In this two-part interview with ZENIT the 73-year-old bishop evaluates World Youth Day. Part 2 will appear Thursday.
Q: Given that your "diocese" is not limited territorially, as the prelate of Opus Dei you know people from all over the world. Do they all share the same "hunger for God" of which the archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Joachim Meisner spoke, or, on the contrary, is it the people of the south, by their mentality, who are closer to God than the Germans or those of the north in general?
Bishop Echevarría: In the first place, I wish to clarify that the Opus Dei is a personal prelature and, therefore, forms part of the hierarchical structure of the Church, but it is not a diocese.
Opus Dei is certainly spread across the whole world. The faithful of the prelature belong to many different nationalities, but they all have as common denominator, the certainty that we are children of God with a "hunger to relate to God," which they try to increase every day.
It is an obvious fact, as anyone can see, that we are all different: people from the north and south, from the east and west. But we all struggle joyfully to live close to God.
I make no exclusions; on the contrary, I think that in Germany there is a rich treasure of people that wishes to be close to God; many people -- with their German mentality -- spend their days in relationship with the Lord -- in the family, at work, in traffic, in amusements -- and with the desire to bring many other people close to this great ideal of man -- his closeness with God.
Q: What was special in these days in Cologne for the world and especially for Germany?
Bishop Echevarría: What was special for me in this pastoral visit is that the Successor of Peter came and, around the Successor of Peter -- because of the communion of saints -- the whole Church tried to be united to the intentions of the common father, the Pope.
Therefore, what happened in Cologne these days is very important for Germany and for the world, because it makes shows that the Church is alive, that the Church is young, with a youth that is also true of elderly people, of mature individuals, of the sick, of people subsumed in poverty -- since what matters is the youth of the soul and all these people have great youth, to be able to offer God to others, precisely because it is what they are lacking.
Q: Will the visit of the Holy Father Benedict XVI imply the beginning of a spiritual springtime of the Church in his homeland?
Bishop Echevarría: Of course. We will always be in a situation of growth in the Church.
Although apparently there can be moments in which we experience a sort of complete stop, such a complete stop does not exist, because here -- in this wonderful country which Germany is -- we now count on the great wealth of prayer of many unknown men and women.
The Church is not built only by what is seen exteriorly, but also with the wealth of the holiness of many people. There are certainly many holy people in Germany, who thank God for their belonging to the Catholic Church and who want to love all of the citizens of Germany and of the world with the love of Christ.
Q: The Holy Father would like to show that joy comes from being a Christian. What kind of joy is this?
Bishop Echevarría: The Holy Father has emphasized recently that, far from what some people would like one to believe, Christianity is not a weight; rather, the ensemble of precepts are those wings of which Benedict XVI has spoken, which help us to fly to the Creator, to God, who follows each one of us close up.
Therefore, the joy consists of knowing that, in all the circumstances in which we find ourselves, we have a Father who never abandons us and who takes care of us in all those situations.
In human life there is no lack of pain and sacrifice, as it was not lacking for him who is the model for all Christians -- our Lord Jesus Christ -- and for the person who was closest to Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary.
This does not mean masochism, but is the result of love, because -- even in what is most human -- there is no love or self-giving, without sacrifice, which consists in spending oneself happily for others.
Q: Your predecessor, St. Josemaría [Escrivá], founded Opus Dei to teach all people that they can be saints, without doing extraordinary things. What, therefore, is holiness? How does one become a saint?
Bishop Echevarría: St. Josemaría took up the teachings and the preaching of Jesus Christ, who "coepit facere et docere," who first began to do, and then preached -- at the beginning, with his humble birth, poor, in a cave, surrounded by the love of Mary and Joseph and the shepherds -- poor men, but with a great capacity to love -- and then also by the Wise Men who went to worship him.
Although the latter had human means, at that moment of search for the King of the Jews, they let us see that they had the same or greater need than the shepherds.
Holiness is to try to see God in what occupies us at any given moment. To identify oneself with Christ without having to take recourse to extraordinary things; great abnegations are not an imperative -- though they must not be excluded if they come -- or sought freely and voluntarily if the Lord does not ask them.
That is why, what is important is to do the will of God at every moment, carrying out heroically the duty of every moment, without drawing back from the suggestion of fidelity that precisely Christ asks of us, in what is pleasant or unpleasant.