May 27, 2014

25th annual Encuentro Juvenil strengthens faith of area Latino youths



Story and photos by Terence Hegarty

GOSHEN – More than 100 Hispanic youths spent a weekend without television, without computers or cell phones at Camp Holy Cross here. But they didn’t mind.

Participants in the Diocese of Springfield’s 25th annual Encuentro Juvenil, which ran from May 23 through the 25th, said that the time away from their everyday lives allowed them listen more closely to Christ.

For Isabel Negroni, a parishioner of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Holyoke, this was her fourth year attending the weekend retreat, which is open to youth during their high school years.

“My biggest benefit was all the messages that Jesus has given to us, and to me especially,” she told iobserve, “because, there’s been some hard times and you can’t go anywhere without Him.”

“There’s a lot of people that have hard stories, as do I, but Jesus has helped us overcome them.”

Angel Delgado, an adult advisor for the retreat weekend, told iobserve that the 25th anniversary milestone is an important one. He should know; he’s been involved in the youth event for 24 of those years. he was a participant for one year and has helped to organize and implement the weekends since then.

Delgado, a parishioner at St. Mary Parish in Westfield, said that his involvement is very important. “To me it’s personal because it’s bringing younger Latinos to that relationship, that closeness with Christ and getting them to feel and know that Christ is there all the time.”

He said that beginning in 1989, people in the Diocese of Springfield recognized that there was a need to get the Hispanic youth more involved in the church. Therefore, the first Encuentro Juvenil was held.

Today, he said that some of the youth arrive for the weekend a bit hesitant to get involved because they were coaxed by their friends or parents to attend. They are joined by others who are thrilled to be there. “So, for three days, we bring them all together,” Delgado said, “and, they’ve had a religious experience, they’ve had a prayer experience, music, Mass…and on Sundays, sometimes, they don’t want to go home.”

“They’ve created a new family here that hopefully continues on as your encuentro family that you can find and bring that message back into the parishes.”

The three-day encuentro began Friday evening and continued through early Sunday evening activities such as the Sacrament of Reconciliation, individual testimonies, group and individual prayer time, free time to enjoy the natural beauty of the campgrounds, field games such as three-legged races and a closing Mass.

A little more than 100 participants attended. While there have been more attendees in some previous years, Negroni said that the number of participants is just one indication of a successful weekend.

“It doesn’t really matter as long as we’re together,” she said. “There’s literally no fighting, there’s no cursing, we don’t feel like we have to be in little cliques all the time…no one’s scared.”

“Everyone is relaxed and they’re happy to be here,” Negroni said.

Heri Lopez, of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Holyoke, a high school senior, was also attending his last encuentro as a participant.

“It’s been an overall great experience,” Lopez said. “I always look forward to coming and meeting new people, getting to know the staff more, getting closer to God.”

Lopez told iobserve that the theme for the weekend, “Be Not Afraid,” helped him in his relationship with God. “I learned not to be afraid when it comes to everyday life. Don’t be afraid to do what you set your mind to.”

The first few encuentros were held at the former Passionist retreat center in West Springfield. But, after seven years, the venue was changed to Camp Holy Cross.

One of the biggest benefits of the weekend is its setting. Far from the city and without the distraction of their electronic devices, participants can more easily focus on God, Delgado said.

The encuentro is open to young adults who are of high school age. But many who have aged out of the participation role, like Delgado, come back to volunteer as staff members, helping to coordinate the myriad activities.

The weekend closed with a 3 p.m. Mass at which the participants were joined by their parents. The Mass was celebrated by Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell.

Delgado said he hopes that the Encuentro Juvenil continues for a many years to come. “What we hope for is another 25 years,” he said, “whether I’m there or not.”

“What we hope for is that the young adults that we have working with us on the committee, is that they take ownership and that they take it another 25 years,” he said.

For a video version of this story, tune in to an upcoming edition of “Real to Reel,” the Diocese of Springfield’s television newsmagazine that airs Saturday evenings at 7 on WWLP-22NEWS.