About 50 Hispanic Catholic leaders gathered Oct. 29 and 30 to prepare themselves to lead discussions in their parishes and other organizations about the challenges and opportunities facing both the Hispanic Catholic community and the wider U.S. church. The conversations they plan to have are among the first steps on the path to the V Encuentro, the fifth national “encounter” meeting of Hispanic Catholics in the United States, planned for 2018 in Gaylord, Texas. The first Encuentro happened in 1972. But “Encuentro” means far more than a meeting, said Vicente Del Real, who is working with the Consejo Hispano to organize the effort. “It’s not an event, it’s a process,” Del Real said. “Encuentro is a process of discernment at the parish level, to discern the challenges and how to respond to the challenges. That’s where the leadership development comes in.” Developing new leaders was one of the key topics of concern for the group that gathered Oct. 29. When the group was asked how many people in the room had started ministering to Hispanic Catholics in the past three years, none raised their hands, but many said they had been involved in ministry for 20 to 30 years. Tina Diaz, a catechetical leader and youth minister at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Melrose Park, said she wanted to learn more about ministering in the Hispanic Catholic community and how better to educate young people about their faith. Too many of them — and their parents — don’t see the importance of participating at Mass and other liturgies regularly. “I want to see the families united and also see our community united,” she said. “Too many people only come when they want the sacraments.” Elia Arias, from Mision San Juan Diego Parish in Arlington Heights, said she thinks heavily Hispanic parishes need to do more to engage Hispanic young people who prefer to attend English-language events. “They are feeling they are American because they are born here,” she said. “They are not feeling welcome because they don’t use Spanish.” The call to encuentro echoes Pope Francis, said Teresa Huarez, a religion teacher at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School and a parishioner at Our Lady of the Mount in Cicero. “Papa Francisco talks about encountering people and meeting them where they are,” Juarez said. It’s important for Hispanic Catholics to take up that mission because “the Hispanic young people are the future of the church, and everyone knows that.” According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 54 percent of U.S. Catholics born after 1982 are Hispanic. But many of those young people are not taking leadership positions in their parishes, she said. “Leaders are serving year after year,” she said. “We have to develop new leaders. That is the big message for this Encuentro. It’s evangelization.” Marco Lopez, a member of the Consejo Hispano and director of the Romero Scholars Program at Catholic Theological Union, said the encuentro’s process of discerning challenges and how best to respond to them fits with the archdiocesan Renew My Church initiative. “It’s for renewal, like Pope Francis has called for and what the archdiocese is trying to do with Renew My Church,” Lopez said. Javier Castillo, lifelong formation coordinator for the archdiocese’s Vicariate IV, agreed that the encuentro process dovetails with Renew My Church. He said he hopes it also helps parishes with more than one cultural base to come together as one community. In Vicariate IV, there are several parishes that minister not only in English and Spanish, but also in Polish. “How can we be one community?” he said. The parish encuentro groups are expected to meet once a week for five weeks starting in early 2017, leading up to parish-wide encuentro events. Parishes then send representatives to a diocesan encuentro. Then representatives from each diocese meet in regional groups, and delegates from each region come together for the national Encuentro, Del Real said. Preparations for the national Encuentro started in 2014.