SALEM, Oregon — Scores of western Oregon Catholics came forward, dropping signed cards at the foot of a cross.

They promised to live as missionary disciples who will go to neighborhoods, streets and marketplaces to share their personal encounter with Jesus.

The ritual was a key moment in the Archdiocese of Portland’s Jan. 27 encuentro, a gathering of about 170 Hispanic parish delegates.

Diocesan-level encuentros and regional encuentros are taking place around the country through June as part of a process of reflection and action leading up to the U.S. Catholic Church’s Fifth National Encuentro, or “V Encuentro,” to be held Sept. 20-23 in Grapevine, Texas.

In addition to creating zeal for disciples, the nation’s bishops are using the encuentro to get to know the struggles of Hispanic Catholics.

During an encuentro Mass at St. Joseph Parish in Salem, Oregon’s capital city, Portland Archbishop Alexander K. Sample acknowledged the special problems immigrants face now, plus the normal trials of marriage, parenthood and employment.

“In the midst of all of this, the Lord challenges us not to be afraid,” Sample said.

Prior to the day, about 360 western Oregon Hispanic Catholics filled out an online survey explaining their needs and hopes. 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.

Deacon Felix Garcia, coordinator of Hispanic ministry for the archdiocese, held up a printout of the survey results. “Here are the dreams of the people,” he said.

Of the 455,000 Catholics in western Oregon, 60 percent are Hispanic. But many are not involved in parishes. The delegates are seen as the best people to reach their inactive peers and work on the needs of Hispanics.

“Everyone is called to be disciples of Jesus Christ who are also missionaries to others,” the archbishop said. “No one can escape this responsibility.”

A team of youths attended the encuentro and sat at a discussion table with the archbishop throughout the day. Church leaders are particularly keen to develop young Hispanic leaders.

The U.S. Church’s First National Encuentro was in 1972. For the upcoming “V Encuentro,”163 dioceses and archdioceses and more than 2,500 parishes across the country are involved. In all, about a quarter million U.S. Catholics have participated in the encuentro process.

As a result of the sessions, almost 300 parishes in the nation have initiated new Hispanic ministry efforts, said Pedro Rubalcava, a manager at Portland-based liturgical publisher Oregon Catholic Press who sits on the national steering committee for “V Encuentro.”

“Believe in the mission. We have to go out and proclaim the good news,” Rubalcava told the Oregon crowd.

Sample made a plea for unity.

“United in faith, hope and love, we will do this together,” he told delegates. “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.”

Catholics, no matter their culture, must come together as one body of Christ, not separate communities using the same church building, said the archbishop.

“We need to build bridges to one another and to come together and work together to accompany one another, to understand one another and have respect for one another and love for one another,” he said.

The crowd, some listening via simultaneous translation, spontaneously applauded in the middle of the talk.

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Langlois is managing editor of the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland.