FORT WORTH, Texas – At a time in which the Catholic Church in the United States is facing its most challenging chapter since the clerical sexual abuse crisis first exploded in 2002, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark said that “not every defeat is a disaster.”
“Our failure might simply be the work of the Holy Spirit, teaching us that we must go in a different direction, that he wants us to go in a different direction,” said Tobin, who was tasked with delivering the keynote speech on day two of the V Encuentro, the country’s biggest summit of Hispanic Catholics.
The cardinal also said that sometimes God wants for those who follow him to “go through a different door,” and that the need for pastoral conversion sometimes stops the faithful from going through that door.
“No matter how difficult the circumstances might be, the Church cannot elude its mission, as she exists to proclaim the Gospel to every creature and to bring the light of Christ that shines brightly from the Church to everyone,” Tobin said, switching back and forth between English and Spanish during his address.
Tobin was addressing over 3,000 participants at the V Encuentro, taking place Sept. 20-23 in Fort Worth, Texas.
The cardinal also called for the Church in the U.S. to re-think and revise its structures and strategies, questioning if they are what the “mission” requires today, even if they were effective in the past.
Quoting the Second Vatican Council Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, Tobin said that the Church today is called to “read the sign of the times.”
“The joys and hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ,” he said, quoting the document, adding that the Holy Spirit is opening doors through the Second Vatican Council, but also through Pope Francis’s urging to look to the existential peripheries of society and the Church.
“We can be sure of this: we will not find our ‘where’- the place of mission- in the walls and structures of our parishes, movements and society,” he said.
Tobin also spoke about the role the laity play in this pastoral conversion, and did so by quoting a 2015 speech by Francis to the Italian bishops’ conference, in which the pontiff said “lay people who have an authentic Christian formation should not need a helmsman-Bishop, or a pilot-monsignor, or the input of clergy in order to take on their proper responsibilities at al levels, from the political to the social, from the economic to the legislative.”
The laity, Tobin said, should not crave the bishop’s blessing for their apostolic activity, nor complain about the hierarchy not “underscoring certain hot-button issues” on a weekly basis.
As during Thursday’s opening session, the event was both in English and Spanish with translation into sign language.
After the prayer, led by Bishop Michael Olson, host of the event as bishop of Fort Worth, and Tobin’s keynote speech, there was a panel that included Edith Ávila Olea, Carl Anderson and Hoffman Ospino.
Ospino, an Associate Professor of Theology and Religious Education and Director of Graduate Programs in Hispanic Ministry at Boston College, said that he’s “uneasy” whenever he hears that Latinos are “coming to maturity.”
“Frankly, we’ve been here for 500 years,” he said.
However, Ospino acknowledged that the Encuentros, the first of which took place in the early 1970s, do reflect a maturity of the Hispanic Church that “is here to stay.”
“I think that the doors have been open for a while, but the Church is fragmented nation-wide. It’s a Church struggling to welcome the Latino community,” he said.
Having participated in virtually all the 14 regional Encuentros, Ospino said the more than 3,000 participants in the V Encuentro represent only one percent of Hispanic Catholics in the United States, and the question becomes reaching the other 99 percent.
“I saw the leadership of women” during the local Encuentros, he said. “It’s they who are leading the way, but we still fail to recognize and affirm that leadership of women in the Church.”
Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, said that as an institution, the KofC want to be leaders in pushing open the doors of parishes and Catholic institutions for the Hispanic community to take ownership.
(The Knights of Columbus are a principal sponsor of Crux.)
Anderson became head of the KofC in 2000 and a year later declared Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of Mexico, as patroness of the Knights too.
“When Mary of Guadalupe appeared, much of the U.S. was part of new Spain; Texas, California, were part of Mexico,” Anderson said. “She didn’t appear only in Mexico, she appeared in the U.S. I think the future of America is a future of Guadalupanos and Guadalupanas, and I think that someday the bishops of the U.S. will declare Our Lady of Guadalupe patroness of the country, and the sooner that happens, the better.”
Anderson also said that he agrees with Pope Francis, who during his trip to the U.S. in 2015 told Hispanic Catholics that they had many gifts to share with the nation and that they shouldn’t be afraid of their traditions.
Co-author on a book about Our Lady of Guadalupe, Anderson said that her apparition is not an “historic event no longer relevant,” but that there is a Guadalupe miracle in America today, and that is the presence of “millions of Guadalupanos and Guadalupanas in this country who shape the image of our Church today.”
Also on the panel was Mexico-born Ávila, a young woman who serves as Parish Outreach and Board of Young Professionals Coordinator for Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Joliet. Towards the end of the panel, she spoke to the audience directly, encouraging those under 35 to stand up, proving that if they weren’t the majority, statistically they broke even with those over that age mark.
“We are the majority of this Church,” she said afterwards, interrupted by applause. “We have to take responsibility and ownership of our Church. I hope that one day our diocesan offices will reflect that, and I look forward to seeing our young Latino church represented in the diocesan offices.”