Hispanic Catholic leaders gather for ‘Roots and Wings’ Congress in nation’s capital

By Ed Hopfner

Director, Office of Marriage and Family Life, Archdiocese of San Francisco         

The state of California had by far the largest delegation as leaders of Hispanic ministry met in the nation’s capital to illuminate the needs of the community and discern a path forward at the Raices y Alas (Roots and Wings) Congress April 26-30. Nearly 400 people attended the gathering, far outpacing expectations of the organizers, who at the end had to turn people away.

“The present and future of the Catholicism in the United States is intimately linked to the Latino experience,” said one of the keynote speakers, Dr. Hosffman Ospino, assistant professor of Hispanic Ministry and Religious Education at Boston College. Ospino was just one of the speakers who noted the significance of Hispanic Catholics in the U.S. Church.

Held in Arlington, Va., across the George Washington Bridge from the nation’s capital, the congress included Papal Nuncio Archbishop Christoph Pierre and other representatives of the Vatican, bishops from North and South Americas, leaders of ecclesial movements and representatives from multiple offices of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The state of California had nearly 50 members at the conference; the Archdiocese of San Francisco was represented by Ed Hopfner, vice-president of the newly formed Federacion para la Pastoral Familiar Hispano (Federation for Hispanic Family ministry).

The leaders convened for four days of prayer, discernment and advocacy, to discuss the current state of ministry in the Hispanic population, illuminate the needs of the community, and discern a path forward. 

The bilingual Congress — Raices y Alas, Prophetic Voices: Ser puentes para una nueva epoca(to be bridges for a new era) –was convened by the National Catholic Council for Hispanic Ministry following the Encuentro process, and is by far the largest such event in the country. 

“The Church has a lot of needs, and a lot of work to do, and we truly need to do it together.”

Elizabeth Roman, National Catholic Council for Hispanic Ministry

Initially the congress was planned for 250 people, but because of the great interest ended up with 400 “and I had to turn people away at the end,” said NCCHM President Elisabeth Roman.  Many suggested to her that the conference be held virtually, or have a virtual component, but she said that the organizers felt it was essential to meet in person to build community.

“The Church has a lot of needs, and a lot of work to do, and we truly need to do it together,” Roman said.

The Encuentro is a cross-section of those working in or affected by Hispanic ministry, from the parish to the national level, who gather to have their voices heard by the U.S. Bishops.  The most recent Encuentro from 2014-2019 was the 5th such event held in the United States, hence the V Encuentro.  The Congress was originally to be held in 2020, but due to COVID was postponed until this year.

The opening keynote, offered by Mar Munoz Visoso, executive director of the USCCB Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church, set the tone.  She pointed out that “bridges are built to connect two sides… bridge building is about making the decision to reach out to someone you don’t already know well.”

“Bridges aren’t made by starting in the middle” but starting with a strong foundation on one’s own part, you “work with the other group to identify a common goal that you can work towards together,” Munoz Visoso said. This goal “acts as the keystone that completes the bridge” and “is neither yours nor theirs, it’s the thing both rest on.”

The Congress was held in the greater Washington, DC, area to facilitate a day of advocacy for participants. Congress attendees from nearly 40 states visited their legislators and advocated for comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship for undocumented inhabitants of the U.S.  They also participated in a prayer service and press conference in front of the Capitol, which included Congressional representatives from both parties. The day concluded with Mass in Spanish in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, presided by Apostolic Nuncio Pierre.

LA Archbishop Gomez and Apostolic Nuncio Pierre

The core of the Congress, April 28-29, was directed to the four priorities that emerged from the V Encuentro:  1) social justice; 2) marriage and family; 3) Hispanic youth ministry and; 4) pastoral formation.  Two full days were given to these ministerial priorities, a half-day for each.  Each featured presentations, followed by small group discussions of all participants, and a report back to the full group.

Key points raised during the two days were: both the wide variety and commonality of immigrant experiences; the centrality of the family for all aspects of ministry; a better understanding of the meaning of “dialogue” (to truly listen, not just “to hear”);  the need for parishes to really encounter those in their parishes, to see them as individuals not “the youth” or “Hispanics” or part of some group; the importance of formation, especially for leaders; the real meaning of synodality (“to give time and space to truly listen to the voice of the  Holy Spirit,” according to Apostolic Nuncio Pierre); and the need for new structures in the Church to truly take advantage of the gifts of the Hispanic community, now a majority of the Catholic population in the United States.

The first Mass celebrated in the United States was in Spanish 450 years ago in Florida. In his closing remarks at the gala dinner, USCCB President and Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez noted that the first Mass in Los Angeles 250 years ago was also in Spanish.  In his final remarks as he concluded the celebration of holy Mass, Archbishop Gomez prayed that the conference would have been a blessing for all participants, and also for the entire Church of the United States.