The Malta Independent 13 November 2019, Wednesday

Monsignor Fernando Ocáriz

Michael Asciak Sunday, 7 April 2019, 09:46 Last update: about 8 months ago

When Dan Brown wrote his work of fantasy The Da Vinci Code which was, of course, a work of pure fiction, he provided much ammunition for conspiracy theorists who are never lacking in their ardour and number. Knowing full well the nature of conspiracies, Brown decided to pick on a Catholic organisation set up in 1928 and well known in Spain and Spanish-speaking South America but lesser known in the English-speaking world.

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This was Opus Dei – which translates to: ‘Work of God’ – which was established by the now Saint Josemaria Escriva. Opus Dei is a Catholic organisation for lay people – either single or married, men or women – and in the organisation of the Church has the status of a diocese without borders.

The main aim of Opus Dei is to help people do their work well in the world through their ordinary work, whatever this should be. This should then become a means of sanctification in meeting God in the workplace, so to say. The job you do, whatever it is, and the people you meet in ordinary life are, in fact, your means of salvation. Your workbench is your cross and means of redemption. Irrespective of colour, sex, political opinion, work grade or job, this calling or vocation is universal.

During his literary work of fiction, Dan Brown invented a fictitious bloodthirsty albino monk to spice up the story but, in reality, Opus Dei has no monks enrolled and less than two per cent of numerary priests who must have been lay members first. He also concocted a bishop as the head, with a sinister plan to kill and eliminate opponents. But that is pure fiction. So today I thought I would introduce the real McCoy, the real head of the prelature, the Prelate of Opus Dei, Monsignor Fernando Ocariz.

Monsignor Fernando Ocáriz  was born in Paris on 27 October 1944 into a Spanish family exiled to France due to the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). His father was a soldier fighting with the Republicans against the Nationalists of Francisco Franco. The youngest of eight children, he graduated from the University of Barcelona with a degree in Physics in 1966. In the 1960s, as a theology student, he lived in Rome alongside Saint Josemaría Escriva, the Founder of Opus Dei.

He received a licentiate in Theology from the Pontifical Lateran University in 1969 and a doctorate in Theology from the University of Navarra in 1971, the year he was ordained a priest. In his first years as a priest he was especially involved in ministry to young people and university students.

Since 1986, Fernando Ocáriz has been a consultor for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as well as other departments of the Roman Curia: the Congregation for the Clergy (since 2003) and the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelisation (since 2011). He has also been a member of the Pontifical Theological Academy since 1989 and in the 1980s he was among the professors who began the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, where he was a tenured professor (now emeritus) in Fundamental Theology.

He has published two important works on Christology: Hijos de Dios en Cristo. Introducción a una teología de la participación sobrenatural and El misterio de Jesucristo. The second title (co-authored with Lucas F. Mateo Seco and José Antonio Riestra) is available in English as The Mystery of Jesus Christ. Other publications include Amar con obras: a Dios y a los hombres and Naturaleza, gracia y gloria, with a preface by the then-Cardinal Ratzinger.

In 2013, Rafael Serrano’s extensive interview with Fernando Ocáriz was published under the title Sobre Dios, la Iglesia y el mundo. Ocáriz has also published two philosophical works: El marxism: teoría y práctica de una revolución and Voltairetratado sobre la tolerancia. In addition, he has written numerous theological and philosophical articles.

Since 1994 he has been the Vicar General of Opus Dei and in 2014 he was named Auxiliary Vicar of the Prelature. Over the past 22 years he has accompanied the previous Prelate, Bishop Javier Echevarría, on his pastoral visits to more than 70 countries.

From a young age, Fernando  Ocáriz has been an avid tennis player, which he still enjoys. His pastoral approach and crisp thinking on lay issues was quite clear in a recent three-day Seminar on ‘Communications’ at The Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, entitled Dialogue, Respect and Freedom of Expression in the Public Arena. This seminar was addressed by Professor Richard John, from the Columbia University School of  Journalism in New York, who spoke about the need to “rediscover the value of freedom of expression” and Professor Margaret Sommerville, from the Department of Bioethics at the University of Notre Dame in Australia, who highlighted some of the ethical values that dialogue requires.

Ocáriz concluded the seminar by saying: “Especially in recent years, when false news has appeared on a massive scale, understanding and mutual respect entails a deep renewal of the news profession and a deeper grasp of its dimension of service to each woman and man, since a well-informed person is a freer and more responsible person, and therefore better able to carry out acts of solidarity in society... And in striving to understand others, to grasp their point of view, we discover aspects of the truth we hadn’t seen before.

As a result, our suggestions are better aimed and we become more ‘understandable’ to others. If, in contrast, the work of communication ignores the questions and perplexities of others, then monologue supplants dialogue. Human dignity requires that the person’s capacity for self-determination towards the truth be protected, being neither impeded nor forced. Therefore, the foundation of the right to religious freedom, as understood by the Church’s Magisterium, is the same as that of other civil rights (of the press, of personal opinions). And this foundation is nothing other than our human dignity.

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