On Saturday, Oct. 21, the Archdiocese of Washington will host the diocesan phase of preparations for V Encuentro, a multi-year reflection on how to meet the needs and utilize the gifts of Hispanic and Latino Catholics.

“In a joyous atmosphere, we will learn about the pastoral priorities for the archdiocese and our parishes," Javier Bustamante, the executive director of the Archdiocese of Washington’s Office of Cultural Diversity and Outreach who is also chairman of the archdiocesan team for the V Encuentro. Participants will be challenged “to take the reins of our missionary discipleship,” he said.

V Encuentro is a nationwide effort to discern the needs of Hispanic and Latino Catholics, address how to best minister to them and how to foster better their engagement with the Church.

The diocesan Encuentro is the second phase of the four-part process. The first step was parish level consultations, the findings of which will be presented Oct. 21 at the diocesan level. Next May, there will be a regional Encuentro, which will be attended by 18 representatives of the Archdiocese of Washington, and where dioceses in this region will share their findings.

Finally, there will be fifth national Encuentro – called "V Encuentro" – which will be held next September in Grapevine, Texas. The first four Encuentros were held in 1972, 1977, 1985 and 2000.

In the Archdiocese of Washington, V Encuentro began last January with consultations with about 6,000 Hispanic and Latino Catholics in 28 parishes. In polling them, Bustamante said, “we asked about their sense of welcome" in the Church.

He admitted that the Church "has not always done a good job of connecting, reaching out, and embracing Hispanic Catholics. You'd be surprised at the number of people who do not feel welcomed in Church."

Many Hispanic Catholics, he said, "do not feel accommodated or integrated" into the Church and are therefore leaving the faith. He pointed to a Pew Research Center poll that found that 55 percent of Hispanics in the United States identified themselves as Catholic in 2013, down from 67 percent in 2010.

That poll also found that about 16 percent of Hispanics who left the Church joined an Evangelical church, another six percent joined other Protestant denominations and about 18 percent affiliated with no church or religion.

"They (Hispanic Catholics) are not finding a home in the Church, and they do not feel a sense of welcome," Bustamante said. “So they are leaving.”

There is an irony in the results. Even as the number of Hispanics and Latinos leaving the Church is increasing, they constitute the fastest growing population of Catholics in the United States. Right now, Bustamante said, about 40 percent of all Catholics in the United States are of Hispanic descent and about two-thirds of all U.S. Catholics under the age of 30 are of Hispanic or Latino descent.

The findings gleaned from the parish consultations in this archdiocese, Bustamante said, were discussed at a "diocesan experience" in August when about 300 local Catholics "met to come up with areas of priority and focus."

Those areas of "priority and focus," he said, include reaching out to families and young people, single parents, and the elderly; educating Hispanics on the civics of this country and advocating for the rights of immigrants; connecting with non-Spanish speaking Hispanics; and fostering a sense of missionary discipleship.

"We will not stay within the four walls of our churches," he said. "We will be a Church that goes out to evangelize."

Bustamante said the parish level Encuentro preparations have proven successful.

"We have a very good sense of the Hispanic community in the Archdiocese of Washington," he said. "We know what are their needs and what they can offer the Church. We also identified new leaders."

He added that parishes that did not participate in the first phase of Encuentro can still benefit from what was learned. "If folks want to use this as a tool, I will be more than happy to meet with them," he said. “Parishes can use this to get a picture of their parish.”

The findings, he said, "are a good assessment of the vitality of our parishes."

During the Oct. 21 gathering, the findings and recommendations will be formally presented to Cardinal Donald Wuerl. "We will break open these concerns and ask for his response," Bustamante said.

That meeting with the cardinal, Bustamante said, will be a joyous event that includes food, music and Mass celebrated by Washington Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville.

"We will look at reaching out to people who are hurting and figuring out how to embrace them and how to bring them into the Church," Bustamante said. "We can look at these reports and start answering those needs."

V Encuentro will be held Saturday Oct. 21, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the DuFour Center at The Catholic University of America. It is open to all Catholics in the Archdiocese of Washington. The $15 registration fee includes a presentation by Cardinal Donald Wuerl and other nationally known speakers, concerts, lunch and Mass. For more information, visit the archdiocese's V Encuentro website.