By Father Luis A. Tampe
This past June marked an important anniversary for Catholic Hispanics in the United States: 40 years ago – on June 19, 1972, to be precise – some 250 church leaders involved in Hispanic ministry met for three days in Washington, D.C. in what was billed as the first Encuentro Nacional Hispano de Pastoral. In the course of the next 13 years, two more such national gatherings sponsored by the U.S. bishops took place in our nation’s capital: the second Encuentro in 1977 and the third in 1985.
Each succeeding Encuentro became more complex than the one before: the process that led to the second Encuentro, for example, mobilized 100,000 Hispanics from across the country while the third Encuentro’s three-year process managed to contact 600,000, the largest such grassroots efforts in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States.
Among other significant proposals, these Encuentros advocated unity in the church through Hispanic-friendly diversity rather than through uniformity, they reimagined the parish as a community composed of small Christian communities, and encouraged the ongoing formation – social and catechetical – of Catholic Hispanics. In sum, the Encuentros envisioned a U.S. Catholic Church at once united around the same faith and supportive of the rich diversity among Hispanics and their popular religious expressions.
The impetus behind the recommendations produced by the Encuentros was the perceived need to establish in every diocese a pastoral plan for Hispanic ministry and the desirability of drafting a national blueprint serving the same purpose. This November marks the 30th anniversary of the U.S. bishops’ approval of the National Pastoral Plan for Hispanic Ministry (NPPHM) in 1987, a momentous achievement of the Encuentros and the enthusiasm they generated. Indeed, the NPPHM’s text was largely written from input provided by the third Encuentro. Despite the November milestone, much remains to be done to make the vision of the Encuentros a reality. In addition to educating ourselves about the content of the NPPHM, perhaps we could make an additional effort to learn more about the Encuentros, their resolutions, and the Latinos and Latinas who, in the midst of significant obstacles, made them a reality.
With the assistance of our local parishes, learning about the NPPHM and the Encuentros can be more than just the expression of an historical curiosity. Indeed, our Catholic faith keeps in creative tension the faith expressions and struggles of those who came before us and our own efforts to live the faith in the here and now, responding to God’s promise of an ultimate future where death does not have the final word. Respecting this creative tension requires us to become familiar with the faith expressions and struggles of those who came before us. We can thus see the process of learning about the NPPHM and the Encuentros as being part and parcel of what it means to be the Hispanic caretakers of the Catholic faith in the United States today.
Father Luis A. Tampe, S.J., teaches in Loyola University Maryland’s theology department. He is originally from Chile.