DETROIT (CNS) — Among the 10 areas of focus for discussion groups at the Region VI encuentro June 2-3 in Detroit, intercultural competency was a significant talking point — asking dioceses to encourage priests and lay leaders to learn more about and provide space for Hispanic devotions and traditions.

Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Donald F. Hanchon, who has been involved in Hispanic ministry for 32 years, including as pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Monroe and St. Gabriel and Holy Redeemer parishes in Detroit, said the Archdiocese of Detroit has been a trailblazer in promoting lay Hispanic leadership.

“We have a whole group of lay folks who are being trained or have been trained to do the work,” Bishop Hanchon said. “We have the San Andres School of Evangelization’s local director give talks and train people, and that has prepared several hundred people who are really on fire for the Gospel.”

Demographics also play a role in Detroit being seen as a leader in Hispanic ministry in the region, Bishop Hanchon said.

“We have a lot of answers in Detroit, simply because of our size and where we are,” he said. “If we could share this on an ongoing basis with the other dioceses in the region, make these talking points our priority for the next five years, you will see a lot of energy in the local Hispanic church and you will see dioceses on fire for the Gospel.”

One topic that particularly interested Bishop Hanchon was working with seminary leaders in incorporating Hispanic cultural competency for all seminarians. 

“I would like to see more awareness of Hispanic culture as a priority in the seminary,” Bishop Hanchon said. “Here in Detroit, it both is and isn’t. I want the rector of the seminary and the faculty to really hear what the representatives are saying, (to see) if we can arrange more contact between the seminaries and the Hispanic parishes.

“Maybe (today’s seminarians) will end up at a parish with a strong Hispanic presence, and maybe not. But it’s critical they are at least sympathetic to the needs of Hispanic families.”

For the Catholic Church to play an active role in the lives of Hispanic families, parish and diocesan leaders must develop sympathy and intentionality, said Veronica Rodriguez, director of Hispanic ministry for the Diocese of Kalamazoo, Michigan, and co-chair for the Region VI encuentro process.

“What I’ve been hearing for these two days from leaders all over the region is their needs to be a focus on the youth and on the family,” Rodriguez said. “That relates to everything else that is also a ministerial area: immigration, leadership development, stewardship, all the other areas.”

Rodriguez said the good news is the church isn’t starting from scratch when it comes to ministering to Hispanic Catholics; Catholicism has been part of Hispanic-American culture for almost 500 years.

“Parishes and dioceses are already reaching out to Hispanics, but maybe not enough to the kids, young adults or young families who are looking to come back to the church,” Rodriguez said. “We need to be more intentional with forming our parish youth ministries around Hispanic youths.”

Intentionality doesn’t necessarily mean having ministers who speak the language, Rodriguez and other leaders said, since second- and third-generation Hispanic-Americans largely speak English, but recognizing Hispanic diversity in culture and devotions is critical.

“Even in Hispanic ministry, you don’t have to speak Spanish, but you do need to understand the culture and integrate it into your programs,” Rodriguez said. “Maybe you can speak a little Spanish, but have the program in English, but the key is you have to relevant to the Latino youths in your parish.”

After the formal sessions of the encuentro concluded, Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron celebrated Mass with participants in the chapel at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, where the weekend gathering took place.

After two days of prayer, discussion and celebration, Rodriguez said it was critical for the representatives in attendance — priests, religious and lay leaders from 11 dioceses in Michigan and Ohio — to go back to their home dioceses and share what they learned with those in the pews.

“The question now is how do we keep this enthusiasm going? Right now we have a spark,” Rodriguez said. “We need to go back to those families we first visited when the encuentro process started and say, ‘This is what you told me; this is what we talked about. How far have we come?’

“It is a back-and-forth conversation between the church and the people,” she continued. “That is accompaniment, and that is what we are called to do: to be intentional and specific about sharing the Gospel and motivating our youth and families to take a leading role in our church.”