Tuesday, August 15, 2017
Rocio Granados - La Voz Catolica
MIAMI | In one way, François Mayaud is not your typical “Encuentrista.” He’s not Hispanic and he’s not from South Florida. But in another, perhaps more important way, he is the ideal Encuentrista.
“Encuentros is supposed to be a ‘You come, you grow, and you go,’’’ said Deacon Matthew Gomez. “Creating Catholic leaders for the world.”
“Encuentrista” is how members of Encuentros Juveniles refer to themselves. Mayaud, who hails from Angres, France, was going to be living here for six months and reached out to Encuentros Juveniles through Facebook Messenger.
“I wanted to surround myself with good Catholic young people as I came by myself to Miami and I did not want to be alone in my faith,” said Mayaud.
Encuentros Juveniles welcomed him to their Monday night formation meetings, and invited him to participate in their milestone 200th retreat, held July 21-23.
“The leaders were great, the charlas helped, the truth was taught, and the atmosphere of charity and brotherhood is one I won’t forget,” said Mayaud.
Before returning, he asked for a binder with all of the movement’s information and guidelines. He hopes to introduce the retreat in his home parish of Saint Honore’ d’Eylau, in Paris.
Born in South Florida, Encuentros Juveniles is dedicated to the evangelization of Hispanic young people between the ages of 16 and 23. It is so youth-centric that it is run by the young people themselves. They prepare the retreats, give the “charlas” or talks, and lead the formation meetings Monday nights.
“It is run by the young people and for the young people; not adults speaking to young people about the faith, but young people who are more or less the same age and share their faith and the experience of a youthful Church,” explained Father Jose Espino, pastor of San Lazaro Church in Hialeah.
Father Espino is an Encuentrista himself — retreat #10 in 1974 — who credits the movement with confirming his vocation to the priesthood. He made the retreat at age 18, at the suggestion of some friends and with a push from a young deacon then serving at his parish, St. Benedict in Hialeah. That young deacon, an Encuentrista himself, is now Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski.
Father Espino, who eventually served as archdiocesan director of youth ministry, said he continues to send young people to Encuentros.
Harking back to the movement’s beginnings in 1973, he said “the goal was the same as it is today: to save the faith of young people who are disconnected from the Church. And it was very effective.”
The priest noted that Miami now has three generations of Encuentristas. “When I directed youth ministry, the sons of my friends began taking part in Encuentros, and now their grandchildren.”
Encuentros is indeed a family tradition for Deacon Gomez, currently in his last year of formation and serving at Nativity Parish in Hollywood. He made Encuentro #152 in 2007. His parents, Fernando and Laura, are Encuentristas who still support the movement, as are his younger brothers Alex and Mark.
Deacon Gomez said Encuentros holds a special place in his heart because it not only reaffirmed his faith, but provided the impetus for his vocation. “My passion for youth and young adult ministry came from my time at Encuentros because I saw the good it did in me and I want to give that experience to somebody else.”
In fact, Encuentros has served as a font of vocations for the archdiocese. Many Encuentristas now serve as priests and religious in South Florida, including Archbishop Wenski, Father Espino, Claretian Sister Ondina Cortes (another former director of youth ministry) and Deacon Eduardo Blanco of St. Brendan High School.
Many others are key leaders in their parishes or remain involved with other movements. Fernando Gomez, for example, co-chairs the archdiocesan team that is preparing for the V Encuentro for Hispanic ministry in the U.S. He also serves as president of the Archconfraternity of Our Lady of Charity in Miami.
Encuentristas planned to celebrate their 200th milestone with a Mass Aug. 18 at St. Kevin Church in Miami, with Archbishop Wenski as the main celebrant, followed by a gala dinner/dance. Miami-Dade County also proclaimed July 21 as Encuentros Juveniles Day.
After a rough patch a few years ago, the movement is on the upswing again. Turnout for the 200th was one of the largest in years: at capacity for the men, near capacity for the women.
“It used to be a gamble with attendance,” said Rebecca Garcia, 22, current coordinator of the movement. “But now we have online registration. With social media we announce all of our events, and we promote on Facebook, Instagram, and even Snapchat, and it helps. For Encuentros 199, it reached a lot of people, and about 10 percent of participants had heard about it through social media.”
But not everything has gone digital. The movement still spreads the word in person, and from parish to parish.
Priya Nair, who in Encuentros lingo “passed” retreat #200, was encouraged to attend by the secretary of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Fort Lauderdale, who happens to be her grandmother.
“No one that I know had participated in Encuentros before,” said Nair. “So I was excited to be the first one out of my family to go.”
For millennials who rely on smartphones, texts and social media to communicate with their peers, Encuentros packs a powerful punch, said Marra Lashbrook Rodriguez, who made Encuentro #79 in 1992.
The movement cements “the real and raw friendship and the real and raw communication. Not the selfie, not the likes, but the touch, the hug and the community.”
She experienced it herself while battling stage 3 colorectal cancer several years ago. Prior to her surgery, she was encouraged to attend a particular Sunday Mass by her Encuentros chaperone mom, Marlene Alvarez. The Mass was celebrated by Alvarez’s son, Father Manny Alvarez, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Hialeah, and an Encuentrista himself.
“There must have been 200 Encuentristas that came to break bread with me and pray with me,” said Lashbrooke Rodriguez. “After 10 or 20 years, we are still connected.”
Rocío Granados of La Voz Católica y
Cristina Cabrera Jarro of the Florida Catholic collaborated on the reporting and writing of this story.
FAST FACTS ON ENCUENTROS JUVENILES
- Founded: March 1973
- Roots: an outgrowth of the Cursillo movement, founded in Miami by newly-arrived Cuban exiles
- First home: the old barracks at Opa-Locka Airport; moved in 1984 to two portables on the grounds of Immaculata-La Salle High School, and later the former convent of the Sisters of St. Joseph on the same site, now known as the Youth Center
- Annual retreats: 2, down from 6 in the early years; the next one will take place March 23-25, 2018
- Language: “Spanglish”. The retreats were totally in Spanish until 2006, when the first English-language retreat took place. Most of those who “pass” an Encuentro today are fluent in English but the adult advisors tell the leaders to continue preparing their materials in Spanish. “If even one retreatant doesn’t speak English, the retreat takes place in Spanish,” said Fernando Gomez.
- Logo: a crucifix with a broken arm, a reminder to the young people that they are “the right hand” of Christ
- Contact: Visit www.encuentrosjuveniles.comor find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/encjuveniles.