Later this month, Portland hosts a gathering of Hispanic Catholic delegates from Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska. They will discern needs and opportunities for Latinos in the church, input that will go to a national gathering in Texas in September.

It’s Encuentro V, a joyful process that focuses on church unity, evangelization and leadership development among youths. The U.S. Catholic bishops endorse Encuentro, Spanish for “encounter.” There have been five Encuentros since the 1970s.

The regional gathering takes place at Portland State University June 22-24.

A 2013 report from the Pew Research Center found that 44 percent of Catholic respondents under age 30 identify as Hispanic. And 40 percent of Catholics in the United States identify as Hispanic, according to a 2014 survey from Boston College and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

The Hispanic population of the Pacific Northwest has grown. By some estimates, for example, more than half of Catholics in the Archdiocese of Portland are Hispanic.

Archbishop Alexander Sample made a plea for unity among cultures during the Archdiocese of Portland’s Encuentro session in January.

“United in faith, hope and love, we will do this together,” the archbishop said in Salem to 170 delegates from around western Oregon. “Not divided. Division is the work of another spirit, not the Holy Spirit. Division is the greatest and most effective and favorite tool of Satan.”

Scores of western Oregon Catholics came forward, dropping signed cards at the foot of a cross. They promised to live as united missionary disciples who will go to neighborhoods, streets and marketplaces to share their personal encounter with Jesus. There will be more commitments made at the regional event.

Parish leaders began Encuentro more than a year ago by consulting with worshippers to find what was happening in the lives of Hispanic Catholics. There was an online survey.

Immigration fears topped the list, which also included fair pay, language training, more opportunities to serve in the church and more Hispanic vocations to priesthood and religious life. 

“It gave a tool for us as a community and archdiocese to face the reality of our church and who we are,” said Father David Jaspers, who guided meetings at Ascension Parish in Southeast Portland.

“I am convinced that [Encuentro] is an opportunity for the church in the USA, not just Hispanics, to pay attention to the movement of the Holy Spirit,” says Pedro Rubalcava, a composer and manager at Portland-based Oregon Catholic Press. He is co-chairman of the national liturgy team for the fifth Encuentro

“The conversations I have had with people who describe their experience, what I have observed and what I have reflected confirm that the Spirit of God is in our midst,” Rubalcava says.

Rubalcava says the Hispanic Catholic community in the Northwest is still new compared to more established communities in places like Texas and California. That’s why evangelization is a must in this part of the country.

Another key player in the regional Encuentro will be Deacon Félix García, coordinator of Hispanic ministry for the Archdiocese of Portland. Deacon García says the discussions of Encuentro have value even aside from the priorities that emerge.

“With that conversation, with that dialogue, we can basically understand that there are differences but those differences can bring us together and enrich each [of us],” he told the Sentinel last year.

— Rocío Rios, Sarah Wolf, Ed Langlois