Photo: Felix Carroll
'Alive with God'
Encuentro Latino 2006 brings faithful home to The Divine Mercy
By Dan Valenti (Aug 19, 2006)
The normal or "worldly" sense of the word "encounter" is a brief, sometimes hostile confrontation between people. Think the polar opposite, however, to understand the sense of peace, harmony, and love evident on Saturday, Aug. 19, at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy on Eden Hill (Stockbridge, Mass.), for Encuentro Latino 2006.
Encuentro Latino or "Spanish Encounter" - hosted for the second straight year by the Marians of the Immaculate Conception - offered a strong testimony of faith centered on and experienced through the exuberance and joy of the Latino culture.
It is a culture that knows about "encounter." It is a culture that relates to God openly, in a much different way from what Pope Benedict XVI has called "the West's coldness toward God." It is a culture - again to use the Holy Father's words - "in which the original religious element is very powerful."
That message echoed throughout the day on Eden Hill.
"What is Divine Mercy?" asked Archbishop Rosendo Huesca Pacheco, of Puebla, Mexico, in his homily. "It is an encounter with Christ. That is the essential part of Divine Mercy. It brings us into direct contact with Christ in a profound, life-changing way."
Archbishop Huesca, the main celebrant, also spoke of the importance of the saints in our lives, focusing on St. Faustina, the Polish nun who brought the message of The Divine Mercy to the world. "Saints are models of how to live. They are living instruments of God to move the world."
World moving. Such was the fervor on display during Encuentro Latino 2006: people alive with a deep thirst for God's presence, freely expressed in prayer, song, and fellowship.
"I welcome all of you," said Fr. David Lord, Rector of the National Shrine. "It is my great hope that you will take home today the mercy of God, which falls from heaven above and is constrained by nothing."
The daylong event, which drew about 1,900 people to Eden Hill on a beautiful late summer's day, featured praise and worship, a procession of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima led by the Knights of Columbus to the field altar, Holy Mass, the praying of The Chaplet, and special blessings. Of course, pilgrims also enjoyed plenty of good food, fun, and music.
Why do they come? The answers vary, and yet they are also the same. They come to experience God's mercy as a presence, an encounter, in their lives.
"This is the third time we have been to the shrine," said Julia Schlotzhauer, of Budd Lake, N.J., attending with her husband Robert. "We come back, and each time we gain a greater appreciation of God's presence. That's the simplest way I can explain it."
For others, the trip to the National Shrine provided an opportunity to give thanks and offer testimony.
"This is my first time here and I feel at home, like I'm praying with my family with all these good people," said Lucy Alfaro, of Warren, N.J. "This has been a dream of mine to come to the Shrine. My son was cured of a serious illness because of my devotion to Divine Mercy. I prayed the Chaplet. I prayed to Mary. So I have come here to say 'Thank you' to God for everything He has done for me."
In short, they come to experience a day immersed in God's love. As one pilgrim noted, "We are bathing in God's mercy. We come to pray. This is the best place. It is alive with God."
They may have arrived by bus or car, with a group or alone, but as Xiomara Pantoni of Waterbury, Conn., puts it, "God is the one who brought us here to experience His love."
Hispanics, who comprise about 13 percent of the U.S. population, are one of the fastest growing segments of the Catholic Church. About 75 percent of Hispanics are Catholic. They account for nearly 40 percent of the U.S. Catholic population. Demographers expect those percentages to increase.
The pilgrims enjoyed the day united in a visible sense of harmony, a cultural openness for the love of God. This sense of camaraderie impressed many.
"It's wonderful to be with a group of people with so much diversity who are so positive, so friendly, so hopeful. You see smiles everywhere," said Victoria Travaglione, of Everett, Mass. "In today's time, this is so great. â€¦ You can really feel God's presence."
Indeed, that sentiment sums up Encuentro Latino, a day to encounter God's mercy for the whole world. It is a strong, incredibly powerful message of "encuentro," - encounter, in the most positive and loving sense.
That holy encounter tells that God is love, and that love is manifested in the abundance of mercy He makes available to us all.