September 1, 2021 | Local News

Bishop William F. Medley with “Matachine” dancers from Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Henderson, following the June 26, 2021 promulgation of “Called to be Missionary Disciples: Diocesan Pastoral Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry 2021-2026” at a diocesan Mass at St. Stephen Cathedral in Owensboro. TINA KASEY | WKC

Moving forward together

New Hispanic/Latino pastoral plan inspires ‘missionary spirit,’ addresses ‘needs and challenges’


Many people who only speak Spanish “often feel without a voice” in English-dominant regions, says Dcn. Chris Gutiérrez, but thanks to a recently-released pastoral plan for Hispanic/Latino ministry in the Diocese of Owensboro, it doesn’t have to remain this way.

Bishop William F. Medley promulgated “Called to be Missionary Disciples: Diocesan Pastoral Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry 2021-2026” at a diocesan Mass on June 26, 2021 at St. Stephen Cathedral in Owensboro.

Dcn. Chris Gutiérrez, seen in this May 5, 2021 photo, is the Diocese of Owensboro’s director of the Office of Hispanic/Latino Ministry. ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD | WKC

Dcn. Gutiérrez told The Western Kentucky Catholic in an Aug. 3, 2021 interview that the pastoral plan was the result of a year of research, discussions and writing, but that the plan has a wider foundation in the national, four-year process of the V Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry that took place between 2017 and 2020.

“As the Hispanic Catholic population grows in this country, there was a need for renewal and to study the signs of the times,” said Dcn. Gutiérrez, who has served as the diocese’s director of Hispanic/Latino ministry since 2014.

The Diocese of Owensboro’s last pastoral plan for Hispanic/Latino ministry expired in 2011, but Dcn. Gutiérrez said there was no immediate follow-up since much of the plan continued to be usable for years afterward.

But then the V Encuentro “started to stir things up,” he said.

He explained that through the V Encuentro process, dioceses began to recognize the need for updated Hispanic/Latino ministry initiatives “from the grassroots up,” – not, as has been done in the past, from a “top-down” mentality.

V Encuentro served to “celebrate, study, and consult with the whole Hispanic Catholic population in the United States,” said Dcn. Gutiérrez, while the parish and diocesan level conversations served “to study our own and to discern in the Diocese of Owensboro based on our own reality.”

Since each region in the United States presents its own set of unique challenges for Hispanic/Latino ministry, Dcn. Gutiérrez said it was crucial to form a plan dedicated to the needs of western Kentuckians.

Every one of the diocese’s 14 parishes offering Hispanic/Latino ministry had at least one representative to collaborate on the pastoral plan.

Dcn. Gutiérrez said the representatives for the pastoral plan “could express their experience of Church in the Diocese of Owensboro. They could express what they feel are needs and challenges for the future – and we took note of that.”

“We had to discern and decide the focus for our diocese,” said Dcn. Gutiérrez, explaining that in some parish communities there is a need to “form Hispanic/Latino leaders in all sorts of areas,” while other communities must concentrate on “new arrivals of folks who need basic services.”

As a result, “the plan shows different strategic priorities” depending on what the parish communities deem most important, he said. “It empowered Spanish-speaking Catholic leaders to share what we should focus on.”

Dcn. Gutiérrez said the pastoral plan introduced four regions across western Kentucky to provide improved and streamlined resources to Hispanic/Latino ministry parishes.

The regions are Our Lady of Guadalupe Region (with Sts. Joseph and Paul Parish in Owensboro, Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Henderson, St. Michael Parish in Sebree, Christ the King Parish in Madisonville, and Holy Redeemer Parish in Beaver Dam), Our Lady of Fatima Region (with St. Thomas More Parish in Paducah, St. Joseph Parish in Mayfield and St. Leo Parish in Murray), Our Lady of Mount Carmel Region (with Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Hopkinsville, St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Todd County and Sacred Heart Parish in Russellville), and Our Lady of the Rosary Region (with St. Joseph Parish in Bowling Green, Holy Trinity Parish in Morgantown and St. Mary Parish in Franklin).

“That focus by region will help my office be more effective,” said Dcn. Gutiérrez. “And it will help the other diocesan offices (when working with Hispanic/Latino ministry) too.”

He also plans to create an advisory committee of representatives from each of the regions. These people will not necessarily be the person designated as the parish’s resident Hispanic minister, since many other parishioners have gifts they are willing to share, just not in an official parish-level capacity.

Dcn. Gutiérrez said a positive side effect of collaborating with Hispanic/Latino representatives on the pastoral plan was the opportunity to delve more deeply into Pope Francis’s call for missionary discipleship.

This included studying “Evangelii Gaudium,” Pope Francis’s 2013 apostolic exhortation on the joy of the Gospel.

“Our discussions included ‘What is he asking for? What is he calling for the universal Church?’” said Dcn. Gutiérrez. He said this was a useful tool to help in understanding the pontificate of Pope Francis, which has “injected an enthusiasm for a missionary spirit” among Hispanic and Latino Catholics.

Furthermore, Dcn. Gutiérrez said the contributors to the pastoral plan were careful that the tone “synchronized with the four evangelization priorities for our diocese, which are Encounter, Accompany, Community, and Send.”

“This allowed all of us to stay on the same page,” he said.

Dcn. Gutiérrez said he had been nervous when embarking on this project because they had to start their meetings on Zoom due to the pandemic.

“But people kept showing up,” he said. “For which I am grateful.”

He also expressed his gratitude to his wife, Patti Gutiérrez, the pastoral plan’s facilitator and writer, and Tina Kasey, the diocese’s director of communications, for their contributions to the project.

Dcn. Gutiérrez said he expects the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will begin an updated national pastoral plan – which is also incredibly outdated – sometime next year.

Their plan will draw from the Hispanic/Latino ministry pastoral plans made by individual dioceses and archdioceses, since every time a new one is completed it is sent to the USCCB “so they can study the realities in our different locations,” said Dcn. Gutiérrez.

This, he said, shows the mark of “synodality” which Pope Francis regularly emphasizes in his leadership.

“I have to give the Holy Father a lot of credit,” said Dcn. Gutiérrez of this trend of synodality. “It’s about erasing the heavy mark of clericalism in the Church.”

He said the “pyramid is inverted now,” in contrast to outdated top-down approaches, explaining that the pope “wants the laity to have participation, from the grassroots up.”

Dcn. Gutiérrez added that non-Hispanic leaders should continue to work toward greater sharing and collaboration with Hispanic leaders, “or else integration will always be an illusion.”

“We keep moving forward and keep trying and I think God will show us the way,” he said. “It keeps us moving forward, together, and not in isolation.”


Explore the pastoral plan

To learn more and read the Diocese of Owensboro’s Pastoral Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry in 2021-2026, visit these links:

Originally printed in the September 2021 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

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Publisher |  Bishop William F. Medley
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