A woman of steel, in following Christ

Stories are coming out of how Rosario "Charo" Basterra positively touched many Nigerian lives. Chiaka Anumudu recounts some of these. The story includes an amateur video by Chinenye O.

Opus Dei in Nigeria

In Nigeria, elderly people are celebrated when still alive. And at their death, even more. Charo Basterra had a strong constitution and had been going well even into her 80s. So, two years ago on her 90th birthday, all around the country a feeling of celebration was enkindled, and everyone tried to mark it especially for her. There was such an outpouring of gratitude and love and joy! She was very happy responded with a very short video, in which she told us how happy she was with our greetings for her birthday, and her wishes and prayers for us to be faithful to Christ, which in the end was the only truly important thing.

On the evening of Friday, 18th October 2019, Charo passed away in Lagos surrounded by those she loved. Born on the 25th October 1927 in Spain, Charo joined Opus Dei in 1956, and was the senior of the three Numeraries who came to start the apostolic activities of Opus Dei with women in Nigeria. She arrived on the 7th November 1972 at the behest of St Josemaría.

I will like to share here comments and impressions I have recently heard. Everyone has stories to tell about Charo.

Ifeoma describes her as “a woman of steel, undaunted by difficulties, full of faith, loving, dedicated and ambitious with the things of God”.

Aunty Charo surrounded by several Nigerian friends

Charo was involved in the beginnings of Opus Dei in Nigeria.She had come six months earlier with Olga Marlin from Nairobi, to do the necessary legwork for opening a Secretarial College in Lagos. Since then, she spent 47 years in Nigeria working tirelessly for the advancement of Nigerian women.

Charo was strong willed.Her conversations were straightforward, often direct and to the point.Thus, she could ruffle feathers, even though she was able to manage this aspect of her character well, such that she had many lasting and warm friendships throughout her life.She also had a somewhat sharp sense of humour, with an infectious laugh.She was slow to accept excuses, naysayers and obstacles as permanent, but with a realistic outlook, she was able year after year, to power so many "miracles" in this so difficult country.

Charo was the quintessential ‘leading by example’. She travelled to different parts of Nigeria and worked, not only in the establishment of university residences and schools of hospitality in Ibadan, Enugu and Lagos, but also in installing and setting up of Centres of Opus Dei, generously passing on her knowledge and skills in these areas to the students, carpenters and gardeners who worked with her. She also made trips from Lagos to help in the beginnings of the apostolic work of women of Opus Dei in Cameroon.

Ali remembers that “one of the things that struck me more in Charo was her simplicity and straightforwardness. She never wanted to attract attention to herself. In a course with her this Easter, I was edified by her punctuality and attendance to all the means of formation.”

Imelda, Bisi, Charo, Chantal and Joan in 2012

Many people were unanimous in their experience of having been edified by Charo’s example. Seeing the piety with which she did the Stations of the Cross, her careful genuflections, and at home, her efforts to clean her own house even at her advanced age; going down to the road to wait for a friend who had got lost looking trying to locate her residence, and so on.

After her funeral and reminiscing about her life, Ogene reflected, “I worked with Charo for several years and though at the beginning we had to understand each other, in the end, I found that she just approached things in a common-sensical way! And that appealed to me.”

I learnt a lot about sincerity and simplicity from her”, Ngozi recalls. “I’d always thought sincerity was easier for older people till she explained to me sometime in 1992 that it would always be hard! In recent courses we coincided I have been very edified by her saying what the problem was, resting when she needed it and then getting up without a fuss as soon as she felt better. When she was holding posts of government, I was always struck by her directness and clarity. She was frank. Yet I never felt hurt because she had a way of balancing the things as they are and understanding.”

There are many stories of Charo helping her friends be better.Bose said that “she never let my faults pass without letting me know (about them) and I appreciated it. And in all this she trusted and prayed for me because I would always ask her to”.

With Charo’s death, we reach a certain milestone in the history of the Prelature of Opus Dei in Nigeria. Really, we have always been at this stage: the stage of fidelity, of asking for the grace to be more and working tirelessly for the apostolic growth of the Church. The new thing is that now Charo works with us from heaven.

May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

by Chiaka Anumudu