Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

Encuentro 2000--Something For Everyone?

by Christopher Cummings


This article discusses themes and goals of the program called "Encuentro 2000: Many Faces in God’s House." The program strives to bring together participants from the many cultures, ethnic communities, and diverse ministries that make up the Catholic Church in the United States. There are some doubts that the program will succeed in its efforts due to the exclusions of, for example, those Catholics who prefer the Tridentine Mass and Eastern Rite Catholics.

Larger Work

The Wanderer

Publisher & Date

The Wanderer Printing Company, June 29, 2000

This coming July 6-9, people will travel to Los Angeles to attend a program that is being heavily promoted by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (http:// 2000) and financially supported by such disparate organizations as RENEW International, the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, the National Association of the Holy Name Society, and the National Black Catholic Congress. The official title of the program is Encuentro 2000: Many Faces in God's House. The official conference flyer states:

"Many Faces in God's House: Encuentro 2000 is the national Catholic Celebration of the Jubilee Year sponsored by the Catholic Bishops of the United States. Proposed by the Bishop's Committee on Hispanic Affairs, Encuentro 2000 brings together participants from all of the many cultures, ethnic communities, and diverse ministries that make up the Catholic Church in the United States."

Such a program would seem to be an open-armed welcome to Catholics of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds to meet, to become acquainted and to celebrate the universality of the Church. Upon closer examination of the published promotional materials, some reasons for concern begin to take shape.

Encuentro 2000 is the fourth in a series of encuentros (1972, 1977, and 1985), the previous versions of which were "gatherings of the Hispanic Catholic community to celebrate their faith and cultural heritage and to develop plans for the growing role of Hispanics within the Church." "This time the Hispanic Catholic community is inviting Catholics from every racial, cultural, and ethnic community to work together to develop a plan for building a more inculturated Church.'" The conference goals, as stated in the official conference flyer are:

  • "Encounter The Living Jesus Christ through the ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity of the Church;
  • "Pray, Work, And Celebrate with people of many cultures and ethnic communities;
  • "Examine And Seek Recociliation for the past failures to recognize and celebrate the Church's racial, ethnic, and cultural richness;
  • "Develop Strategies for helping parishes and ministries affirm all of God's people's gifts and be more hospitable to those who are poor, vulnerable, and newcomers to our local communities;
  • "Learn To Advocate Effectively with and for those who thirst for justice."

Repeatedly we are told that, "Encuentro is not just an event. It is also a process outlined in the parish guide Many Faces in God's House: A Catholic Vision for the Third Millennium. Attendees are encouraged to participate in a detailed preparation procedure including a prayer service for sending forth those attending the program, an order of blessing for those attending, general intercessions and other prayers, and a parish sessions guide. Each diocese or organization is strongly and repeatedly urged to design a banner for the Encuentro 2000 program to be used "to paint the many spaces of Encuentro 2000 with the many faces of God's house."(Banner material must be purchased from the official Encuentro 2000 decorator due to strict fire regulations at the Los Angeles Convention Center.) And the program is conceived as a training camp to energize people who will return to their home communities and implement changes.

"Pastors are urged to bring representative members of the people in their parishes to learn together at this ground-breaking national event. This will help to build the solid nucleus of leadership needed to build welcoming inclusive communities at the parish level. These pastors and parish participants are in addition to any people being sent by their dioceses"2

Bishop Fiorenza Draws The Outline

Bishop Joseph Fiorenza (Ordinary of Galveston-Houston, Tex., and current president of the NCCB) wrote an article for the National Catholic Reporter (April 28 edition) entitled, "Encuentro 2000 A Time To Address Pressing Issues."3 Bishop Fiorenza's article encapsulates some of the predominant themes of the Encuentro 2000 program. Recognition, respect and institutional acceptance of discrete cultural, ethnic, and racial identities within the Church are recurring themes. Bishop Fiorenza says:

"Ours is a glorious church! Many of us grew up when this country viewed itself as the melting pot where people of different nations merged into one America. Today, the Catholic Church in the United States has gone beyond being a variation of this melting pot and has become a microcosm of world society, where people of many nations must learn to live as one community.

"The church in the United States has the opportunity to exemplify how such a community can flourish and how differences can complement one another. It can show by example that such growth does not come easily because it involves some degree of conflict and at times the creation of new structures. It may give a message to people of Bosnia, where ethnic strife keeps people apart. It may have a message for the Middle East, where Jewish, Christian and Muslim groups struggle over land sacred to all."

This language seems to contemplate little "sub-churches" within the diocese or parish, and an environment in which we all become "hyphenated Catholics." The reference to the Balkans calls to mind "balkanization," the common term for fragmenting an organization into clearly defined and irreducible ethnic/cultural enclaves. By posing the question "Do the priesthood, religious orders, and the diaconate mirror the ethnic makeup of the church in the United States?" Bishop Fiorenza raises the ominous issue of quotas and whether the current difficulty in developing enough vocations to serve the Church should be exacerbated by seeking to impose ethnic quotas on seminary and other formation programs.

Program literature informs us that an "Ethnic Village" will "dot the gathering space" and include the following groups or nations: "African-American. Arab-Catholic, Belize, Bolivia, China, Costa Rica, Cuba, El Salvador, Eritrea, Guatemala, Haiti, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Native American, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Samoa, [and] Vietnam."4 In addition, "[s]everal prayer spaces will surround the Encuentro 2000: Many Faces in God's House meeting plenary session site to honor the religious traditions of groups which comprise the Church in the United States. Among the traditions so honored will be those of Ireland -- St. Patrick; France -- Our Lady of Lourdes; Italy -- Our Lady of Mount Carmel; Germany -- St. Boniface; Poland -- Our Lady of Czestochowa; Lithuania -- Our Lady of Siluva; Slavic Countries -- Sts. Cyril and Methodius; Spain -- St. Santiago (James); Lebanon -- Our Lady of Lebanon; Native American -- Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha; French Canada -- Sts. Joseph and Anne; Guatemala -- El Cristo de Esquipulas; El Salvador -- El Salvador de Mundo; Colombia -- Nuestra Senora de Chinquinquira; Cuba -- Our Lady of Charity (Caridad del Cobre); Chile -- St. Teresa of the Andes; African-American -- Our Mother of Africa; Congo --Bl. Anuarite; North Africa -- Sts. Augustine and Monica; Philippines -- Our Lady of Antipolo (Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage); Korea -- Korean Martyrs; Vietnam -- Our Lady of La Vang; India -- St. Thomas the Apostle. 5 Finally, there is to be a film festival "to highlight social and religious experiences of African-Americans, Native Americans, Vietnamese and Cubans in contemporary society."6

Another theme brought out by Bishop Fiorenza is the search for forgiveness. Referring to recent public requests for forgiveness by (in order) Roger Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles (for "several offenses, including those against religious women"); Bernard Cardinal Law of Boston ("for his own and Boston Catholics' offenses against a number of groups, citing among others, slaves and women" [one wonders how Cardinal Law might have offended slaves. Ed.], and the Holy Father ("for instances of anti-Semitism in the church"[sic]). "At Encuentro 2000," says Bishop Fiorenza, "the church in the United States will have the opportunity to look at these and other areas for which the church needs to express contrition." The subtext here appears to be that Catholics of various European backgrounds will be asked to seek forgiveness for the social sins that end in "-ism" or "-phobia" and for which the enlightened elites are constantly examining other people's consciences.

Yet another discernible theme is democratization of the Church and reduction of her hierarchical structure. Among the several questions Bishop Fiorenza poses to be addressed at Encuentro 2000 is "What is happening to lay leadership almost 40 years after the Second Vatican Council's call for a renewed understanding of lay people in the church?" In itself an innocent question, but easily spun as a call toward de-clericalization. The reference already quoted to "new structures" is echoed in the representation at Encuentro 2000 (in a keynote speaker and in two of the sessions) of the "small Christian communities" movement.

Not least of all the themes is social activism. There are repeated exhortations to learn to advocate effectively." Bishop Fiorenza asks: "How do Catholics stand together as one people in the face of abuses of charity and justice directed at some of the family -- recent immigrants and people of color -- simply because they seem 'different'?" A significant number of the breakout sessions in the program are devoted to community organizing, networking to advocate for specific causes, and discussion of particular issues such as debt reduction, immigration law, welfare reform, and a transformational experience offered by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development entitled "Journey to Justice."

Some Reflections

My uncomfortable suspicion is that this event will be perceived by some and used by others as a not-so-subtle invitation to Catholics of European background and Catholics who prize the traditional ritual forms, artistic embellishments and devotional heritage to step aside and take a distinctly subordinate position to a myriad of "diverse" cultural blocs. Those newly assertive groups are being invited to think of themselves as, and to act like, the rightful inheritors of the Church, called to replace the "European" or "Eurocentric" ecclesial culture with a polyglot, polycultural patchwork. This polycultural approach aims to give equal time and attention to an increasingly numerous group of discrete cultural sensibilities -- Asian/Pacific Islander, African-American, African, American Indian, Hispanic/Latino and proliferating subsets of these categories. Unfortunately the equal time given must become increasingly brief. How many cultural vignettes or references can be included in a one-hour liturgical ceremony? The perceived need to preserve each cultural tradition (and to avoid a melting pot or assimilation process) means that the bits of time allotted to the various sensibilities must become ever smaller as each new group joins the throng.

Complicating things is the feeling by some groups that due to their increasing numerical presence in the Church, they should have some form of primacy in terms of how the Church worships, sings, and speaks. The frequency, for example, with which surveys and press articles predict an imminent conversion of the Church in the United States into a basically Hispanic organization is remarkable. So, there are some saying, "Let's compartmentalize and fractionalize the Church endlessly" and there are those who say, "Now is the time for my group to take over."

On top of all this is the activity of certain agenda-pushers who piggyback on an ostensibly cultural convocation to further programs of radical change of the Church and its institutional structure. A prime example of this phenomenon is the "small faith communities" movement. The nomenclature varies (small ecclesial communities, base communities, small Christian communities, and so forth), but the principle is the same -- a reduction of Church structure into a loosely aggregated collection of small, lay-run groups that meet, pray, study, discuss, and act together, largely independent of the established parish structure, and certainly independent of the bishops and the hierarchy. The small faith communities’ idea represents, at best, a potent challenge to the pastoral skills of the clergy and the ability of the Church to pass on the Faith free of novel private interpretations and errors. At worst, it represents a frontal attack on the teaching authority of the Church, and the entire notion of a hierarchical structure instituted by Christ, as well as a pernicious corrosion of the sacramental priesthood. If successful and widespread, it would constitute a massive decentralizing and atomizing of the Church, and the resulting multiplication of new variations on the truths of the Faith would make the chaos that followed the Protestant revolt appear trivial.

The small faith community movement flies the banner of Hispanic/Latino culture, and is touted as a valid and effective evangelism technique in the Hispanic community. While it is true that the notion of "base communities" largely originated in Latin American countries, it is also true that these entities were part and parcel of the neo-Marxist "liberation theology" campaign in those countries, which was excoriated by the Holy Father. So the notion that small faith communities are a necessary or integral part of Hispanic Catholicism is erroneous and dangerous. Nevertheless, the idea of small faith communities is strongly represented at Encuentro 2000. The RENEW organization is a supporting organization, and two of the breakout sessions at the conference will deal with the subject (#203 "Welcoming God's Many Faces in Small Christian Communities" and #305 "Small Christian Communities: The Hope for Evangelization").

Cardinal Mahoney and Bishop Fiorenza will welcome the attendees to the program on Thursday afternoon, July 6. The celebrant at the "Gathering Rite" will be Bishop Gabino Zavala, auxiliary of Los Angeles and chairman of Encuentro 2000. Archbishop Theodore McCarrick of Newark will offer Mass Friday afternoon and Cardinal Law will conduct a "Reconciliation Session" Friday evening. And on Saturday evening, the Jubilee Mass for the "National Celebration of the Jubilee Year" will be celebrated by Cardinal Mahoney, author of the infamous pastoral letter on the Eucharist Gather Faithfully Together.

In sum, the program appears to be a misguided attempt to come to grips with the perception that an imminent demographic earthquake will shortly transform the Catholic Church in the U.S. into an essentially third-world organization. The thrust of Encuentro 2000 seems to be to urge people to embrace this shift and become a "welcoming" vehicle for it. Thus, Encuentro 2000 risks recasting the Catholic Church in the U.S. into a predominantly Hispanic (and other ethnic) context. Although the press has recently given much space to studies that predict an overwhelming Hispanic/Mexican majority of Church membership in the near future, it seems premature to reconstruct the Church in anticipation of this projected demographic shift.

I must note, here, that I do not mean in any way to impugn the noble and glorious history and tradition of the Church in Spain and the former Spanish colonies, including, for example, Mexico, the Philippines, and other nations of South and Central America. However, much of what is described, as Hispanic Catholic culture in the United States today, is quite foreign to those older traditions. (By way of an admittedly extreme example, people in the heartland of Mexico would look upon a "Mariachi Mass" as an absurdity.) Nor do I demean the sincere Catholic religious practice of many, many Americans of Hispanic descent. Nevertheless, there are those who use the contemporary cultural traits, activities, and artifacts as camouflage to facilitate a revolutionary agenda that has little to do with the sacred and everything to do with the pursuit of power.

With all of the emphasis in the Encuentro 2000 program materials on making people feel welcome in the Church and in the parish, I see remarkably little in the way of welcoming for anyone with the slightest fondness for the nearly 2000 years of Church history, worship, and culture that predate the Second Vatican Council. The only attention paid in that direction is to the particular devotions of individual ethnic and cultural groups (for example, Our Lady of Lourdes for France).

I see absolutely no acknowledgment of the sizable number of Catholics who love the so-called Tridentine Mass (which in its essentials predates the Council of Trent by at least 1,000 years). Nor do I see anything for Eastern Rite Catholics, of whom there are not a few in the United States. I know that I, for one, would not travel to attend Encuentro 2000 if my way were paid. I simply would not feel welcome, or that my time and efforts were being fruitfully employed. My fear is that the people who do attend will come away with a sense of entitlement to assert their own cultural identities at the expense of the cohesion of their local parishes. Many novel ideas will be further propagated and implemented, and those ideas will further fragment and divide an already cracked structure. This program promises to be a setback for the Church in the United States, rather than a step forward. The Church has certainly endured worse in her history, but she certainly deserves better.


1. "FAQs About Many Faces in God's House: Encuentro 2000." NCCB/USCC website, Question 7.

2. "FAQs About Many Faces in God's House: Encuentro 2000" NCCB/USCC website, Question 22.

3. The article can be read at http:// 042800/042800m.htm

4. Encuentro 2000, April Update, on NCCB/USCC website.

5. Encuentro 2000, May Update, on NCCB/USCC website.

6. NCCB/USCC Communications website.

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