August 15, 2015 – The first annual Diocese of St. Petersburg Encuentro was a smashing success! Attended by 500 Hispanic parishioners from throughout the diocese, including nearly 100 young people, the Encuentro’s lead organizer, Vivi Iglesias, Associate Director of the Office of Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese, said, “This is a historical moment for our diocese and I am honored to be part of it.” The Encuentro is a mid-point in a process begun several years ago as the Church seeks to understand and meet the needs of its ever-growing Hispanic community. Surveys were distributed and in order to identify the accomplishments, challenges and possible ideas for future growth and development amongst Hispanics in 3 priority areas:
• Evangelization – including formation and the family
• Social Justice
The day began with a Mass celebrating the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The mass was celebrated by Bishop Robert N. Lynch, assisted by many diocesan parish priests and deacons. After mass, upon moving to the parish center from the church, Bishop Lynch addressed the audience to discuss his vision, as well as practical limitations he envisioned, for addressing the needs as vocalized by the diocesan Hispanic community in our first-ever survey of Hispanic parishioners. One specific item, Bishop Lynch mentioned was the clear desire articulated in the survey for more mobile medical services (a reference to the Catholic Mobile Medical Services program (bus) run by Sister Sara Proctor of Catholic Charities). Afterward, Mr. Mark Dufva, Executive Director of Catholic Charities spoke with the Bishop saying, “Catholic Charities is ready to help the Diocese meet the needs of the Latino community through the expansion of the mobile medical services (bus) program!”
After a brief Q&A with Bishop Lynch, the presentation began in earnest and the youth along with young adult leaders left to participate in a youth-focused program that was led by missionary couples from SEPI (Southeast Pastoral Institute) – Laura and Javier Franco as well as Stefania and Alfredo Del Valle. The remaining adults listened to talks by Rev. Mario Vicaino, Sch. P., the former director of the Bishop’s Southeast Regional Office for Hispanic Ministry, who regaled them with stories about the origin and early years of the Encuentro and the continued need for pastoral development to meet the needs of the Hispanic community, followed by the present director of the Bishop’s Southeast Regional Office for Hispanic Ministry, Rev. Rafael Capo, Sch. P., who discussed future developments, including outreach programs and social service ministries that could be implemented. Those attendees who did not speak Spanish missed some great jokes and humorous stories, as both Priests left the audience in tears on more than one occasion.
Before the afternoon talks, guests enjoyed a wonderful lunch provided by Regalos de Fe (Gifts of Faith), a Catholic book and gift shop located in Brandon close by Nativity Church, with drinks and dessert provided by RCL Benziger, a Catholic resources company (downloadable school, parish resources, prayers and activities). A great big ‘thank you’ to these two wonderful supporters of our diocese! During the planned afternoon break, a parish group provided wonderful music that provided the opportunity for the more adventurous in the group to dance. Many others took advantage of this break and the lunch break to have their photographs taken with the “#FlatFrancis” (a like-like/size photographic standup of Pope Francis)! They were also able to learn about products and services provided by our two meal providers, as well as Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services, and Spirit FM 90.5 among others.
The event officially ended shortly after 3:30 pm with the singing of the Encuentro theme song. Unofficially, our own Vivi Iglesias was surprised by the Encuentro group and other remaining bystanders with a Happy Birthday celebration, including song and cake! The Encuentro, while successful, is just the beginning of work to determine what recommendations for services, ministries, and other programs can feasibly and affordably be adopted. That said, this event was a great start for the process as far as the Diocese of St. Petersburg is concerned. Said, Vivi Iglesias, in summary: “I was so pleased with not only the turnout, but more importantly with the passion and enthusiasm of the guests. Our participation on this Encuentro process will assist the Local Church in addressing and responding to the pastoral needs of our growing Hispanic communities.” To that end, this very important session will be followed by the Dioceses’ participation in the V National Ecuentro which was convocated by the USCCB and which will start with activities in 2016. As the famous line goes from one of the most famous Biblical movies in history goes: “So let it be said. So let it be done.”