Hope, energy and the drive to unite to share the Catholic faith filled the Visalia Convention Center, as nearly 1,300 delegates — including laypeople, priests and 21 bishops — gathered for a regional encuentro.

“This is the moment when the church is listening to the Hispanic community in an effort to understand us better, but also in the hopes that we will become missionary disciples and become more active in our own faith,” Benito Medrano, Hispanic ministry coordinator in the Diocese of Fresno, California, told the delegates during the April 27-29 event.

The gathering served as a prelude to the Fifth National Encuentro, or V Encuentro, set for Sept. 20-23 in Grapevine, Texas.

The multiyear encuentro process, which includes similar regional gatherings across the country, seeks to discern the needs, aspirations and faith practices of Hispanic Catholics in the United States. Hispanics represent 40 percent of the U.S. Catholic population. Given the continuous growth of the number of Hispanic Catholics, the encuentro also is expected to identify thousands of new pastoral leaders.

“It’s a pastoral approach, an effort to involve the grass roots in reflecting about the realities that affect the life of church,” said Jesuit Father Allan Figueroa Deck, a theologian and expert on Latino studies at Loyola Marymount University. “These encounters are a great contribution to the vitality of the U.S. church.”

In his keynote address, Father Deck emphasized that contributions of Hispanic Catholics go beyond growing numbers and the youth of its members. He listed four ways Latinos contribute to church life: a family and community-oriented spirit; a “living faith that is experienced at home and society;” a supportive attitude to the church’s preferential option for the poor; and a joyous spirit emerging from the presence of God in people’s hearts.

Delegates came from California, Nevada and Hawaii, which encompass the U.S. church’s Region XI.

Delegates also discussed findings from consultations at the parish level. Concerns, ideas and hopes in 10 ministerial areas were collected to update a regional working document, which will be shared at the national encuentro.

Reminded that Hispanic Catholics total 9 million of the 14 million Catholics in the region, attendees were asked to unite as a prophetic voice, expressing their needs while committing to work with church leadership.

Questions about social justice, solidarity with undocumented migrants as well as the need to focus on families, support young people and provide formation for new leaders were central themes at the gathering.

Full story at Angelus.