Bishop George Gänswein Ordains 27 Priests of the Prelature
On May 22, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, prefect of the Papal Household and private secretary of Benedict XVI, ordained 27 priests of the Opus Dei prelature in the Basilica of Saint Eugene in Rome. The Prelate of Opus Dei, Monsignor Fernando Ocáriz, participated in the ceremony from the presbytery, and laid hands on the new priests after the consecrating bishop.
Due to the measures to contain the pandemic, the presence of only some relatives of the new priests and a small number of the faithful was permitted. The ordination was broadcast live on the website of Opus Dei.
In his homily, Archbishop Gänswein exhorted the new priests to “remain in Christ.” “Progress in faith, hope and love occurs only when we remain in Christ and are faithful to his word. Whoever receives priestly consecration has decided to remain in our Lord.” “No one makes himself a priest. A priest is bound by the mandate to lead men and women to Christ, to encourage them to live in Him and in his word.”
For Archbishop Gänswein, “the most beautiful expression to describe the role of a priest is ‘the man who blesses.’ He blesses from our Lord. And this requires putting his own life under the mystery of the Cross, with courage and humility.”
The priest “is not simply the representative of an institution who performs certain functions,” he added. He “does something that no man can carry out by himself; he does it in the name of Christ.” Hence “being a priest is not a function but a sacrament. God makes use of a poor man to be with all men and women and to work in their benefit.”
“It is sad when a priest or a bishop does not proclaim the Gospel forcefully and completely but offers his own opinions or ideas,” he said.
The consecrating bishop ended his homily by entrusting the 27 new priests to the Mother of our Lord. “Always stay close to the Mother of Jesus. Under Mary’s mantle you will be protected because you will find yourself in the shadow of Christ, in the light of his Resurrection. When you are close to the Mother of God, you are in the right place.”
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Monsignor Fernando Ocáriz thanked Archbishop Gänswein for his presence, “which immediately leads us to that of the Holy Father Francis, whom we wish to support with our prayers.” And he addressed the families of the new priests: “I want to thank all of you, to thank you for having assisted God in making the vocation to the priesthood germinate in your children.” And our gratitude, he added, goes out “in a special way to Saint Josemaria, whose sons these new priests are, so that he may guide you from Heaven in your mission to serve all souls.”
The new priests
The 27 new priests come from England, Germany, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Lithuania, Japan, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Nigeria, Mexico, Brazil, Peru and Canada. These are their names: Francisco Javier Alfaro, Mariano Almela, Pablo Álvarez, Juan Manuel Arbulú, Francisco Javier Barrera Bernal, Alexsandro Bona, Branislav Borovský, Gaspar Ignacio Brahm, Kevin de Souza, Borja Díaz de Bustamante, Juan Diego Esquivias, Rafael Gil-Nogués, André Guerreiro, Alejandro Gutiérrez de Cabiedes, Casimir Kouassi N’gouan, Fernando López-Rivera, Josemaría Mayora, José Ignacio Mir, Jaime Moya, Juan Prieto, Héctor Razo, Vytautas Jonas Saladis, Fadi Sarraf, Fumiaki Shinozaki, Marc Teixidor, Álvaro Tintoré and Obilor Bruno Ugwulali.
Among the new priests is Fadi Sarraf, who is 49 years old. Born in Damascus (Syria), he came to Canada at the age of 17 to study engineering at McGill University in Montreal. He learned about Opus Dei in 1989, when a classmate invited him to visit Riverview Study Center, a student residence near the university campus. Sarraf says that besides the readiness to serve, another characteristic of the priest is being open to everyone: “The priest is there to help everyone,” he insists. “This is the example that Jesus gives us in the Gospel. Therefore the message of the priest, the Christian message, is not only for a few but for all men and women. A priest needs to welcome everyone and strive to ensure that anyone he comes in contact with can discover God’s love and wants to respond to that love.”
Another of the new priests is Mariano Almela, who comes from Vallecas, in Madrid. Vallecas, Mariano recalls, is where Blessed Alvaro del Portillo received a blow on the head when he was going to give catechism classes to children there back in the 1930s: “Thank God things have changed and many people in Vallecas are praying for me today. I realize how much I need those prayers, because being a priest is making oneself available to everyone to walk together towards God, who is the One who gives us happiness.” During his years in Italy, he has combined his theology studies at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, with assisting young people in Naples to grow in their faith and in their human virtues.
Several Africans were also ordained, including Casimir Kouassi, from Ivory Coast, who studied accounting and economics and worked in a consulting company in his home country. Now he is concluding his studies in Sacred Sciences with a thesis on the Liturgy. He points to how young his continent is and says “I am excited to think that, as a priest, with the grace of God I will give hope and joy to many people in Africa and my own country.”
Another new priest from Africa is the Nigerian Obilor Ugwulali, whose name means “he calms the heart.” His grandfather died around the time he was born, so his parents told him that he had come into the world to calm their hearts. Originally from Afikpo, Obilor studied accounting at the Enugu campus of the University of Nigeria. He worked for several years before going to Pamplona (Spain) to study theology at the University of Navarra. He is currently completing his doctoral thesis on “The Contribution of Ratzinger/Benedict XVI to the Specific Norms of Christian Morality” at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. He wants to live by his name: calming the hearts of the people he will meet in his new ministry.
José I. Mir is from Palma de Mallorca (Spain). 57 years old, he is the senior in the group. After studying philosophy and theology at the University of Navarra, he worked for 20 years as director of two schools in Pamplona and San Sebastián. Ten years ago he moved to Romania to help begin the apostolic work of Opus Dei there. He also worked in several businesses and coordinated the construction of a student residence in Bucharest. “The priesthood,” he says, “is not a recognition of any achievement, but rather a unique opportunity to dedicate your entire life to serving God and others.”
The Mexican Josemaría Mayora asks for prayers “so that all priests know how to be mediators between God and mankind.” He was born in Mexico City, but since childhood lived in Guadalajara. Before moving to Rome to study theology at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, he studied Industrial Engineering at the Panamerican University. For 10 years he worked as a teacher and director at the Liceo Del Valle.
Vytautas Saladis, from Lithuania, is 30 years old and studied law at Vilnius University. He worked for several years in a law firm. Now he is finishing his degree in Canon Law in Rome. He is the first priest of Opus Dei from Lithuania, where the prelature began stable apostolic work in 1994.
Pablo Álvarez was born in Gran Canaria (Spain). He says that on May 23, the day after his priestly ordination, he will celebrate his birthday with the greatest possible gift: “Being able to celebrate Mass!” He is excited to be able to contribute to the happiness of many people through the sacraments, the preaching of the Word and spiritual accompaniment. He considers it a gift to have lived for some time in Lebanon: “My years in the Middle East, working with refugees from the Syrian war, opened my eyes to a wounded world that can only be healed when we put God at the center. Now I feel like someone who is about to jump out of a plane with a parachute. God has prepared for us a wonderful adventure filled with work for souls. We are relying on everyone’s prayer to be the holy priests that God wants us to be.”
Full text of the homily by Archbishop George Gänswein
Your Eminence, Most reverend and beloved Prelate Don Fernando, Excellencies, reverend brothers in the priestly and diaconal ministry, dear parents and relatives, dear sisters and brothers and, above all, dear ordinands:
Every era, including our own, has its own language. Each era has its linguistic sensitivity. And each era also has its favorite words. Today, at the top of the ranking of preferred words, is the word “progressive.” We see everywhere the expressions “the progressive person,” “the progressive politician,” “the progressive woman,” “the progressive Christian,” “the progressive parish priest,” “the progressive bishop...” To be progressive is fashionable and trendy.
What do the faithful expect from a young man who will soon need and be able to accompany them as a priest? A progressive assistant pastor? A progressive worker in the Lord’s vineyard? Who can afford not to be progressive? He would right away be sidelined and ignored!
But in the texts from today’s liturgy, which we have just listened to (and hopefully also understood), the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 10:35-43), the Letter of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians (2 Cor 5:14-20) and the Gospel of John (Jn 10:11-16), we hear absolutely different words that go in a different direction. I will only mention three: witnesses, ambassadors of Christ, Good Shepherd. They are three expressions that can be summed up with another term, with another word: to remain.
Today, the word “remain” is little valued, and not at all popular. It sounds like insisting on one’s own position, and implies immobility. It arouses the suspicion of weakness, fear, stubbornness and obstinacy. Quite a few people say: “I am sticking to my guns” or “I choose to remain old-fashioned,” and miss the boat. They fall behind and fail to keep pace with the times. While others regret not having remained. They set out or let themselves be dragged along reluctantly, and now they see things going badly. They begin to doubt their own courage. Alas, if only we had remained; if only we had remained in the land of Egypt sitting by the fleshpots! (cf. Ex 16:3), the Israelites said after their experience in the wilderness. If only it were now as it was then! This is a dangerous attitude. The tape of time cannot be rewound, it cannot be stopped. The one who remains in the same pace is not necessarily safe, and may even be weak.
But there is another way to remain: to go forward and yet remain. To remain – not seated or stopped, but faithful to a decision made. I remain faithful to my word. This is the opposite of stubbornness: it is firmness, fidelity. I stand by what I once promised, even when difficult, going against the tide. And as we all know, in some situations it is easy to be tempted to say: “That’s enough, I’m leaving, I’m throwing it all away.” Situations in which it is so important to say: I will stay.
But just remaining it is not enough. The question is: where do we want to remain? With whom do we want to remain? Abide in me, Christ says without any exceptions (cf. Jn 15:9). To depart from Him does not mean progress but decline, a fall, a free fall. Only if we remain in Christ and in his word can there be progress in faith, hope and love. Whoever receives priestly consecration, dear deacons, has decided to remain close to Him, close to our Lord. His life stands or falls with our Lord. A priest whose life is not based on abiding in Christ is broken.
In communion with Christ, a priest is secure. The sacrament of Holy Orders gives him that certainty. Your future and your priestly service, dear deacons, is not the product of your knowledge, of your abilities. Through this sacrament you are consecrated to Christ. Through your bond with Him you receive what you could not obtain on your own. In your ministry you will be able to transmit something that does not come from yourselves. That is why no one can make himself a priest. A priest is bound by the mandate to lead men and women to Christ and to encourage them to remain in Him and in his word.
The priesthood, I repeat, is sustained by remaining with our Lord, with faith in our Lord. Other professions are not linked to faith, and can exist without it. But not the priesthood. Therefore being a priest becomes possible by trusting in the explicit promise of God, through whom this faith is sustained, through the Holy Spirit, whom we will soon invoke on the candidates for ordination with the Veni Creator Spíritus. Priestly ordination is a sacramental seal with that Spirit, a sign of God’s initiative that precedes every human decision and transcends every human weakness. The seal bears the image of Christ imprinted with the fire of the Spirit and therefore no human hand can erase it; it is indelible. The sacrament of Holy Orders imprints on the soul an indelible character, an indelible spiritual mark, once and for all (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1582).
Dear deacons, one of the questions that will soon be asked of you is: “Are you willing to be ever more closely united to Christ, consecrating yourselves to God for the salvation of mankind? (cf. Ritual of Ordination, no. 124). This is the point, this is the question: fidelity is asked for, courage is asked for, firmness is asked for, faith is asked for. I hope that each of you will be able to say, will want to say: I keep my word, I remain faithful.
Dear sisters and brothers, the Church has always given the blessing with the sign of the Cross because, since Christ, the Cross has become the distinctive sign of love, the exclusive characteristic of being a Christian. Through the sign of the Cross, the Church tells us where the source of every blessing is, of every transformation and fruitfulness. And so we can say that the most beautiful expression to describe the task of the priest is that he must be “a man who blesses.” And he is able to be this, he can and must be, starting from our Lord. But this task entails placing one’s own life under the mystery of the Cross. And for that, courage and humility are needed. Courage and humility that stem not from confidence in one’s own abilities or talents, but from fidelity to one’s pledged word and from faith, since a priest has to give something that transcends everything human, that contains in itself the divine.
A priest, in fact, is not simply an official of an institution, as society requires for certain functions to be performed. No, he does something that no man can perform by himself. In the name of Jesus Christ, he pronounces the words of remission of our sins, and thus transforms, from God, our life. And over the offerings of bread and wine, he pronounces the words of transubstantiation, making present the Risen One, his Flesh, his Blood, thus opening men’s hearts to God and bringing them to Him. The priesthood is not simply a function, but a sacrament. God makes use of a man to work among men. It is the audacity of a God who, despite knowing our weaknesses, entrusts Himself to men and trusts men in order to act and be present among them. This divine audacity is the true richness contained in the Catholic priesthood.
For us, dear brothers and sisters, all this means that in a priest we shouldn’t see in the first place an exceptional personality, which may not even be the case. Certainly we must honor the good qualities that a priest has, but we need to be careful not to appreciate in the priest only the man. He is that, but he is much more. Better yet, we should recognize that the priest gives us something that transcends the possibilities of this world.
Dear ordinands, if you are aware of these things, you will focus your future service in the Lord’s vineyard on them. If you are convinced that you are able to direct the path of the lives of men and women because you proclaim the Word of God made flesh, Christ Jesus, then when you succeed you will not attribute it to yourselves. And you will experience a healthy “relativization,” a healthy “re-dimensioning.” Your person will recede into the background, facing your service, your task.
When priests and bishops themselves no longer have the courage to proclaim the Gospel forcefully and integrally, but dispense their own opinions and ideas, it is a disgrace. Haven’t we had enough of what has happened recently? And those who even seek to invent a new church, abuse – I repeat, abuse – their spiritual authority. You can, you must, announce to mankind the Good News with which you yourselves will be challenged as long as you live, because it is an ideal that you have not invented. I wish for you the courage to take up this challenge wholeheartedly. And I wish for you the humility needed to recognize that you are the bearers of the Good News, and that you are not the Good News. I wish for you the courage and, at the same time, the humility to say and do what must be said and done in the name of Christ Jesus, importune et opportune (2 Tim 4:2). If you live and act in this way, then you will be neither cowardly nor presumptuous, but rather grateful from the depths of your heart. In the depths of your soul you will be able to experience that in everything you do you are sustained and guided by the One who has called you to his service: Jesus Christ, the Risen Son of the living God.
Dear deacons, at this moment of your priestly ordination we entrust you all to Mary, the Mother of our Lord. The Church entrusts you to her, just as Christ entrusted all future disciples to his Mother Mary in the disciple He loved. Close beside the Mother of God you are in the right place. But don’t forget that He also entrusted his Mother to John. He entrusts the Church to us priests, and only with great humility and unconditional trust in his grace can we have the courage needed to carry out this service for men and women, and also to live it as a service of joy. Remain all your life close to our Mother: under her mantle you are safe because you are in the shadow of Christ, in the light of his Resurrection. Amen.
Romana, n. 72, January-June 2021, p. 79-85.