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Ofelia Franco of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Omaha, left, with the Archdiocese of Omaha delegation to the national V Encuentro gathering in Grapevine, Texas, Sept. 20-23. Seated at her right are Mariana Flores Chavez of the Center for Family Life Formation, Juan Magana of St. Patrick Parish in Fremont, Archbishop George J. Lucas, and priest of the archdiocese Father Ralph O’Donnell, currently serving with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Standing are Max Allen of FOCCUS Inc., Father Scott Hastings, vicar for clergy and judicial vicar, and Deacon Gregorio Elizalde, manager of Latino Ministry.

Six from archdiocese return energized from V Encuentro

Ofelia Franco, a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Omaha, said she was touched spiritually as she, five others from the Archdiocese of Omaha and more than 3,000 people from around the country gathered in Grapevine, Texas, for V Encuentro.
 
“I experienced the joy of belonging to the body of Christ,” she said, “seeing and living with more than 3,000 hearts burning with the fire of the Holy Spirit, all united by the same love – Jesus Christ and our Catholic Church.”
 
About 3,200 diocesan delegates, bishops and representatives from ecclesial movements and Catholic organizations met in Grapevine Sept. 20-23 to discern priority issues for Hispanic ministry in the United States, now and for years to come. 
 
Topics included accompanying immigrants, retaining youth and young adult members of the church, providing access to higher education, mental health and community outreach efforts, evangelization, and fostering Hispanic leadership within the church.
 
It was the fifth such national gathering in an effort sponsored since 1972 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 
 
An ultimate goal of the Encuentro process is “to create a culture of encounter” within the Catholic Church, said Deacon Gregorio Elizalde, also a delegate at the gathering as manager of the archdiocese’s Latino Ministry Office.
 
“Of course, the first encounter must be with Jesus,” he said, “but also with family, with my group and with my church. Everyone must have an encounter with Jesus first.”
 
“We have many groups and people,” Deacon Elizalde said. “They need leadership. They need to be more prepared and dedicated to integrating their whole life for the church. That’s one of the most important things we’ve found.”
 
Mariana Flores-Chavez, coordinator of Hispanic Marriage and Family Ministries in the archdiocese’s Center for Family Life Formation, said another important idea to come out of the Encuentro was the need for local parishes to have someone who can work with Hispanic youth to bring them into the church and keep them engaged.
 
Archbishop George J. Lucas accompanied Florez-Chavez, Franco and Deacon Elizalde, as did Father Scott Hastings, the archdiocese’s vicar for clergy and judicial vicar of the Metropolitan Tribunal, and Juan Magana, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Fremont.
 
Franco said the conference stressed evangelization, putting into practice Pope Francis’ invitation to reach out to others.
 
“We need to go out to meet our sisters who have moved away and look for how to attract the young – programs of family and youth evangelization in specific,” she said.  “We must be aware that the commitment of evangelization is not only of the clergy; the laity must also commit ourselves.”
 
Franco said she was touched by the event.
 
“This V Encuentro has taken me closer to Jesus,” she said. “During this process I experienced a living Christ within our Catholic Church.”
 
The national encounter was the culmination of a process that began last year with Encuentro sessions at the parish level. 
 
In the Omaha archdiocese, Holy Name, St. Francis of Assisi and Assumption-Guadalupe parishes, all in Omaha, St. Patrick in Fremont, St. Bonaventure in Columbus, Sacred Heart in Emerson and Sacred Heart in Norfolk all held a series of five Encuentro sessions, which led to an archdiocesan gathering last November at St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha. A regional Encuentro in Kansas City followed.
 
Franco said her pastor, Father William Safranek, encouraged her to participate in the process.
 
“One day, Mrs. Mariana (Florez) Chavez called me to let us know what this mission was about and I accepted with pleasure,” Franco said. “From that moment I completely committed myself.”
 
Franco learned during the regional conference in Kansas City that she had been selected for the national gathering. Delegates came from 165 dioceses, out of nearly 250,000 Catholics who participated at the parish level. 

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