On the occasion of a gathering to reflect on the Apostolic Letter “Novo Millennio Ineunte”
Opus Dei’s prelate, Bishop Javier Echevarría, in response to the Pope’s apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (cf. no. 29, 5), convoked in Rome, from March 14 to 17, a gathering of the Prelature’s faithful to reflect on the document. The purpose was to second the papal challenge to the whole Church to spread the Gospel message as the new millennium begins.
Some four hundred faithful took part in the study sessions, priests and lay people, both men and women, representing more than 50 countries.
Four general sessions were held. The Prelature’s vicar general, Monsignor Fernando Ocáriz, spoke about Opus Dei’s mission within the Church. The main themes of the Pope’s letter were addressed by Ángel Rodríguez Luño, professor of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. Monsignor Ernst Burkhart delineated the laity’s role in bringing Christianity into the secular realm. Paul O’Callaghan, the pontifical university’s dean, dealt with some issues related to sanctifying work.
In the afternoons, participants broke into smaller groups to study practical ways to implement Novo Millennio in the various apostolic undertakings carried out by Opus Dei faithful throughout the world.
Opus Dei’s Prelate also met on various occasions with participants. He encouraged them to recommit themselves to the Pope’s apostolic intentions.
The gathering was capped by an audience with the Holy Father on March 17 in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall.
Following is the greeting Bishop Echevarría addressed to the Pope.
Most Holy Father,
The good things that the Lord has done during the Jubilee are such a great gift of grace that we feel the duty of treasuring this extraordinary experience, in order to give new impulse to the mission of evangelization. For this reason, responding to the invitation of the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte which Your Holiness has directed to the Church in all its variety, I wanted to convoke these days of reflection, in which representatives of the presbyterate and of the lay faithful of the Prelature of Opus Dei who are active in various professional and apostolic sectors have taken part.
We have meditated deeply on the Apostolic Letter, which is filled with enlightening ideas. In the name of all the faithful of the Prelature, I would like to thank you, Holy Father, for the help that once again you have offered us with Novo Millennio Ineunte, as well as granting us this audience where we can express to you personally our sentiments, and listen once more to your words.
During these days we have sought to specify pastoral approaches that we hope will respond to the concrete needs of today, as we begin this new millennium. The level of development in the countries in which the Prelature is present varies enormously, and as a consequence, the social and human problems are also very different, as are needs of the particular Churches at work in each of those places.
We are aware, therefore, of having sketched out only a general outline, which will have to be adapted later to the different local contexts, since the only ambition that inspires the apostolic activity of the Prelature is—in the words of Blessed Josemaria Escriva—to serve the Church as it wants to be served, offering each one of its parts a service analogous to that which, in a body, each member provides for the rest of its members. In this way, we will continue to work in close harmony with the local Churches and their respective Pastors.
The variety of local situations does not impede, however, the recognition of certain constant factors as objectives for pastoral work. These objectives are none other than the guidelines established by the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte: the search for holiness as the final aim of all evangelization, formation in prayer, sacramental preparation, charity, the unity of the Church, ecumenism, solidarity, etc.
These are ideals that surpass our human capacity. But the miraculous catch of fish will always be present in the life of the Church. There will always be the need to cast the nets in verbo autem tuo (Luke 5:5). There will always be the need to unite sanctity and apostolate, contemplation and action, work and prayer. Therefore, having formulated during these days the outline of future pastoral plans, we are committed, above all, to entrusting our own souls to divine grace, and to renewing our personal resolutions to seek holiness. Duc in altum!: these words of Christ, repeated by the Pope, enkindle in us aspirations of greater love for God.
In an age in which secularism tried to take God from the world, Blessed Josemaria Escriva recalled that all earthly activities are marked with the permanent imprint of the presence of the Incarnate Christ and can, therefore, be converted into means of holiness and of encounter with the Lord. In order to return Christ to the heart of earthly realities, it is necessary to have Him at the center of our soul. This is the substance of our pastoral program. And with this in mind, we reaffirm the close adherence of the Prelature to the Chair of Peter, and we ask you, Most Holy Father, for your Apostolic Blessing.
His Holiness John Paul II read the following address:
Dearest Brothers and Sisters,
1. Welcome! Heartfelt greetings to each one of you, priests and laity who have come together in Rome to spend some days reflecting on the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, and on the prospects for evangelization that I have outlined in it. In a special way I greet your Prelate, Bishop Javier Echevarría, who has organized this event with the aim of invigorating the service rendered by the Prelature to those particular Churches in which its faithful are present.
You are here representing the components by which the Prelature is organically structured, that is, priests and lay faithful, men and women, with its own Prelate as head. This hierarchical nature of Opus Dei, established in the Apostolic Constitution with which I erected the Prelature (cf. Apostolic Const. Ut Sit, Nov. 28, 1982), offers a starting point for pastoral considerations that are rich in practical applications. In the first place, I wish to emphasize that the membership of the lay faithful in their own particular Church, and in the Prelature through their incorporation in it, means that the specific mission of the Prelature converges with the evangelizing efforts of each particular Church, just as the Second Vatican Council foresaw when it first envisaged personal prelatures.
The way in which priests and lay people work together provides fertile ground that will enable pastoral activity to spring up and develop, taking as its inspiration the “new energy” (cf. Ap. Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, 15) unleashed by the Great Jubilee. In this context, we should bear in mind the importance of that “spirituality of communion” emphasized by the Apostolic Letter (cf. ibid., 42-43).
2. Lay people, in as much as they are Christians, are committed to carrying out a missionary apostolate. Their specific capacities in the various different human activities are, in the first place, an instrument entrusted to them by God, which will enable “the proclamation of Christ to reach people, mould communities, and have a deep and incisive influence in bringing Gospel values to bear in society and culture” (ibid., 29). They are, therefore, encouraged to find effective ways of placing their knowledge at the service of the “new frontiers” that currently present themselves as challenges to the salvific presence of the Church in the world.
It will be the direct witness of lay people in all these fields that will reveal how it is only in Christ that the highest human values attain their fullness. Thanks to their apostolic zeal, their fraternal friendship, and their charity and solidarity, they will be able to turn ordinary social relationships into opportunities to awaken among the people around them that thirst for truth which is the first condition for a salvific encounter with Christ.
Priests, on their part, perform an irreplaceable primary function: that of helping souls, one by one, by means of the sacraments, preaching, and spiritual guidance, to open up to the gift of grace. A spirituality of communion, therefore, will enable the role of each one of these constitutive ecclesial elements to be appreciated to the full.
I exhort you, dearly beloved, not to forget in your work the central point of the Jubilee experience: the encounter with Christ. The Jubilee has been a continuous, unforgettable contemplation of the face of Christ, the eternal Son, God and Man, crucified and risen. We have sought him in the pilgrimage towards the Door that opens up for man the way to heaven. We have experienced his sweetness in the most human and divine act of forgiving the sinner. We have discovered him as a brother to all men and women, and have been led to unity through the gift of saving love. The thirst for spirituality that has arisen in our society cannot be satisfied except by Christ.
“No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person, and the assurance which he gives us: I am with you!” (cf. Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, 29). To the world, to all our brothers and sisters, we Christians must open the road that leads to Christ. “I seek your face, O Lord” (Ps 27 , 8). This aspiration was often on the lips of Blessed Josemaria, a man who thirsted for God and was consequently a great apostle. He wrote: “In intentions, may Jesus be our aim; in affections, our Love; in conversation, our theme; in actions, our model” (The Way, 271).
It is time to set aside any fear and launch ourselves towards daring apostolic endeavours. Duc in altum! (Lk 5:4): Christ’s invitation encourages us to go out into the deep, to foster ambitious dreams of personal holiness and of apostolic fruitfulness. Apostolate is always the overflow of the interior life. Certainly it is also action, but it is sustained by charity. And the source of charity is always in the most intimate dimension of the person, where the voice of Christ is heard calling us to go out into the deep with him. May each one of you be able to welcome this invitation of Christ and respond with greater generosity every day.
I entrust to the intercession of Mary your commitment to prayer, to work, and to giving witness, and I give you my affectionate Blessing
Romana, n. 32, January-June 2001, p. 38-41.