Fear of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, kept a number of participants away from last weekend’s regional Encuentro at the Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Attleboro, Mass.
“We’ve had people picked up as they go to New Hampshire,” Patricia Pora, R.S.M., said in an interview with America. Sister Pora is the director of Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of Portland, Maine.
“Those are the stories that are going around,” she said, adding that even immigrants with legal residency are “trying to stay out of sight of immigration.”
The regional Encuentro last weekend, which drew an estimated 600 participants, was one more step in the V Encuentro, or fifth Encuentro, process. Encuentro, which means “Encounter,” is an initiative from the U.S. bishops that seeks to better serve the growing Latin American community and will continue through 2020. The consultation begins at the parish level, then moves to diocesan gatherings, to regional gatherings and finally to a national gathering this September in Grapevine, Tex.
“We try to work with the youth, but the parents are cautious. They’re nervous because of the immigration thing,” Sister Pora said. “It’s been hard to get youth together. They start working jobs as soon as they can.”
Immigration, the family and young Catholics have been principle concerns among Hispanics in the Diocese of Manchester, N.H., according to Deacon Ramon Andrade, the diocese’s director of multicultural and Hispanic ministry.
“There has been fear for years, but with the new administration, it is more severe.”
“People are afraid to travel,” he said of both the diocesan-level and the regional Encuentro gathering, which brings together delegates from various dioceses. “There has been fear for years, but with the new administration, it is more severe.”
Deacon Andrade said parishioners have been arrested and detained for driving without a license. He noted one mother who could not attend the Attleboro gathering because of immigration enforcement. “How can she participate when her husband is in jail?”
These detentions intimidate other immigrants, said Deacon Andrade, who has seen a lot of changes in New Hampshire since he first moved from Puerto Rico 32 years ago.
“There are many more immigrants here from Mexico, from the Dominican Republic. We have Spanish-language radio and television—and bodegas,” he said, quickly adding that there are also many immigrants from Vietnam and Africa.
“Everyone is invited to be a part of the Encuentro process,” he said. “It is an event to serve the Hispanic community, but everyone is welcome to participate.”
While the Encuentro project is a four-year process, Deacon Andrade said it has already been a success. Silvio Cuellar, coordinator of Hispanic ministry for the Diocese of Providence, R.I., agreed.
“A lot of bishops are realizing they have to invest more in Hispanic ministry,” he said. In his diocese, Encuentro participants spoke of the need for youth involvement and programs for young families. They stressed hospitality and the need for leaders to be more in touch with the community.
Sometimes programs like Cursillo, Charismatic Renewal and the Legion of Mary can seem to be competing with each other, Mr. Cuellar said. “This process has helped many leaders realize we’re all on the same team,” he added. “We have begun directing our ministries in the same direction.”
Unlike in Portland and Manchester, immigration enforcement is more “low key” in the Diocese of Providence, Mr. Cuellar said. But beyond fear of immigration officials, there are other reasons why would-be Encuentro participants stay home.
In the Diocese of Portland, which spans 38,000-square miles, the rural setting is a challenge in itself.
“We have some parishes that are three hours away [from the Encuentro gathering]. That’s too much for young families that have children at home and can’t make the trip in one day,” Sister Pora said. “Yes, it’s ICE. But it’s also the isolation of most of our people. Almost all of our people are on the peripheries.”
Her group of delegates left for Attleboro at 5:30 a.m. and did not return until 10 p.m. that evening. Working families cannot afford the hotel. The recent snowfall is another complication. Not because it impedes travel, but because snow removal can be a lucrative job.
Farmworkers in her diocese are on swing shifts and work night hours. Those who work at dairy farms might work from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. and come back for a second shift at 2 p.m.
“We usually go to them,” Sister Pora said of Latino Catholics in her diocese. She said she has had some success reaching people through social media. “There’s hope. But again, it’s a big state. It is mission territory,” she said.