Arcadia | From early November 2017 to the end of May, more than 650 people from across the Diocese of Venice participated in a 12-part faith formation program in Spanish. More than half of the participants finished the requirements and earned a certificate of completion.
These classes, which focused on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, came about as a direct result of the Proceso de Consulta (Consultation Process) for the Diocesan V Encuentro. A multiyear outreach initiated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the V Encuentro has a goal of discerning ways for the Church in the U.S. to better respond to the ever-growing Hispanic presence.
“Responding to the request of people in the V Encuentro Consultation Process about faith formation was a top priority,” explained Father Claudio Stewart, Diocese Hispanic Ministries Director, who organized the sessions and sometimes served as an instructor. “There was a gap in the formation for Hispanics of the Diocese, those for whom English was not their first language.”
The benefit of having the formation program in Spanish was to allow the participants the opportunity to better absorb the complexities of the faith without the extra work of translating the information. This also helped streamline the instruction and allowed a more open discussion.
Sylvia Hernandez of St. Paul Parish in Arcadia admitted that her faith formation growing up in Mexico was limited to what she learned from her mother and going to Mass each week. “I now have a better understanding of what the Church teaches, and why. That is so important to me as I have children and want them to know the beauty and wonder of the Catholic Church, Jesus and the Blessed Virgin.”
Raul Santos of St. James Parish in Lake Placid explained that having the classes in Spanish was a big help because his English is not strong. “I can understand everyday things in English, but not everything. To understand the faith, it was best for me to learn about it and grow it with my native language.”
Father Stewart said additional faith formation classes in Spanish will be coming by the end of year. The second series, themed “The Bible: The Book of the People of God,” will incorporate 50 classes in various locations throughout the Diocese. The entire circle of this faith formation program will be the three sources of our faith: Magisterium (Catechism of the Catholic Church), Revelation (Holy Scripture) and finally Tradition of the Church (Church History).
Bishop Frank J. Dewane has been at the forefront in promoting the initiatives of the V Encuentro within the Diocese of Venice. The Bishop recognized the need for a direct outreach to Hispanic Catholics — the fastest-growing segment of the Catholic Church in the U.S. and Southwest Florida. The Diocese of Venice currently offers a Spanish Mass in just over half of its parishes.
The V Encuentro is a four-year process of ecclesial reflection and action that invites all Catholics in the United States to intense missionary activity, consultation, leadership development, and identification of best ministerial practices in the spirit of the new evangelization. The process has been proposed as a priority activity of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Strategic Plan for 2017-2020.
Within the Diocese of Venice, key Hispanic clergy and lay leaders were brought together in late 2016 to start spreading the word on the importance of participation in the V Encuentro process.
In the first half of 2017 a series of Deanery-level meetings (Process) were held — which occurred in four separate sessions — to start a dialogue for Hispanic Catholics. Divided into several parts, the meetings included prayer and song, a presentation on the weekly topic, small-group discussions, sharing of ideas (Consultation Process), and much more. Participants were asked to share what obstacles, needs and situations they face which require pastoral attention and/or that prevent Hispanics/Latinos living on the periphery of the Church from reaching their potential in U.S. society.
Once inspired by the sessions, everyone was encouraged to participate in an online V Encuentro survey. This augmented what was talked about in the gatherings. In that survey, respondents noted the need to direct youth outreach; the coordination of ministries and Apostolic Movements; as well as an expansion of faith formation offerings in Spanish.
Within the Diocese, efforts have already taken place to address each of these important issues. For example, a Diocesan 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Charismatic Renewal took place in the fall of 2017 with 1,500 participating. In April of this year, the first-ever Diocesan Emmaus Convocation took place at St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs with 1,200 participating. Bishop Dewane attended both those events and will have a meeting with the Diocesan leaders of the movements June 23 to share ideas, pastoral initiatives and continue together this journey as missionary disciples.
In addition to activities within the Diocese, Bishop Dewane led a delegation that took part in a spring Regional V Encuentro gathering in Miami in early 2018. The Bishop will also lead a group, including Father Stewart and 15 others, who will represent the Diocese of Venice at the National V Encuentro gathering in Texas Sept. 20-23.
From these meetings, the participants bring back ideas for new and exciting initiatives, all to better serve the Hispanic/Latino faithful of the Diocese moving forward into the future.