Interview with the Prelate: "God expects lay people to engage in a constant dialogue of love"

An interview that the magazine "Ecclesia" conducted with Msgr. Fernando Ocáriz during the Prelate's recent trip to Portugal.

You’ve said that you feel “at home” in Portugal, that you are not just visiting. What is your view of the reality of Opus Dei in our country and its contribution to the Church and Portuguese society?

I feel “at home” because I have been to Portugal many times, including praying in Fátima, and because there are many Portuguese men and women in Opus Dei. Opus Dei has been in Portugal for over 75 years, and its members strive to be leaven in the Church and society. In what sense? Not by feeling or considering themselves as extraordinary, but by living the same life as everyone else, in affective and effective union with Jesus Christ, as children of God through baptism.

This is their ecclesial vocation. While it is essential to have lay people dedicated to activities and services in the Church’s pastoral work, for the vast majority of laypeople, this is neither possible nor desirable. God expects lay people to engage in a constant dialogue of love in their homes, marital life, child-rearing, economic concerns, workplaces, and commitment to civil or cultural causes, sports, personal interests, the world of art, etc. Their relationship with God is not purely internal, without external consequences: it leads to identification with Jesus Christ and, like Him, to self-giving to family members, friends, neighbors, and colleagues.

Two months ago, we hosted the international World Youth Day (WYD). Do you think it was an opportunity to showcase charisms like Opus Dei’s and to renew evangelizing efforts among the new generations?

I congratulate the Portuguese for organizing WYD so well. The Pope's satisfaction and the response from many people who shared their experiences during WYD demonstrate how well it was done.

We should certainly appreciate the new impetus that WYD brings to various paths of the Church, including Opus Dei. Beyond that, however, WYD was a time during which Jesus Christ has made Himself present in a special way, revealing His face, which is at once gentle and demanding.

It was moving to see Jesus Eucharist adored in silence by so many young people in Tajo Park. It was also impressive to see the patient lines of about ten thousand young people who wanted to receive the sacrament of penance in Reconciliation Park.

Is working with young people, especially university students, still a priority?

Before saying yes, allow me to recall that the priority is to reach everyone, without excluding anyone. Each person is precious and unique in the eyes of God. We must be in a hurry, a serene hurry, not to leave anyone without the opportunity to get to know Jesus Christ, with help from our prayer, our interaction, our sincere friendship.

Now, young people, in addition to being the present of the Church, are also, in a special way, its future. Throughout history, Jesus continues to pass by the shore, seeking young fishers of men, to walk with Him and to send them out into the world.

Most young people will feel the attraction of God in the vocation of marriage, but some will experience that God draws them into an exclusive relationship in celibacy, open to the service of all. We often associate celibacy with priestly and religious life, not without reason. However, it is worth remembering that, from the time of the apostles, God also calls people to celibacy in lay life, on the foundation of their baptismal consecration.

University students, in particular, have a special call to find ways to harmonize faith with culture and science so that faith can effectively inform social life.

Mons. Fernando Ocáriz reza ante la Virgen de Fátima.
Msgr. Fernando Ocáriz prays before Our Lady of Fátima.

The Prelature is going through a moment of change; we know that work has begun with the Dicastery for the Clergy to prepare the proposal to modify the Statutes for the Holy Father. How are you living this period?

We seek to follow the provisions of the Holy Father with sincere filial obedience and with the desire — as Pope Francis himself reminded us — that they serve to strengthen the essential aspects of Opus Dei contained in its charism. This is what I expressly requested in several messages addressed to the members of Opus Dei: to be very united, in this sincere obedience, following the example of St. Josemaría and his two immediate successors. It is the Holy Spirit who guides the Church. Therefore, these are also moments to live with peace and serenity.

Some members of the Prelature expressed their questions and concerns about this matter in the media and on social networks, not always — let’s put it this way — peacefully. Do you understand those outbursts, especially those that talk about an attack? Are you afraid that some people might instrumentalize Opus Dei to fuel opposition to the pontificate?

It is understandable that questions, doubts, and concerns arise, also due to certain interpretations that have been published with a worldly tenor, as if this were a matter of “gain or loss of power,” something that makes no sense in the Church.

In my first letter as Prelate, I wrote: “Part of our mission in the great family of God’s sons and daughters is to increase mutual appreciation among the faithful in the Church and all the very varied groups that can exist there.” And I quoted a phrase from the Founder: “The principal apostolate we Christians must carry out in the world, and the best witness we can give of our faith, is to help bring about a climate of genuine charity within the Church.”

In this regard, I have recalled on occasion the example I saw in then-Cardinal Ratzinger, whose love for the Church and the Pope, strong and founded in faith, went beyond mere emotion. In a delicate moment for the unity of the Church, which some were endangering at that time, I heard him say from the depths of his heart: “How do they not realize that without the Pope, they are nothing!”

Can the relationship of the laity with the Work change? Does this “specific vocational call” have to find its own theological-canonical status in the Church?

In the Church, life comes first, then the norm; that is, to use Pope Francis’s words, reality is superior to the idea.

God planted the seed of a message in St. Josemaría’s heart. What was that message? That of rediscovering the vocational value of the ordinary life of the faithful: God entrusts men with the divine task of building the world (the family, neighborhood, work, progress, art, entertainment…) as children of God in Jesus Christ.

Within the founding inspiration, this message had to be announced and lived with a specific spirit, with the help of an institution, Opus Dei. And from the beginning, with increasing development over time, this institution was a family within the People of God, composed of women and men, lay people and priests, with unity of vocation, formation, and spirit, with complementary and non-competitive action with dioceses and parishes, while its lay members remain fully faithful to their dioceses and parishes. Therefore, this reality predates the canonical framework and is the reason for the existence of Opus Dei.

Can this moment help to recover the original charism proposed by St. Josemaría Escrivá?

It is not a matter of recovering it, because it has not lost or distorted; it is a matter of deepening and continuing our effort to live it faithfully. In this sense, we trust in responding to the call of the Holy Father: to care for the charism of Opus Dei so that we can carry it into the future with the same freshness with which St. Josemaría transmitted it to us. That is, to commit ourselves more to “the task of spreading the call to holiness in the world, through the sanctification of work and family and social commitments” (Motu proprio Ad charisma tuendum).

My last question is about the Synod of Bishops. How do you expect the members of the Work to contribute to this process?

The first contribution is prayer for the Synod, and by prayer, I also mean the fulfillment of daily duties, carried out as perfectly as possible within our personal limitations. In addition to this, numerous members of Opus Dei have been involved in participating in various stages of the synodal process, especially at the diocesan and national levels. Moreover, we seek to align with the deep desire of the Pope for the Synod, that is, to show that the responsibility for moving the Church forward is not exclusive to bishops, priests, or religious but to each and every baptized person, “walking together.” The mission of evangelization and the search for personal holiness belong to everyone, each with their personal and limited possibilities.