From January 11 to 28, Opus Dei’s Prelate, Bishop Echevarría, made a pastoral trip through Central America, spending time with faithful of the Prelature and many others who take part in the means of formation that Opus Dei imparts. He urged forward the Work’s apostolates in the service of the Church and society in the countries that he visited.
He arrived in San José, Costa Rica’s capital, on the 11th. On the following day, after celebrating Holy Mass, he went to the city of Cartago, a few kilometers from San Jose, to pray at the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels, the country’s patroness. That same morning he spent time in some centers of the Prelature and in two middle schools where he spoke briefly with teachers, parents and students. In the evening he met with university students at the Miravalles Residence, encouraging them to set ambitious goals in their spiritual lives and apostolate, and to sanctify their work, which now for them is their studies.
In Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, Bishop Echevarría had a get-together at the Convention Center with more than a thousand people. He urged them to live solidarity with those who suffer and to foster during the Jubilee year their thanksgiving to God and desires for conversion. The Prelate referred a number of times to the catastrophe caused by Hurricane Mitch: “Have a sense of solidarity with those affected by it. It is very important for those who know ourselves to be children of God to practice fraternity, to be concerned about others.”
On the morning of the 14th, the Prelate met with Cardenal Obando y Bravo and later with Bishop Luigi Travaglino, the Papal Nuncio. During his stay in Nicaragua, the Prelate also met with groups of university students and professionals who have been taking part in the means of Christian formation imparted by the prelature.
On the morning of the 15th, he left for Panama, where Opus Dei has been established since 1996. The following day, Bishop Echevarría visited Archbishop José Dimas Cedeño in the morning. Later, in a downtown hotel, he met with some seven hundred people. The Prelate expressed gratitude for what he was learning during his stay in the country: “I am giving thanks to our Lord, because I have learned a lot since arriving in Panama. I was told, and have now seen for myself, that Panamanians are cheerful and hospitable, and possess a virtue that fills me with joy: the refusal to hold grudges.”
On Monday, the 17th, the Prelate returned to Costa Rica, where he met at noon with Archbishop Roman Arrieta of San José and Auxiliary Bishop Antonio Troyo. In the afternoon he visited the Pedregales Conference Center and the adjacent La Pradera School where he met with some 300 young people who take part in the apostolic work of the Prelature in San José. At midmorning the following day, more than five thousand people gathered on the soccer field of the Miravalles student residence to be with Bishop Echevarría. The Prelate of Opus Dei encouraged them to intensify their prayer during the Octave of Christian unity that the Church was celebrating during those days: “Costa Rica is a country with a universal heart. May you pray constantly for the whole world.”
At noon the Prelate visited the Apostolic Nuntiature at the invitation of Bishop Antonio Sozzo, Nuncio to Costa Rica. That same afternoon he also visited some Centers of the Prelature and had a get-together with about 250 students.
The mayor of Guatemala City received Bishop Echevarría at the airport on January 19, and presented him with the keys of the city. On the following morning he went to the Cathedral to gain the Jubilee indulgence and met with Guatemala’s primate, Archbishop Prospero Penados del Barrio.
On the morning of Friday the 21st, the governing body of the University of the Isthmus, founded by faithful of Opus Dei, bestowed upon him the title of Honorary President in a public ceremony in the college auditorium. That afternoon he met with about a hundred diocesan priests and seminarians from various dioceses of Guatemala. He emphasized the importance of forming themselves well and of struggling to grow in their life of piety. He also encouraged them to be faithful to God and to live obedience and docility towards their respective bishops.
On Saturday, more than 15 thousand people attended a get-together with the Prelate. One of those present asked him in cakchiquel, a native Guatemalan language, how to confront the ignorance and abandonment of the faith found in many persons. Bishop Echevarría recalled the importance of getting to know Christian doctrine well and of learning how to transmit it in a simple way, perhaps with the help of a brief catechism that summarizes the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
At midday, Bishop Echevarría was in Altavista, a center of formational activities in which Blessed Josemaria had stayed in 1975. The center is built on the slope of Mount Alux, some thirty minutes from the capital.
On Sunday morning, the 23rd, the last day of his stay in Guatemala, more than three thousand persons gathered in Kinal, an apostolic and social development project directed by faithful of the Prelature, for another get-together. Taking part were farmers, workers and craftsmen from the areas of San Juan Sacatepéquez, San Miguel Escobar, San Juan el Obispo, and other parts of the interior. The Prelate emphasized the importance of the family and correspondence to God’s love. In the afternoon, before leaving for El Salvador, he met with some seven hundred young men awaiting him on the campus of the University of the Isthmus. The Prelate spoke to them of the need for personal conversion.
On the 24th, in San Salvador, Bishop Echevarría met with various groups of the Prelature’s faithful. He spoke about Christian unity of life, generosity in one’s commitment to God and others, and study. In the afternoon he met with thousands of persons on the sports fields of Lamatepec student residence. On that occasion he dealt with the family and the need to educate children in the faith, and he encouraged all to ardently seek sanctity.
On the following day he met for a few minutes with the members of the board of directors of the APCE, a parents association that has founded several schools. In the afternoon, the Prelate visited the Archbishop at the Cathedral and prayed with him before the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero.
In Honduras, on Wednesday the 26th, he had lunch with Archbishop Oscar Andres Rodriquez of Tegucigalpa, who thanked him for the work of the Prelature in his diocese. In the afternoon he spoke to more than four thousand people on the sports fields of the Antares women’s university residence. He praised the Christian outlook of so many Hondurans who suffered the consequences of Hurricane Mitch. “Although they suffer, they know how to love. Although they suffer, they face their hardships with a real Christian spirit. Although they suffer, they do not lose their joy, since God is taking care of us in all circumstances.” Referring to the Jubilee, he emphasized the need for personal conversion, which brings with it the desire to improve. “Conversion,” Bishop Echevarría pointed out, “is not just the most radical type of conversion: going from sin to the state of grace. It also means going from doing good things to doing better ones.” He spoke of love for the sacrament of Confession and of the Church’s efforts to help all the faithful gain the Holy Year indulgences.
On the morning of the 27th the Prelate met with diocesan priests and seminarians and exhorted them to be very united to their bishops and to accept with joy all the pastoral tasks that the bishop wants to give them. In the evening Bishop Echevarría returned to Guatemala. On the following day, January 28, he left for Rome.
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Bishop Echevarría arrived in Paris on the evening of April 23, Easter Sunday.
The next morning, he went to the rue du Bac to pray in the chapel of the Miraculous Medal and to gain the Holy Year indulgence. Later, in the auditorium of the Garnelles student residence, he met with faithful of the Prelature, most of them parents, whom he encouraged to give witness to the Gospel. In the afternoon, in the reception rooms of a downtown hotel he had a get-together with married women.
On the following day he received the priests of the Prelature who live in France and also had a get-together with a group of married couples who promote various apostolic social initiatives.
During his stay in Paris, the Prelate visited the Apostolic Nuncio, Bishop Fortunato Baldelliand. On the 26th he left for Lebanon.
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Bishop Echevarría arrived in Beirut on the afternoon of April 26. During his four days in Lebanon, he visited a number of bishops and met with faithful of the Prelature and with persons who take part in Opus Dei’s apostolic work. The Prelate frequently recalled the prayer and sacrifices offered by Blessed Josemaria Escriva for peace in Lebanon and for the mission of Christians there.
On the 27th Bishop Echevarría made a trip to the Shrine of Notre Dame de Harissa, where he prayed for the Pope and the Church. He also visited the Carmelites of Harrisa, a community which, from the confines of their cloister, has been cooperating intensely with the Prelature’s apostolic work through their prayers. Afterwards he traveled to Jbeil (Biblos), where he was received by Maronite Bishop Bechara Rai. In the evening, on his return to Beirut, the Prelate visited Melkite Archbishop Joseph Kallas of Beirut and Jbeil.
During the following days he visited the residence of the Maronite Patriarch at the invitation of His Beatitude Cardinal Pierre Nasrallah Sfeir and also met with Maronite Archbishop Paul Youssef Matar of Beirut.
Various meetings were held with groups of faithful of the Prelature and with families. On the afternoon of the 29th the Prelate met with more than 250 people in a conference hall in the center of Beirut. Catholic families belonging to six different rites were present as well as a number of Orthodox.
On that occasion someone asked him a question related to the emigration of Lebanese Christians to other countries: “What can we tell our friends to encourage them to remain here and preserve the Christian tradition in this country?” The Prelate answered: “I perfectly understand the concern that you have, because Lebanon has to be built up by Lebanese and by people who love Lebanon as the Lebanese do. We have to realize that sometimes emigration is an economic necessity. And we also have to consider apostolic migration, because the faith has been spread thanks to Lebanese colonies in Australia, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, and Europe. They have acted marvelously, these countrymen of yours! At the same time you have to love this wonderful country with your whole soul, this country that has given you life. And this means that sometimes you have to know how to make sacrifices. Perhaps you could live more comfortably in other places. But if you leave Lebanon, who is going to build up Lebanon, who is going to take care of this country? It is necessary to be convinced that you yourselves are going to make this country great, with your sacrifice, with your work and with your joy. One has to know how to offer up certain limitations; if not, the country will not be built up as it should be: with the contribution of your children. And you who are here, don’t leave this country if it is merely for reasons of comfort. Strive to make this country greater. How? With your work that is well-done, with your joy, with your sincerity, spreading everywhere the joy of being children of God. And you will see how Lebanon will grow.”
On the 30th the Prelate returned to Rome.
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At the invitation of the bishop of Leiria-Fatima, the Prelate of Opus Dei traveled to Portugal to take part in the beatification ceremony for the little shepherds of Fatima, Jacinta and Francisco Marto.
Bishop Echevarría stayed in Portugal from May 11 to 14. Besides taking part in the events at Fatima, he also had the opportunity to visit the Oratorio do Beato Josemaría Escrivá, in Lisbon. Blessed Josemaria is the first pilgrim to Fatima who has been raised to the altars.
On the last day of his stay he met with various groups of faithful of the Prelature. In one of these informal gatherings, the Prelate of Opus Dei spoke of the Marian piety which is so deep and widespread among the Portuguese. He also answered questions about the spirit of conversion in the Holy Year, the sacrament of Penance, children’s love for their parents, and how to make professional work compatible with dedication to one’s family.
Another of these family reunions took place in the auditorium of one of the Schools of the University of Lisbon. After referring to the ceremony of beatification of the two little shepherds, he spoke of the apostolic responsibility of women in this moment in history. He emphasized the need for a spirit of personal apostolate in one’s words and conduct and also for an active presence in defending the dignity of women.