A trip to Panama to participate in World Youth Day from January 24 to 27
Msgr. Fernando Ocáriz landed in Panama City on January 24th. Some faithful of Opus Dei and WYD volunteers accompanied him to the chapel, where a few days before, on the 21st, the Metropolitan Archbishop José Domingo Ulloa had inaugurated a plaque at the Tocumen International Airport commemorating the saints and blessed who arrived in the country through this airport.
The text reads: “In memory of the passage through this International Airport of Tocumen in Panama of Saint John Paul II, Pope; Saint Oscar Arnulfo Romero, Archbishop; Saint Josemaria Escrivá de Balaguer, Founder; Saint Mother Theresa of Calcuta, Founder; Blessed María Romero Meneses, religious sister; Blessed Alvaro del Portillo, Bishop, and other illustrious people who made their lives a service to humanity.”
“Now it will be remembered in our history that very distinguished people have passed through this airpor,” the Archbishop said at the ceremony.
The plaque continues: “Under His Emminence Monsignor José Domingo Ulloa Mendieta, Archbishop of Panama, this plaque is being unveiled to commemorate the visit of His Holiness Pope Francis from January 23 to 27, 2019, together with the first pilgrim image of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima, on the occasion of the World Youth Day.”
St. Josemaría passed through Panama in February 1975. He was traveling from Venezuela to Guatemala on a catechetical trip when the plane landed at Tocumen International Airport. The work of the Prelature in Panama had not yet begun. Blessed Alvaro del Portillo was also traveling with St. Josemaría.
Afterwards, Msgr. Ocáriz prayed before an image of the patronness of Panama, Our Lady La Antigua, and went to the Cerro Azul conference center. Upon arrival, he greeted the faithful of Opus Dei who were awaiting him at the Tagua Training Center, which organizes educational initiatives for the benefit of Panamanian women.
On the 25th, the Prelate went to the Entremares University Center, close to Our Lady La Antigua Field, where many of the the main World Youth Day events were to take place.
In Entremares he celebrated Holy Mass. In his homily he made reference to the day’s feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. He encouraged those present to ask the Apostle to the Gentiles for the conversion of each one of those taking part in the events with the Holy Father: “Not only for the conversion of those who don’t have faith but also so that each one of us takes another step closer to our Lord.”
We need to desire “a permanent conversion,” he said. “Like Saint Paul, we find ourselves constantly facing our Lord, who tells us, ‘What are you waiting for? Why do you delay?’ Let us ask our Lord to make us react.” He also asked for prayers for persecuted Christians and for those facing special difficulties.
Msgr. Ocáriz then went to the Vasco Núñez de Balboa Conventions Center, where he had his first catechetical get-together during World Youth Day. At the beginning, he spent a few minutes with a group of young people from Venezuela. The first get-together was attended by over 1,500 young women from countries as far away as the Philippines.
As soon as he began, the Prelate asked for prayers for Pope Francis. He also spoke about joy, saying “our goal in life is to love God more each day” and that happiness awaits each one of us right where we are. “It’s possible that we might suffer, it’s possible that we might cry. But that we be sad?—no,” the Prelate said. He also spoke about the vocation that God has in mind for each person. “You need courage to want it, not only to see it. When we say ‘yes’ to the Lord, it’s because of an interior grace. We shouldn’t be afraid because a vocation, any vocation, is a gift that he grants us.”
Therefore “on our part, we have to reply ‘yes, I want to.’ Then we need to seek advice, to pray and to go as frequently as possible to the Eucharist.” He also spoke about freedom: “Because to commit yourself to something, you have to do it freely. Making a commitment is a way of exercising our freedom,” he reminded them.
Finally, he mentioned the importance of friendship. “When there is true friendship, there is concern for the other person. If the person is truly a friend,” Monsignor Ocáriz said, responding to a young woman who asked a question, “she will be interested in your life, and you in hers. This is a starting point and, little by little, the friendship will become apostolate; and together, you will draw closer to our Lord.”
After receiving some families, the Prelate had another catechetical encounter in the afternoon. Over 900 young men, the majority from Central America, filled the auditorium.
In the get-together, Msgr. Ocáriz recalled how “Saint Josemaria reminded us that we can find our Lord in daily events in our lives. Holiness is within everyone’s reach: at work, doing sports, in our families… in everything.” And he added: “Sometimes we don’t understand the things that happen to us or what’s happening in the world. So it helps to have faith.”
One of the fellows there asked the Prelate for advice for young people who are considering a vocation of apostolic celibacy. “If a person sees that this is the path that God is showing him – because of the circumstances, signs, and advice from those who know him – then he should go for it,” he responded. “We don’t do God a favor with apostolic celibacy. It’s he who is giving us a gift. Remember what Jesus told the Samaritan woman: ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that gives it to you…’.”
A young Nicaraguan mentioned the difficulties his country is going through. “You shouldn’t lose hope,” the Prelate responded. “Pray, because by praying we are already doing a lot. The Cross is mysterious, we don’t understand it. It’s a question of faith.”
The Prelate ended with a call to optimism: “We mustn’t get discouraged. Saint Josemaria taught us to begin and begin again. Begin again in the first place by going to where our strength lies: in confession and the Eucharist; in good friendships; in seeking advice…”
Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Puerto Rico
Costa Rica, January 27-29
The Prelate arrived in San José on January 27. At the Miravalles University Center several families were waiting to welcome him.
In one of the get-togethers with members and friends of Opus Dei, he spoke about the need to never be afraid of God and to speak to him like a friend. “Sacred Scripture often tells us not to fear God, and to realize we are always accompanied by him. Saint Josemaria said that a person who fears does not yet know how to love. Let us not be afraid if he asks us for more than we want to give.”
On Monday January 28th, Msgr. Ocáriz held several catechetical meetings in which he stressed, among other things, the importance of joy: “God wants us to be happy, and that our joy may be full; this is achieved by his grace and help. To be happy, we need a heart in love with God and he will give us the strength to love everyone: our family, friends and peers.”
Answering the question of a mother about the role of the family, the Prelate said: “You yourself have realized that the greatest thing that we can do is to make Christ known, get to know him and bring him everywhere in response to everything that he has given us, especially in our own family.”
He also stressed the great value of fraternity in families and among friends: “To be a friend, a spouse or a mother requires a spiritual effort. To understand those who are at our side, we should first try to see the good and positive things in them, the best side of each one. We are all worth a lot and so there is no room for distinctions; the differences we see should lead us to love and appreciate each other more.”
Responding to a question about how to talk to young newlyweds about persevering in their marriage, he said that “when a marriage breaks up quickly, it’s because there is a lack of love. Love is not the initial excitement, which is passing; love is to want the good of another person. We should teach young people what love is.”
On the 29th, Msgr. Fernando Ocáriz took part in a discussion with university students and young professionals at the Miravalles University Center. He suggested that those present “give thanks to God for the Christian formation you receive, knowing that our formation never ends. The goal of this formation is to identify ourselves with Christ and we should receive it with an active attitude, so that we can come to have the same sentiments as Christ.”
The Prelate reminded them to keep praying for Pope Francis. “Pray also for those who are suffering hardships all over the world. This reality should lead us to treat others better and to live fraternity well, in our own family and with our friends.”
One of those present asked how to discover the beauty of the virtue of purity. “Sex is not something dark,” the Prelate replied. “But since it is such a great and noble reality, its corruption is even worse. If instead, we struggle to live this gift in an ordered way, we are filled with joy, and are able to be concerned about others. We all have to struggle, without getting discouraged. It will be like that right to the end of our life.”
When someone asked about how to live one’s vocation with love, he relpied: “We all have a vocation. Our Lord is concerned about everyone. God has a plan for everyone. It doesn’t depend on enthusiasm; we shouldn’t confuse sureness in our vocation with enthusiasm. It is the response to God’s call.”
Other questions raised included how to better protect the dignity of women in a society where they are not sufficiently respected and how to include care for creation in our path to holiness.
Msgr. Ocáriz also met with some women who attend the activities of formation offered by Opus Dei. The Prelate spoke to them about the importance of “facing all the situations in our life, joys and sorrows, in the same way that Jesus would have done.”
A young woman studying preschool education asked about the use of social media. “You can have a very positive presence there. At the same time, it requires a lot of self-control to not devote more time than is necessary to it.”
One of those present, who came from Guatemala, asked about how to trust God’s will when it is not easy to accept. “God has a plan for each one that can be difficult for us to understand, because our Lord permits setbacks and failures. Saint Josemaria, who suffered a lot, taught us that we may cry or have trouble understanding things, but that we should not give in to sadness. If we have faith, we believe in the great love that God has for us. God wants us to be saints, which doesn’t mean being perfect. He loves us with our defects, but always struggling to be better.”
Another young woman studying at the university said that she took part in WYD in Panama and that it impressed her to see so many young people from different parts of the world who love the Church. “This should help us,” Msgr. Ocáriz said, “to see in the others the love that God has for each one. We should try to see them with His eyes. Sometimes this can be a bit complicated, but it can be achieved by asking God for the charity we need to treat every person well.”
The Prelate also reminded them that when they are with people who don’t share our faith, we first have to love them and think that God wants to reach them through us, “not because we are better but because we have received more from God. We should pray for people who are far from him.”
Nicaragua, January 30th
The Prelate arrived in Nicaragua early in the morning, for two catechetical get-togethers in Managua, in La Rivera and Villa Fontana cultural centers.
In the get-together with women faithful and cooperators of Opus Dei, he stressed that “our faith and love for God should fill us with security, hope and joy, and that when suffering comes—small or big setbacks—we should unite ourselves to Christ’s Cross. Any situation, when offered to our Lord, is taken on by Jesus as his own and he gives it immense value.”
One of the women who helped begin the educational center in Diriamba told the Pprelate that they had been working there for 19 years now. The Prelate encouraged them to continue offering human and Christian formation to many women, “because everything that is done for God is effective. He takes into account our difficulties and the fruit often comes without our realizing it.” One of the young women studying in that center said that she was helped to discover God there, since she wasn’t practicing any religion at the time. On 26 May 2018, when Nicaragua was undergoing a serious political crisis, she was baptized, and her life was filled with a new hope.
When asked if a mother of a family can discover her vocation among her many daily chores, Msgr. Ocáriz replied: “Certainly it’s possible. God is the one who gives a vocation and for him nothing is impossible. As Saint Josemaria used to say, God is especially interested in people who have a lot to do and don’t have time, since they are dedicated people who give themselves to others.”
At the end, the Prelate assured them that he prays daily for their country, so that the people come closer to God and desire peace.
In the second get-together, Monsignor Fernando Ocáriz invited the people there “to never lose their joy and hope. Saint Josemaria used to say that to be happy what we need is not a comfortable life, but a heart in love. A heart in love is the source of hope.”
When considering the broad horizons for the work of evangelization needed in Nicaragua, he said that “it might seem that we are few for so much that needs to be done. But God’s strength is greater. May all the work that needs to be done and all the peace that needs to be sown lead you to pray more, to forgive more.”
In this regard, someone asked the Prelate how to forgive others when it is difficult to do so. “By having the same sentiments as Christ Jesus for other people. In times that were also difficult, Saint Josemaria prayed: ‘May I see with your eyes, my Christ.’ You can always find the strength you need to forgive in the Eucharist.”
Puerto Rico, January 31 - February 3
The Prelate of Opus Dei arrived in San Juan on January 31st. The first catechetical get-together was held at the Monteclaro Hospitality School, with young women who are studying and training there. Recalling the recent World Youth Day in Panama, he said that “a good resolution for any young person who had the opportunity to be there is to pray a lot for the Pope.”
On Friday, February 1, after celebrating Holy Mass at the Monteclaro School, Msgr. Ocáriz went to San Juan, where he greeted a group of families. Later, in the atrium of the Puertorreal School, he met with priests and seminarians from various dioceses.
One of those present asked how to overcome moments of tiredness and discouragement. “We mustn’t confuse joy with enthusiasm,” he said. “We need to strive to deepen our relationship with Christ.” He concluded by reminding them of the need to seek many vocations for the priesthood.
In the late afternoon, about a hundred young people met with the Prelate. One of the fellows asked how we can know what God wants from us: “what God wants from us is first of all that we do what we have to do; that is, that we fufill our duties.” He encouraged them to have a schedule so they could live order better: “if you have a plan of life, you’ll have more strength, serenity and joy.”
On Saturday, February 2, feast of the Presentation of the Lord, the Prelate celebrated Mass in the oratory of the Paloblanco conference center. He made reference to some words of Simeon in the Gospel reading: “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation.” We too need to have the desire to see God: “to see him in the Eucharist, to see him in daily circumstances, to see him in the people around us… Thus we will place Christ at the summit of human activities.”
At 11.30 am, in the conference center of Puerto Rico, he met with women of the Prelature and their friends. They told him that it was the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the apostolic work in Puerto Rico, and they asked him what he would like from them. “The important thing is what God wants from us, and what he wants is that we be faithful to our own vocation.”
At the end of the afternoon, in another catechetical meeting, Msgr. Ocáriz spoke about the opportunity to find God’s will also in moments of difficult, pain and illness: “faith is needed for what we don’t understand or see. And nevertheless, there too we find God’s love.”
One of those present, who along with others is is trying to bring forward two schools, the Sonsoles and Summit Academies, asked for advice on how to overcome all the challenges. Msgr. Ocáriz said that “the first means is to have faith.” Then, that we shouldn’t become discouraged if some people respond negatively when asked to help out in these initiatives. He said jokingly: “if they don’t want to help, they are the ones who lose out.”
Between get-togethers, Msgr. Ocáriz had the opportunity to greet several families who expressed their gratitude for the help they receive from the formation and spiritual activities offered by the Prelature’s centers.
On February 3, his last day in Puerto Rico, the Prelate celebrated Mass in Monteclaro. In his homily, he spoke about the serenity that comes from knowing that we are a child of God. Afterwards, he met with the benefactors and directive boards of various initiatives. He thanked them for all their efforts, and then some of them recounted anecdotes about the struggle to recover from Hurricane Maria on the island.
When imparting his blessing he said that “we are never separate from one another because Christ himself unites us.” As he left Paloblanco, he went past a group of teachers, students and families wearing straw hats and playing maracas.
On March 29, Msgr. Fernando Ocáriz began a pastoral trip to Saragossa, the city where St. Josemaría’s vocation to the priesthood was forged. After first going to pray before the image of our Lady in the Holy Chapel, he went to the Archbishop’s Palace to greet Archbishop Vicente Jiménez.
The Prelate was invited to kiss the image and given a warm welcome by the penitentiary, Fr. Pedro José Gracia, who addressed some affectionate words to him before the people present there.
Msgr. Ocáriz also wrote a dedicatory message in the Basilica’s guestbook: “With immense gratitude to Our Lady of the Pillar, I have prayed for the Holy Church, for the Pope and for everyone in Opus Dei, having recourse also to Saint Josemaría’s intercession. Remembering the years that Saint Josemaría lived in this city and how much he prayed here, I also pray to our Lady for everyone in Saragossa.”
On Saturday, March 30, the Prelate concelebrated the Eucharist in the church of the former seminary of San Carlos, where St. Josemaría was ordained a priest on March 28, 1925. Some five hundred people attended the Mass.
The hymn to Our Lady of the Pillar, sung by the choir of the Basilica, concluded the solemn ceremony. Among other concelebrants were Carlos Palomero, director of the Priestly House of San Carlos; the rector of the church, Don Carlos Tartaj; Ramón Herrando, regional vicar of Opus Dei; and Pablo Lacorte, vicar of Opus Dei in Saragossa.
In his homily, the Prelate gave the example of St. Josemaría’s life of persevering prayer, and encouraged those present to foster in their prayer acts of thanksgiving and petitions for forgiveness.
In the afternoon, the Prelate met with several groups of young people from Saragossa and the surrounding areas. He asked them to pray for Pope Francis, and specifically his trip to Morocco. And he also encouraged them to take advantage of the Christian formation they receive through Opus Dei to identify themselves with Christ, to be cheerful and consistent with their faith, even when it involves going against the current.
“Our Lord wants us to be happy. Our Lord is concerned about each of us personally. He has a plan, a hope for everyone. He wants us to be happy,” said Monsignor Ocáriz. The secret of that happiness, he said, is service. ““Serving is what makes people happy. Selfishness doesn’t lead to happiness. Saint Josemaría said that sadness is the end product of selfishness; in contrast, to serve, to give oneself to others, produces great joy.”
The Prelate encouraged the young people to live joyfully even when they make mistakes and have defects, “because God loves us as we are.” He also told them, “Jesus was counter-cultural. The apostles were counter-cultural, and so are all those who have wanted to be faithful to our Lord. Counter-cultural, not through our own strength but because our Lord is with us.”
The dean of the Peñalba residence asked the Prelate how to deepen in her faith. Msgr. Ocáriz reminded her that faith is a gift from God, and that “we all experience some darkness in our faith. The apostles feel their need for more faith and they ask our Lord for it. When you feel your faith is a bit weak, you can pray: Lord, increase my faith.”
Several interventions came from residents or former residents of the Miraflores residence. One of them, a Muslim from Morocco, said he was thankful for the formation given through Opus Dei to the volunteers in a social project called International Cooperation.
A sick person suffering from a serious disability expressed gratitude for the affection he receives at the Jumara Club, “my second family,” and asked what he could do in return. The Prelate told him: “pray very much, offer up your difficulties, which our Lord transforms into something of great value. He wants you very close to the Cross so you can be very effective. May God bless you.”
Msgr. Ocáriz continued meeting with various groups of people on Sunday the 31st. He spoke to them about the importance of always being joyful, and regaining one’s interior freedom to love and to do good. The Prelate also greeted the directive committees of two secondary schools: Montearagón and Sansueña. He also spent time with representatives from several agricultural training schools and associations of parents, chatting with a number of families.
The get-togethers were held at the Montearagón school, decorated for the occasion with an illustration of Our Lady of the Pillar and other motifs alluding to cities in Aragon and La Rioja.
In the get-togethers, the Prelate shared his joy about the previous day’s experience celebrating Mass in the place where Saint Josemaria was ordained a priest. He recalled how the founder of Opus Dei repeated the same simple prayer during those years: “Domina ut sit!” (“My Lady, may it be!”) and “Domine ut videam!” (“Lord, that I might see!”). Without knowing what God wanted from him, Saint Josemaria “put his future and doubts in God’s hands.”
On Sunday afternoon, Msgr. Ocáriz met with more faithful of the Prelature as well as priests of the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross. The Prelate once again asked for prayers for the Pope and, in response to a question from a diocesan priest from Saragossa, he said that “the Church is above all Jesus Christ, with all his salvific power.” He also asked everyone to pray for priestly vocations, “without being afraid to suggest to someone the possibility of a vocation,” and keeping in mind that “without the Eucharist there is no Church, and without priests there is no Eucharist.”
In the mid-afternoon he went to the Sansueña school, where he was received by the school board. The Prelate blessed the Early Childhood Education facilities, wrote a dedication and chatted with the heads of associations of parents..
The Prelate took advantage of the liturgical celebration of “Laetare Sunday” to talk once more about the need to live joyfully. "All our life has to be imbued with joy, also when a time of penance comes, when there is cause for suffering, and when things are difficult. An expression of Saint Josemaría comes to mind: we shouldn’t think that the only work we can do joyfully is what we find pleasing. We can and we should do everything with joy," he said.
Although Christians have to go against the current, the Prelate pointed out that "this is normal." He also recalled how Bishop Javier Echevarría often said: "How many good people there are in the world! There is also a lot of ignorance, but many good people are waiting for us."
Msgr. Ocáriz took advantage of one of the questions to explain why freedom is compatible with having a commitment to God. “When we face difficulties and setbacks, when we consider what our Lord is asking of us and the effort it involves—because humanly speaking we would prefer to do something else—in that moment we need to recover our freedom, not feeling ourselves to be obligated, but rather doing things for love.”
He also said that Pope Francis has great hopes that Opus Dei will reach “the ‘periphery’ of the immense middle classes of society, which is the majority of people.”
The Prelate of Opus Dei traveled to Naples, where he visited with members and friends of Opus Dei. People also came from Calabria and Puglia to see him.
As usual on his catechetical trips, Msgr. Fernando Ocáriz listened to people talking about their work and family life, and answered questions addressed to him.
For example, one person asked: “How can I help a friend of mine come closer to God?” The Prelate replied: “Normally to help people, what we have to do is pray more. Sometimes we may ask ourselves, what does this or that person need? What more can I do for them? And the answer is almost always the same: let us pray more.”
A young woman said she was finding it hard to make compatible her work outside the home with caring for her family. Monsignor Ocáriz said that “this is a problem everyone encounters who has a lot to do, but we have to accept that we can’t always do everything we would like to.”
“It can be helpful,” the Prelate continued, “to establish a hierarchy of priorities: the family, in general, is the most important, but work too is necessary. Therefore an order has to be set up: when our day is ordered, we find time to do more things. It’s like packing a suitcase: if you just throw things in carelessly, not much will fit. So, order with flexibility.”
One young fellow asked how we can bring our friends to the faith by using social media. The Prelate said that Saint Josemaria used to speak about the “letter-writing apostolate.” Although few people send written letters today, Whatsapp or emails can be very useful tools for keeping in contact with our friends: asking how they are doing, requesting prayers, greeting them on important anniversaries, etc. “When there is sincere affection among friends, friendship will always be deep and true.”
Romana, n. 68, January-June 2019, p. 71-81.