TUCSON, Arizona — The vision among planners prior to the Fifth Encuentro last September was to identify and create a path to leadership in parishes, dioceses and on the national Catholic stage for bilingual, bicultural Hispanic leaders.

And after the event in Grapevine, Texas, those in Hispanic ministry in the Diocese of Tucson are asking if such a goal remains realistic.

At a recent follow-up session at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Casa Grande, the answer was both yes and no.

“This is the moment for the laity to step up, right now. We need to take ownership among ourselves,” said Rocio Gonzalez, director of Hispanic Ministry in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and chairwoman of Region 13 for the Encuentro, encompassing Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

She told the gathering that the energy of the Fifth Encuentro process will help further prepare Hispanic Catholics for future leadership roles.

“The process is working. It’s leading us as a church to a place where we have never gone,” agreed Msgr. Raul Trevizo, Tucson diocesan vicar for Hispanic Ministry.

He said that while diocesan and national positions in leadership may not immediately be opening for Hispanic candidates, the path to get there seems clearer than ever before after the Encuentro.

Many local Encuentro participants are involved in or have completed the Spanish language lay certification program offered in the Tucson Diocese.

Dominican Sister Gladys Echenique, diocesan Hispanic Ministry coordinator, oversees the certification process, aimed at individual spiritual growth and catechetical formation and on sharing this with others.

From 2013 to 2017, more than 500 people in the diocese have earned certificates and another 267 people are currently registered in these programs.

Echenique began offering another level of certification in 2018, which provides training on culture and faith, pastoral organization and canon law.

The diocese sponsors the Common Formation Program to prepare candidates for lay ecclesial ministry and men for ordination as permanent deacons. It also runs the Catholic Bible Institute of Southern Arizona, which provides Scripture study for personal enhancement or certification.

Even with this background, Gonzalez of Santa Fe said, Hispanic leaders “are still afraid of saying ‘yes'” to accepting ministry leadership. Diocesan leaders continue to remind the participants that their skills are valued and needed in their parishes, she added, saying, “we still have to invite them.”

But the Encuentro gatherins produced positive effects for Tucson’s Hispanic ministry leaders, Trevizo said.

He said it showed that the current formation model has been “very effective” and has created a vision of Hispanic leadership that has “given hope” to leaders who might not have thought they could serve in ministry leadership. It also laid a foundation for Hispanics to build upon to reach their goals of employment in diocesan and national ministry roles.

He also discussed the need to expand lay leadership formation.

“We are not there yet in terms of preparing the laity and other leaders for the church” to hire them on a diocesan or national level.

Gonzalez and Trevizo acknowledge that academic credentialing — master’s or doctoral degrees from accredited universities — is a major bar to reach in the hiring of Hispanics for diocesan and national positions. Many non-Hispanic leaders in those positions have earned advanced degrees while potential Hispanic successors have not.

Given the age and family situations that many of participants — just a few years removed from college — returning to school for a master’s or a doctorate degree may not be an option in the short term.

However, Gonzalez and Trevizo agreed that Hispanic leaders with a history in parish ministry and direct services have developed relational skills and practical experiences — “pastoral equivalency” — that offer an advantage for any potential employment.

Pastoral equivalencies are not easily quantified on an application but deserve special consideration, they said.

“The different cultural approach represents a life spirituality,” Trevizo said, explaining how cultural experience may reflect strong leadership and spiritual skills that should not be ignored.

The questions of moving Hispanic leaders into diocesan and national roles “is not a matter of time and distance,” Trevizo added. Rather, it will require an active, intentional expanding perspective by those charged with hiring ministry leaders. At the level of priests and bishops, “we are not of one mind of what we need to do.”

Because of that, Trevizo said, when it comes to having Hispanics in diocesan and national offices, “we have a long way to go.”

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Brown is managing editor of Catholic Outlook, newspaper of the Diocese of Tucson.