Photo: Felix Carroll

'Fiesta' Fans Flames of Faith for Thousands

4,500 Pilgrims Flock to Eden Hill for 6th Encuentro Latino

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By Dan Valenti (Aug 21, 2010)
The weather forecast promised full August sun, which is to say 10 factors of hot, but the sixth annual Encuentro Latino dawned with a filter of gauze-like cloud cover and with it a cooling breeze. You could say it was God's first act of mercy on a day that saw 4,500 people gather at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy on Eden Hill, Stockbridge, Mass. There were many more to come.

The Marian Fathers' gathering is one of the largest Hispanic events on the Northeast summer calendar.

+ + + View our photo gallery of the day. + + +

The day, characterized by the exuberance of the Latino culture, features witness, music, food, confession, prayer, and Holy Mass. There's not a day like it on Eden Hill.

An Entreaty for Mercy
At Holy Mass, pilgrims heard an entreaty for mercy by the Most Rev. Felix Lazaro Martinez, SCH PSP (Order of Poor Clerks Regular of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools), Bishop of Ponce, Puerto Rico.

Bishop Martinez, who promotes Divine Mercy in his diocese, spoke of the need for mercy as presented by Jesus to St. Faustina Kowalska in Poland during the 1930s. Jesus gave us the Divine Mercy message, he said, as a message specifically made for our times, which are characterized by disharmony and discord. Through Divine Mercy, the bishop said, we can be forgiven and can live lives pleasing to God.

In comments given before Mass, Bishop Martinez said Puerto Rico is an ecclesiastical territory of the Catholic Church in the United States. His diocese, Ponce, covers the southern part of the island.

As a commonwealth of the United States, Puerto Rico has a close affinity with America. While this includes many fine national traits (the love of America's constitutional freedoms, for example), it also means the island has adopted many of the current cultural trends toward materialism, indulgence, and hedonism. Divine Mercy is a means back to God that can cut into this secularist hold.

Spiritual 'Fuel for the Tank
Bishop Martinez pastors his diocese from the mother church in Ponce, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Alberto Rosario, a Divine Mercy promoter from the northern part of the island, says that Bishop Martinez's ministry has been successful in establishing a foothold for Divine Mercy there.

"The island is in bad shape, spiritually, as people have largely turned away from God," Alberto says. "But slowly, through the work of those [like the bishop as well as his own ministry in the north of the island] we are seeing the power of this message to change people instantly."

Alberto spoke of his own transformation. He attended his first Encuentro Latino in 2007. He had only heard of Divine Mercy two weeks before. The trip to Stockbridge that year changed his life, spurred him to begin "a small ministry," and each year, he returns because, as he puts it, "this is how I fuel my tank for the coming year."

Alberto's role in Encuentro Latino has been an evolving one. He now takes an active part in the program, serving as emcee for the presentations prior to Mass. This includes personal witness (including his own) and entertainment with a spiritual twist.

Alberto's ministry includes a website (divinomisericordiapr.com) and a Facebook page. He spoke of the importance of introducing Divine Mercy to new people, especially young people. Each year, when he returns to Stockbridge for Encuentro Latino, he brings guests who are attending for the first time.

Father Dante in the Groove
Father Dante Aguero, MIC, who serves the Marians at their mission in Argentina, rocked the crowd with a half dozen songs on mercy and Mary, including a festive, infectious tribute to Our Lady of Guadalupe. The crowd loved Fr. Dante's enthusiasm, which spilled out in charismatic waves.

After, this writer congratulated Fr. Dante on his performance, he said, "Oh, thank you so much. Song has so much ability to convey feeling and emotion, and it's why I love so much to sing of God. How can one not be joyful"?

"We know how to have a Fiesta!" said a jubilant young woman named Carla after listening to Fr. Dante.

From a Handful to a Parking Lot Full
Oscar Delgado, a long-time Divine Mercy promoter from Chicago, Ill., has been helping with Encuentro Latino since the first one in 2005. He says it is heartening to see how the festival has grown over the years. At the beginning, he said, there were only a handful of busses. As he looked around at the so many pilgrims, he thanked the people for responding with such fervor and passion.

Encuentro Latino 2010 had 68 busses and almost 200 cars jammed into the Eden Hill parking lot, according to volunteer Arthur Dutil.

The fiesta began at 9:30 a.m., with musical and spiritual presentations. There were activities for the children, including the ever-popular clown act of Duo Preludio, as well as the breaking of the piƱatas, games, soccer, face painting, and gifts.

At 12:30 p.m., hundreds of pilgrims joined a Rosary procession around Eden Hill led by Fr. Anthony Gramlich, MIC, and Fr. Dante. Mass began around 2 p.m., following by the singing of the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy and the blessing of religious articles and statues. Confessions were heard in a large, outdoor tent from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, both in print and online. He is the author of Dan Valenti's Mercy Journal.

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