Interview granted to Avvenire, Milan (November 28, 2007)
Interview granted to
(by Francesco Ognibene)
Opus Dei is the first and, up till now, the only personal prelature in the Catholic Church. What has this step, taken in 1982, meant for the Work?
John Paul II, with the apostolic constitution Ut Sit, erected Opus Dei, founded by St. Josemaría Escrivá on October 2, 1928, as a personal prelature. This canonical form, foreseen by the Second Vatican Council, is adapted to the spirit and reality of Opus Dei and facilitates the carrying out of the Work’s mission in the Church and for the Church, in union with all the bishops of the various dioceses. It helps make the prayer of the Prelature’s faithful, both priests and laity, more fruitful and its evangelizing efforts more incisive. Thus it can offer the Church a solid contribution to the urgent task of evangelizing present-day society.
Why did the Founder, St. Josemaría, desire so strongly this type of juridical form?
Because in that way the canonical norm is aligned with the theological reality desired by our Lord. Opus Dei was founded by divine inspiration, as the apostolic constitution Ut Sit states, and thus has a foundational charism. It is now an ecclesiastical circumscription of a hierarchical nature—as John Paul II said—made up of priests and laity, with a Prelate at its head, who is appointed by the Pope with the task of directing it, in communion with all the bishops. Opus Dei shares in the marvelous mission of the whole Church. To use an expression of St. Augustine with Pauline echoes, it shares in the mission of reconciling the world with God. Love for God and the love for the world are inseparable in the teaching of St. Josemaría, for in the world we encounter the Creator’s presence and mercy. As the Founder said, the Church is Christ present among us.
What is the relationship between the Prelature’s faithful and the specific dioceses to which they belong?
The Prelature of Opus Dei, with its 46 circumscriptions, is working in more than 60 countries and serves the Church in approximately 350 dioceses. Opus Dei’s first service to the dioceses, to the Church, is that of being very faithful to its message, proclaiming the universal call to sanctity in ordinary life and especially in the exercise of professional work. This, in turn, with God’s grace, fosters the growth of Christian life and brings about conversions; it can help increase attendance at Sunday Mass in the parishes and commitment to charitable works, among many other things. In addition, most of the priests of the Prelature provide other direct services to the local Churches, for example, helping out in the parishes, working in hospitals and schools, etc. Moreover, the Prelature always initiates its activities in a diocese with the local bishop’s permission.
Could you describe the members of Opus Dei? What are they trying to achieve? How do they differ from other Catholics?
The faithful of the Work are ordinary Catholics who through a specific vocation commit themselves to bringing Christ’s light to their family, social and professional settings. Using a comparison that is perhaps a bit simplistic, one could say that the music is the same for all Catholics, but in the orchestra each one plays a different instrument. The essential thing is the breath of the Holy Spirit. Those who draw close to Opus Dei receive Christian formation and spiritual guidance adapted to their particular circumstances, to help them live their Christian commitments in their ordinary life, each with one’s own responsibility. We don’t consider ourselves better or different from others; nevertheless, we see an obligation to live a radical commitment to our faith at each moment.
In these past 25 years, how has the Prelature helped to form lay people able to confront the complex challenges we are facing today?
To answer this question, I would like to tell you about my recent trip to Kazakhstan. A few days ago, I spent some time with the faithful of Opus Dei who are living in a country where Catholics are a tiny minority. They are working filled with joy and hope in the place in society where they find themselves. And the first fruits are starting to appear. The number of men and women interested in the Catholic faith is increasing. They are dreaming of a future when the faith will set down strong roots in Central Asia. The same spirit is animating so many people, ordinary Christians, all over the world: the desire to bring Christ to those around them through the testimony of their own lives, in ordinary everyday things, through their example and their capacity to love and serve others. This is what St. Josemaría called an apostolate of sincere and disinterested friendship, as in the times of the early Christians. If one truly loves others, a reciprocal trust and mutual understanding will arise, that soon becomes true fraternity.