By Bertha Melendres
Special to The Message
It is an annual tradition in the Diocese of Evansville, since 2018, to summon all Latino Catholics for a day of recollection and spiritual growth in the Encounter of Faith. On Oct. 8, for the fifth time, the Encuentro de Fe was held, which brings together as a family all the Hispanics of the six communities where we have ministry and Masses in Spanish – the parishes of St. Francis of Assisi in Dale, Holy Rosary in Evansville, St. Mary in Huntingburg, St. Joseph in Jasper, Our Lady of Hope in Washington and St. Francis Xavier in Vincennes. The 34 people in the committee, our priests and deacons worked arduously to put this event together. And what an incredible day we witnessed.
With the theme of "Eucharist - Real Presence" and the focus on: Believe, Worship, Live and Share, more than 300 people came to Holy Rosary Parish, including 38 young people and 60 children who responded to the call of our Lord; to reflect on the wonderful gift of the Holy Eucharist, and the real presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the bread and wine. Our keynote speaker, Father Juan José Paniagua, who is originally from Peru but now lives in Costa Rica, invited us to recognize that the Eucharist is a gift – not a prize that God himself gives us; but that we have to know it to appreciate it, and also that we laity have a great responsibility to share of this beautiful gift with everyone around us – at work, school and in any other place we share with others.
For the first time, we had a track for the youth and children who, like the adults, listened to the same topics. Nashville Dominican Sister Mary Johanna Mellody was the keynote speaker for the youth. She shared with everyone the important call that the Bishops of the United States have made to all believers through the Eucharistic Revival: To believe in the real presence and to live what the sacrament of the altar commands us to do; to become missionaries and true disciples of Jesus. The young people had different activities and opportunities to share. The children were led by 12 Catechists who, with great generosity and affection, gave of their time to evangelize the children and also allowed the parents the time to grow in their faith. Between games and fun, the children learned about the parts of the Holy Mass and the different sacred objects that are used on the altar; but, above all, that Jesus is the one who is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.
It was such a privilege to have our Bishop, Joseph M. Siegel and five priests celebrating the Eucharist with us. This was the first time that the bishop attended our Encuentro de Fe. Everyone was very grateful and happy to have him for the Eucharistic celebration and to be able to share with him during the meal.
Almost everyone’s favorite moment was the procession and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. There were three stations on the way from the church to the school gym. At each station, the priests led us in a meditation on a biblical passage and said a short prayer, challenging us to Believe, Worship, Live and Share the Eucharist. Waving some ribbons, the children led the procession; the adults carried flowers; and the youth made a path for the Blessed Sacrament and the community to pass between them, and then surrounded the Blessed Sacrament with their candles. The adoration was guided by Father Juan José Paniagua, and everyone was totally present at this beautiful moment. The real presence of our Eucharistic God was so palpable that I am sure it touched and transformed the hearts of everyone present. Our Faith Encounter 2023 will be at St. Joseph Parish in Jasper. We are already looking forward to it!