the V Encuentro is a four-year process of ecclesial reflection and action that invites all Catholics in the U.S. to intense missionary activity, consultation, leadership development and identification of best ministerial practices in the spirit of the New Evangelization. The V Encuentro starts at the grass-roots level and calls for the development of resources and initiatives to better serve the fast-growing Hispanic population in dioceses, parishes, ecclesial movements, and other Catholic organizations and institutions in light of its theme: Missionary Disciples: Witnesses of God’s Love.
In the October Catholic Spirit, Paulist Father Bruce Nieli wrote an excellent article outlining the history and goals of the V Encuentro and how we are blessed to have a growing Hispanic population in our diocese. Our diocesan Pastoral Plan also calls for us to pay particular attention to the population growth, the demographic changes and the shifting cultural diversity especially within our Hispanic communities. These changes require that we develop new and dynamic skills for effective ministry with our Hispanic parishioners. 
The V Encuentro process is a wonderful example of an effort the diocese is already doing that, in fact, is implementing the Pastoral Plan. The plan has four guiding principles that reflect the important realities, values and best practices that must be addressed. The fourth principle concerning Hispanic Catholics explains that every initiative of the plan must answer the question of how it will serve Hispanic Catholics, how it will address the needs and welcome the gifts of our Hispanic sisters and brothers. By engaging in the V Encuentro process, we are attending to this guiding principle and to specific objectives in the plan. 
At the heart of the V Encuentro process is the call to empower our Hispanic population to live their Catholic faith more powerfully as disciples of Jesus Christ. Like the goals and objectives of the plan, the V Encuentro process calls all of us to become more effective witnesses of our Catholic faith and it challenges us to increase our efforts to invite the youth and young adults to participate in parish life, with an emphasis on Hispanic young people. 
Like goal three of the Pastoral Plan, the V Encuentro process invites all of us to accompany Hispanic Catholics, especially those who are on the periphery of church and society, living in high-risk situations and not involved in our faith communities. As in the Pastoral Plan, the V Encuentro calls all Catholics to share our faith, to evangelize others and celebrate the Good News of Jesus Christ. 
In January and February, the diocesan team for the V Encuentro will distribute materials for parish leaders to conduct training sessions within their own parish. In addition, the diocesan team will offer five sessions for those parishes not able to conduct their own training. The intention is to prepare parish V Encuentro teams to attend sessions during the 2017 Easter season. Ultimately the goal is to provide data and information for delegates who will attend the regional and national V Encuentro gatherings. However, these parish sessions will greatly benefit the parishes, participants and leaders as they reflect on these five themes: encounter with Christ, engaging in action, walking together, bearing fruit, and celebrating the joy of being Jesus’ disciple. 
The process of reflecting on these themes is an excellent way for the parish to implement the diocesan Pastoral Plan. The great hope is that by participating in the V Encuentro process, which is a pathway to implementing the Pastoral Plan, we will experience new energy for our Catholic faith; have more people participating in parish life, including more youth and young adults; welcome people from all cultures; and, finally that communities in Central Texas will encounter the presence and good works of all Catholic people.
For more information about the V Encuentro, visit www.vencuentro.org. To stay informed about the 
diocesan Pastoral Plan, visit www.austindioceseplan.org.