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Diocese continues Encuentro preparation

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More than 700 people gathered at St. Joseph Church in Herndon Dec. 9 as part of the ongoing process of preparing for the Fifth Encuentro, a national event that will be held in September 2018 in Fort Worth, Texas.

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge celebrated Mass to open the daylong event, which included presentations by Father Matthew H. Zuberbueler, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Falls Church; Leah Tenorio, director of Hispanic Ministry at Good Shepherd Church in Alexandria; and Maribel and Edgar Enriquez, a married couple from Queen of Apostles Church in Alexandria. 


Father Jose E. Hoyos, director of the Spanish Apostolate, was the homilist at the Mass and served as master of ceremonies for the presentations.

“Not even the snow can stop us from coming to celebrate this Mass for St. Juan Diego,” said Father Hoyos. “He is a model of faith.”

Bishop Burbidge told the congregation that he was there for two reasons: “To pray with you and to listen to you.”

Father Hoyos said each parish was asked to send representatives to the event, which he described as “a way to share the good things we have been experiencing as a church.”

“There are things that unite and separate us,” he said, including issues such as immigration and the lack of pastoral formation, which are major concerns for the Hispanic community in the diocese.

“We need to promote more religious vocations and support the Dreamers in our community,” Father Hoyos said.

He hopes the event will help Bishop Burbidge see what programs the Hispanic community needs to advance.

Father Hoyos said the diocese will send 22 delegates to the national Encuentro next year, which is being sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The theme will be “Missionary Disciples: Witnesses of God’s Love.”

“It is a blessing for the diocese,” he said. “It is inviting us to be one community, one church. It’s time to open our hearts and minds. The time is now to bring our talents and gifts to the church.”


In his homily, Father Hoyos said the church, through Pope Francis, “has called us to be missionary disciples. We’ve been called to go to the peripheries. Our families, especially our young people, must advance to be lights of the world.

“Our pastoral mission is urgent,” he said. “Let’s pray to the Lord that He will send workers for the harvest in the field.”

After Mass, a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe was carried from the church to the parish hall for the day’s events. 

Bishop Burbidge led a question and answer session, with a twist. He asked the first question. “How well has the Diocese of Arlington and its schools and parishes welcomed Hispanic Catholics and what can we do better?” he asked. “Tell me what we can do to help you. I’m asking you to give me the answers.”

The Bishop received a variety of answers. One person said we need more Hispanic priests. Another said Catholic schools need to be open to everyone, regardless of parish affiliation. Provide more public space for Hispanic Catholics to gather, said another person.

Speaking on behalf of youths, one young person said his parish needs a spiritual leader to provide more religious training. “We are the future of the church,” he said.

Another commented that Hispanic children don’t know enough about the Bible. One mother said she wanted to bring her three children closer to the faith, and was able to get a partial scholarship from the diocese to send her children to St. James School in Falls Church. 

Katherine Avendano from St. Rita Church in Alexandria said that since many Hispanic Catholics work two or three jobs to support their families, it would be more convenient for them if religious education classes were held on weekends and not during the week.

“Let’s leave here today with a commitment to pray,” said Bishop Burbidge, who promised to take everything that was discussed back to his brother priests.

“I’m grateful for this time together today,” he said.

“We are one church,” Bishop Burbidge added. “We are one family.”

After the question and answer session, Tonorio gave a report on her Encuentro experience at Good Shepherd Church. 

During the process, she said, they were able to identify new parish leaders who were willing to share their talents. Her group also identified priorities, which included creating a feeling of welcome at the parish, improving the worship experience, dealing with the lack of transportation and immigration concerns.

Maribel and Edgar Enriquez, the married couple from Queen of Apostles Church, said when they first arrived in the U.S. from Peru in 2003, they worked hard to make a life for themselves and their two children. Their faith suffered, however, as they only went to Mass at Christmas and Easter, and never prayer together as a family.

That changed in 2015 when they attended an Emmaus Retreat. It forced them to reflect on their spiritual life. They began praying the rosary and reading the Bible. They started volunteering at their parish, first as lectors and ushers, and then as Eucharistic ministers. 

“It was the best present in our lives,” Maribel said. “Now we leave all of our worries in God’s hands.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017