“My faith has been renewed. I got a glimpse of what our Church can be,” said Javier Bustamante, the former executive director of the Archdiocese of Washington’s Office of Cultural Diversity and Outreach. “I saw the faith of thousands of people who represent the voices of close to half a million Catholics across the nation. Our future is bright.”

Bustamante – who left his post Oct. 10 to become the director of the Center for Cultural Engagement at The Catholic University of America – was speaking about the September V Encuentro gathering in Texas. V Encuentro culminated a several-year nationwide effort to discern the needs of Hispanic and Latino Catholics, address how to best minister to them and how to better foster their engagement with the Church.

The first four Encuentros were held in 1972, 1977, 1985 and 2000.

“I was able to see the fruits of the many hours spent visiting parishes, animating communities to engage the process, pouring through reports, and managing the logistics of the various Encuentro activities. It was a culmination of years of work,” Bustamante said.

Twenty representatives from the Archdiocese of Washington attended the event. In this archdiocese, there was a three-step process leading up to the national meeting: parish level consultations, diocesan level discussions, and then a regional gathering where diocesan-level ideas were shared and discussed.

Bustamante said V Encuentro focused on three central themes for future work: the formation of lay leaders, the accompaniment of families and youth, and the active engagement in the public square in defense of migrants and other vulnerable populations.

He said more than 1,000 pages of notes were prepared during the gathering and that “the national team will use these notes and the diocesan and regional reports they have received in the past year to prepare a final document. The document will contain a picture of our present reality and propose recommendations that can be implemented at the local, regional, and national levels.”

The archdiocese’s more than 620,000 Catholics include 230,000 Hispanic Catholics, and almost 40 of its 139 parishes offer Masses in Spanish. The diocesan Encuentro consultative effort drew the participation of 30 parishes and gained the insights of 6,000 people in church communities, neighborhoods, places of work and other public spaces.

“Twenty men and women from various parishes, ministries, and nationalities accompanied each other in this joyful encounter with Our Lord,” Bustamante said. “Our delegates understood that they carried with them the voices of 6,000 people who participated in our local process. The experience brought them together as a family, and as a family they are energized to carry out the mission of the Church in their parishes and to support the archdiocese in any way possible.”

Among the delegates was Deacon Rafael Pagán, of St. Catherine Labouré Parish in Wheaton.

“I could feel the energy among all those attending, building,” he said. He added that he was inspired by the “talent and energy of the many young adults present at the National V Encuentro. They will make our Church stronger.”

“This gives me great hope that much fruit will be planted, nurtured and cultivated for the glory of God and the good of the Church,” he added.

He noted the large numbers of “leaders in all fields of ministry; lay, religious, deacons, priest and bishops” who attended the gathering.

“Their presence alone demonstrated that the Catholic Church in the United States had gathered to take a hard look at the future of our Church considering the large percentage of Hispanic Catholics in the United States, especially those 35 and under,” he said.

Both Deacon Pagán and Bustamante said the gathering has given them a positive outlook for the future of the Catholic Church in the United States.

“I am confident that many of the suggestions and efforts fleshed out in these sessions will bear fruit,” Deacon Pagán said said. “I am sure that the Archdiocese of Washington will have a big harvest because of the V Encuentro process, which truly is not over but beginning the next steps.”

“Our Church is young, hopeful …I walked away experiencing a Church that is alive. It’s not a Church that wants to be served, but a Church that is ready and willing to serve,” Bustamante said. “My hope is that our parish and archdiocesan leadership will have the vision and the will to reimagine how we do things in order to allow our Hispanic leaders to lead us in this creation of a culture of encounter.”

A 2013 Pew Research Center poll that found that 55 percent of Hispanics in the United States identified themselves as Catholic, down from 67 percent just three years earlier. 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. About 60 percent of all U.S. Catholics aged 18 or younger are Hispanic, according to research from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

 “The Encuentro is much more than serving the Hispanic presence, it is about empowering the Hispanic presence – a majority of Catholics in the United States – to put its talents and gifts to the service of the Church,” Bustamante said. “To use the wisdom, beauty and joy of the Hispanic culture to lead us to embrace all the members of our communities, but most importantly to go out and encounter our brothers and sisters who are hungry to experience the love of God.”