To fight for love
Msgr Jaime Fuentes
Msgr Jaime Fuentes was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, studied journalism at the University of Navarra, and obtained a doctorate in theology at the same university. In 1967, when he was very young, he moved to Rome, where he lived in the same house as St Josemaria Escriva. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1973 and returned to Montevideo in 1974. For the past ten years he has been Bishop of the Diocese of Minas, Uruguay.
Luchar por amor (“To Fight for Love”), a short book of memoirs written by Jaime Fuentes
Facts are sacred
In 1921 the British journalist C. P. Scott coined the phrase “Comment is free, but facts are sacred.” Bishop Jaime Fuentes has given a further depth of meaning to the second part of this phrase in the book he has written about his memories of St Josemaria: in the life of someone who aspires to holiness, the tiniest fact can indeed be sacred. That conviction led him to publish Luchar por amor (“To Fight for Love”), a short book of memoirs: “I lived and worked with the founder of Opus Dei for ten years, from 1964 to 1974 (...). Time has gone by, and very minor memories have become a real treasure.”
The key to win the prize
The first page of your book features two quotations. One is by Seneca, “To live is to fight”, and the other by St Josemaria, “This is our destiny on earth: to fight for love until the last moment.” Put simply, what is the difference between them?
Love. When there is love, a fight becomes a sport, a tournament: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize?” That was St Paul, one of the people most in love with Jesus Christ who have ever existed. A tournament is a fight, and although you may lose a match, you have to keep on competing. I learned that from St Josemaria.
You say that St Josemaria was “a master in the art of creating moments.” Could you explain what that means, and what led you to say it?
“Creating a moment” is an expression that manifests a need: the need to impose a human rhythm on work, to give value to personal encounters. It means searching hard for the riches in people’s hearts, because with so much rushing and doing, the world can turn into an enormous “anonymous society”.
St Josemaria taught people to “create moments”. His formula for it was quite simple, but at the same time very difficult. He put his whole self into every person and every situation. In 1968 I was working in an office in the Opus Dei headquarters in Rome. The Father, St Josemaria, used to come and talk with the person in charge of that department about how the various projects were coming along. He never came like an executive who sees the problems, points to the solutions, and goes away again. What mattered most to him was us: he “created moments”, by asking after someone’s family, taking an interest in our concerns, even the smallest ones.
Saint Josemaría with some architects
Don’t wait till you’re old
How did St Josemaria face up to the passing of time? Can you remember celebrating a birthday with Msgr Josemaria Escriva?
Yes, January 9, 1968, his sixty-sixth birthday. I remember the homily of the Mass he celebrated that day. There were a few dozen young people there, and he told us that we shouldn’t wait until we were old to become saints. “That would be a big mistake. From now on, seriously, joyously, cheerfully, through your work – and right now, your work is study – sanctify that work by sanctifying yourselves, knowing that you’ll be sanctifying other people.”
I also remember the day one of us celebrated his fortieth birthday. He was in the navy. At lunch he was presented with a boat that St Josemaria had made for him out of paper, on which he had handwritten: “20 + 20 = eternal spring.”
The passing of time is traumatic for some people; for him, it was a stimulus to make the most of the present moment, giving it value in eternity by the love that he put into the tiniest things.
Dreams and realities
Some people see saints as youthful dreamers. Did you ever hear St Josemaria talking about the fulfilment of those dreams?
On his birthday, as a matter of fact, he said that we – those of us there with him – were the concrete manifestation of his dreams: people from the most varied backgrounds and countries, who had understood the message about holiness in the middle of the world and wanted to stake everything on passing it on to others from north to south.
He said once: “Today the Work is a family with no barriers of race, language or nationality".
That same day, he said, “Today the Work is a family with no barriers of race, language or nationality. The things of God come like that, they start small; they come with gentle violence, opening up a path by suffering and self-sacrifice. The shoot is born after the seed has died, and then come the flowers (...) and the fruits, the fruits are you (...). Dream. I’m sixty-six, and my dreams have come true, and what’s more, I don’t feel old.”
For someone like you, who set out to become a journalist, was ordination to the priesthood a painful renunciation? Briefly, how did St Josemaria understand the vocation to the priesthood?
God gives each person the grace to carry out what he wants of them; otherwise I wouldn’t be able to understand myself. In 1964, when I went to the University of Navarra aged nineteen to study journalism, if somebody had told me then that I would end up as a priest and a Bishop, I would have thought they were absolutely crazy. And yet... I cannot thank God enough for everything I have gained by saying yes to his call to the priesthood. St Josemaria understood the priesthood as the greatest gift that God could possibly give to a man, because it means serving everyone by administering the mysteries of God, as St Paul says. For one of the faithful of Opus Dei, the priesthood does not come as a “crowning” of their vocation to holiness; “in St Josemaria’s words, it is a calling that God makes to some people to serve others in a new way.” For the rest, I still have a journalist mentality – I’ve got a permanent “piece of news” to break, and I try to do it in the ways that are best suited to my audience.
Could you recall something from St Josemaria’s life that helps you now, as a Bishop, in your pastoral work?
Msgr. Jaime Fuentes
Once in Rome, Msgr Luis Sanchez Moreno, who was then a Bishop in Peru, went to say goodbye to him. St Josemaria kissed him on both cheeks, in a very affectionate and fatherly way, and just said, “I’ll pray for you to be a holy Bishop.” That’s what is essential; I’ve nothing more to add.