By Walter Mena
It has been 19 years since I left El Salvador, my homeland, in search of my vocation. During that journey I spent 7 years living in Colombia, where youth ministry played an important role in the life of the church. When I arrived in the United States my vocation to youth ministry was consolidated, thanks to the collaboration of many young people, companions, pastoral agents, families, priests, and organizations such as Instituto Fe y Vida and Boston College. They encouraged and strengthened my experience, formation, vision, and vocation. Today my life is completed by my children Joshua Francisco, who is 7 and Diana Catalina, who is 4.
According to bishops who gathered in Aparecida, “Youth and adolescents represent an enormous potential for the present and future of the church and our people, as missionary disciples of the Lord Jesus”. These words, together with those from Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles at the First Encuentro de Pastoral Juvenil Hispana in 2006, allow us to see that the only way to strengthen the Catholic community in the U.S. is to continue supporting the growth of Hispanic youth ministry.
“Youth, God is calling you to be the leaders and apostles of the new generation. Be it as priests, auto mechanics, teachers, parents; you are part of the new generation of apostles: the new generation of the Hispanic community, of the church and of our country,” Archbishop Gómez said.
The progress we have made at the national level since that First Encounter is great, but we still need to carry out local processes. Hispanic youth continue to grow in numbers, particularly among adolescents. The task is difficult and complex. We need to join all possible forces so that youth and adolescents today may have an encounter with Jesus and become the best examples for their peers.
Currently, from my various roles as Hispanic immigrant, father and member in my family, director of the department of formation programs for the Instituto Fe y Vida and vice president of the board of La Red, the organization that convened the Encuentro, I can experience how the church is responding to the call of Hispanic youth.
National organizations in charge of youth ministry are now open to establish and maintain a dialogue where respect for culture, and a focus on Catholic identity of young people are at the forefront, sharing resources and processes in order to experience an encounter with the living Jesus and grow in their discipleship within a community that is willing to welcome and walk with them: the Church.