Bishop Juan Carlos Elizalde: "The Pope asks us to raise the spirits of the faithful".

Since taking office as the new bishop of Vitoria on March 12, Bishop Juan Carlos Elizalde has launched, among other things, a Sunday evening Mass for young people in the cathedral, and the diocese, in tune with the Pope, has recently celebrated a significant gesture of solidarity with refugees.

Rafael Hernández Urigüen-August 31, 2016-Reading time: 5 minutes

Among the pastoral priorities of the new bishop of Vitoria is to promote a number of projects that are underway in the diocese to better serve the needy, promote peace, care for families, promote evangelization and the transmission of the faith and raise vocations.

The diocese of Vitoria belongs to the ecclesiastical province of Burgos and its patrons are Saint Prudentius and Saint Ignatius. With a century and a half of existence, it has two cathedrals (the old one of Santa María and the new one of the Inmaculada).

It serves its 330,000 inhabitants thanks to its 432 parishes and 230 priests. In addition, there are 63 priests from Vitoria in the missions. There are 72 religious priests and 62 non-priestly professed religious. There are nine contemplative monasteries for women and one for men. The total number of professed religious is 600. There are also two major seminarians. In 2014 was the last priestly ordination.

In the last recorded year there were 1,406 baptisms, 1,358 first communions, 228 confirmations and 343 canonical marriages in the diocese. Diocesan Caritas invested more than 2.5 million euros in the needy and has 26 care centers where 18,956 people were assisted.

First of all, we are very grateful to Bishop Elialde for finding time in his schedule to attend this interview, which the readers of Palabra, both in Spain and Latin America, are undoubtedly looking forward to.

            You arrive in Vitoria with a wealth of experience, which includes university pastoral work, the animation of the Camino de Santiago from the Collegiate Church of Roncesvalles (where you have exercised your ministry as prior) and also in the diocesan curia of Pamplona. Do you think that this experience can inspire your new episcopal ministry?

-It is true that what you do makes you, shapes you and forms you. The Nuncio, to encourage me in my new task, told me: "Do not worry. What the Pope wants is for you to be in Vitoria as you were in Roncesvalles, in Pamplona or at the university. And the Way of St. James is like a parable of life, which is a journey, process, maturation, growth".

This helps me to accompany and to believe, taking advantage of the changes that every person has to face. The experience of episcopal vicar in Pamplona has taught me to be close to my brother priests, unconditionally. And the university confirms to me that young people are the joy and the future of the Church and that, therefore, they have to be at the heart of my episcopal ministry.

The Diocese of Vitoria has the tradition of a priestly movement that sought in the exercise of the ministry the main source of spirituality. How to translate it into the present, so that it contributes to the revitalization of the diocesan seminary?

-I believe that priestly joy is the first source of vocations. I understand that today the profile of the priest, the priestly identity is very clear. When one rereads the priestly texts of the Magisterium of the Church from the Second Vatican Council until now and thinks of the priestly profile of the last Popes, one is moved. What priest is not going to fit there?

If one knows who he is and is sharing the priesthood with priest friends, it is almost inevitable to infect him. From this priestly joy will come creative initiatives to promote vocations: testimonies, pilgrimages, prayer meetings, personal accompaniment and a thousand other activities.

Vitoria has prestigious Catholic schools and a youth that has the means to access culture. How could they specifically support vocational animation? From your experience, how do you think vocational concerns are best fostered in the field of education?

-The diocese of Vitoria is the Church on pilgrimage in Vitoria. It includes, of course, the large schools and their religious men and women. Young people have to recognize themselves as Christians outside the classroom as well, and that implies a network of celebrations, events, meetings and fields of collaboration and service. We are all there, and if the young person has at his side priests, religious men and women and couples whom he loves and values, he will surely feel called vocationally.

Vitoria is also a university city. It has several centers of the Public University and also private schools. If I remember correctly, there are ten between faculties and schools. How do you plan to transfer your university experience to the capital of Alava? What would you say about this specific field of evangelization?

-It is a field as exciting as it is difficult. Many of those who study on the Vitoria campus are not from Alava and are just passing through. The most committed Christians from Alava are already committed in their parishes and communities of origin and that is one of the reasons why it is not easy to work in the university.

The current proposal of campus ministry is to create work forums where there is room for a faith-culture encounter, an intellectual growth of Christian activists and a way of evangelizing young people. It is a periphery that must be attended with creativity and height. I believe that Vitoria is doing well. Perhaps it would be necessary to promote more the interrelation of the university pastoral with the work that is done with all the youth and with the vocational work.

Upon learning of your appointment, your extensive experience in the world of the media was also highlighted. Pope Francis insists with his constant magisterium and testimony on the importance of evangelizing from the different platforms that make up public opinion. What practical ideas could you suggest in this area?

-I am really no expert. I believe that transparent and profound communication does a lot of good and creates a dynamic of trust, interest and closeness to the Church and the message of Jesus. I admire people who handle the networks wonderfully and communicate things that are worthwhile. We have to "jump on that bandwagon" because it does a lot of good and we Christians have something great to communicate. We should go hand in hand with communication professionals and the freshness of young people who are so creative when it comes to transmitting the interior.

Vitoria is the capital of the Basque Autonomous Community. Have you already made contact with the civil authorities? How do you see the cooperation of the Church with the political institutions in the concrete and plural sphere of the Basque Country?

-Yes, I have met calmly with the local and regional authorities. Most of them are in their first term of office and, therefore, I have seen that they are very enthusiastic and that there are many points of common interest, although there are also irreconcilable issues. We have coincided later in many events.

Both in formal meetings and in more occasional ones, I have claimed the religious fact as part of life, inspiring the noblest behaviors and, consequently, a social good and not something marginal, reduced to the private sphere and without any kind of visibility, recognition or social support. I believe that we Christians should help those in power to discover the contribution of the Church to society and, from there, to ask for their collaboration, since it is something that affects the common good.

Anything else you would like to add?

-I am still under the emotion of my episcopal ordination, but I have to admit that I have never prayed so much nor have I ever felt so much the prayer of my confreres. When the Lord's mission overflows, you have to go to the fundamentals and rely on what cannot fail you. Surprisingly, I am serene and happy, confident in the Lord, in his mediations and in the prayers of the patient readers. Pope Francis, when I greeted him in St. Peter's Square on the occasion of my appointment, told me that we pastors have to raise the spirits of our communities, because sometimes they are a bit low. And it is an observation that I keep very much in mind.

The authorRafael Hernández Urigüen

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