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Raimo GoyarrolaMy image of the Church is a trawler".

On November 25, Raimo Goyarrola will be ordained bishop and will take office as the new pastor of the diocese of Helsinki.

Maria José Atienza-November 3, 2023-Reading time: 7 minutes
raimo goyarrola

Photo: Raimo Goyarrola ©Diocese of Helsinki

Raimo (Ramón) Goyarrola is a Finnish Bilbao native because people from Bilbao are "born where they want to be".

He has not lost his Biscayan accent and humor, but his heart is completely Finnish. This 54-year-old doctor, a numerary priest of Opus Dei, arrived in Finland almost 20 years ago, in 2006. He has carried out most of his priestly work in Finland, in recent years as Vicar General of Opus Dei. diocese of Helsinki.

Teemu Jyrki Juhani Sippo, S.C.I., "so there was no Vicar General either," recalls Goyarrola. A few days before his episcopal consecration, Raimo Goyarrola talks to Omnes, a media with which he has collaborated more than once, about this new stage that is opening in his life and in his pastoral work.

In a few days you will be ordained bishop and take possession of the diocese of Helsinki. How have the last few years been for you?

-I was vicar general, yes, but in the sede vacante there are no curial offices, so there was no vicar general either. Besides, a few months after the sede vacante the Covid pandemic broke out and the work of the parishes diminished a lot. I thought about what I could do at that time, so I began to do my doctoral thesis in Palliative Care. The idea was to give a real medical solution to the sick at the end of life. At that time, the euthanasia debate was very hot and I know that euthanasia solves absolutely nothing. 

At that time I joined a palliative research group and circumstances have led me to become, according to my Finnish colleagues, the "expert on spirituality in palliative care". Until now, once a month or so I gave seminars on this topic to doctors and nurses all over Finland. 

What is the diocese of Helsinki like? 

- The diocese is territorially very extensive. It covers the whole country. About 340,000 square kilometers. We have 8 parishes. At present, there are 29 priests in the diocese, 5 of whom are Finnish priests, including the bishop emeritus and one priest who is in the diplomatic service. 

Here we do not have a Catholic structure as in other countries. I dream of a diocesan retreat house, which could also be used for youth camps. I dream of a seminary, a Catholic school, a home for the elderly, a palliative care hospital... I have a huge list of dreams and they are real, I see them already finished. 

We must dream, serving the people of God and facilitating the way to heaven! We cannot forget that the Church shows Jesus to go to heaven, but that heaven begins already on earth, with the presence of God, with the sacraments, with the grace of God.  

Along with this list of dreams, there is a long list of problems: economic, pastoral, of all kinds. The gift I ask God for Christmas is that the list of dreams be bigger than the long list of problems. There are problems and they are concrete, but dreams are also concrete. We have to focus on the positive.

What challenges await you?

-Now, at the diocesan level, we have to start renewing the parish councils and begin to work in this new stage. I am in a phase of praying a lot, of asking for light to start forming the councils.

My main idea is to row together. I am not going to do anything alone. I will have representative councils, with people who know and have solutions, because we must have ideas and actions. I want to rely totally on these councils. In our diocese, for example, there have been no "concrete pastorals" at the diocesan level: young people, the elderly, the sick, immigrants..., and I want to give an impulse to these things.


I am very clear that in the Church we all row: My image of the Church is the trawler. In the trawler we all row. The bishop may be at the helm, setting the pace or changing the direction a little, but we all row: priests, laity, religious. I want the laity to support and I want to promote the participation of the laity. All together. 

Finland has a wide variety of denominations, how have you received your appointment?

-Since the appointment was announced, I have been surrounded by a great number of people. I am not exaggerating. There have been continuous calls, hundreds of messages, whatsapps, letters, emails... I am amazed by the support and the joy! 

At the social level, for example, the interest aroused by the new bishop is incredible. Here the Catholic Church is very small (0,3%) and, the day after the news, I met several Catholics and they told me "I saw him in the subway!" and I answered "Yes, I went by bicycle!", and it was because it had appeared on the news broadcast on the subway screens "New Catholic bishop in Finland". In a country like this, for the news to come out at that level and in the national newspaper, with a super positive approach... It's impressive! The Lutheran bishops, the Orthodox bishops... they all wrote or called me to ask me how they could help me. It's amazing!

People ask me if I'm nervous, but I don't even have time to be nervous. I have great inner peace because I am not alone!

Did you expect it? 

-Well, not really. In Helsinki there are two men's centers of Opus Dei and I lived, to facilitate the task of Vicar General, in the one that is closer to the Episcopal Palace. A little more than two months ago I moved to the university residence, which is in another area, to begin a new stage: apostolic work with young people, university students... I was excited and, suddenly, the Nuncio called me and asked me about it. It was a surprise; it was a moment of mixed feelings. I prayed and remembered Our Lady and St. Joseph and I said "here I am" and an impressive peace came over me. Since then I have had that peace, 

I have written to Pope Francis to thank him for everything. Now I will make my spiritual exercises in Rome and I will also visit different Dicasteries. I also hope to greet the Pope and give him a big hug. 

How is the relationship with other denominations?

- It is excellent. The ecumenism Here it is a gift, it is a miracle. I think it is an exception at the world level. In the Vatican they know us and they follow the work of the Official Dialogue with the Lutherans. We have even produced a document on the Eucharist, the ministry and the Church. It's marvelous! We talk, we pray, we dialogue? 

Every month we celebrate mass in 25 cities where there is no Catholic church. That means 25 Lutheran and Orthodox churches where we are allowed to say mass.

Finland is one of the few regions where there are more Catholics today than 50 years ago How is the Catholic population in Finland?

- We grow by about 500 new Catholics a year. Of that number, about half are Finns: children being baptized and adults joining the Church or being baptized as well, whether from other Christian denominations or not. The other half are migrants and refugees. The latter is also a challenge because refugees are generally sent to cities where there are no Catholic churches. One objective I have is to achieve a relationship with the State so that we can know where the Catholics are, be able to assist them and help them to integrate.

Here the Church has a very beautiful work of social integration and I think the State has to value it and even help. For example, in two weeks, I have spent almost 300 euros on gasoline because I am very clear about this: I want to be with the people and to be with the people I will have to travel a lot, thousands of kilometers to see them. Catholics in the DiasporaI want to be with them! I want to make a schedule to be with all Catholics, in Lapland and wherever it is necessary.

Here it's not smelling like sheep, but smelling like reindeer! I want to be a reindeer-smelling shepherd!

You are a numerary priest of Opus Dei. How does your charism influence your service to the diocesan Church?  

-In the Work I have learned to have a big heart where there is room for everyone and, as St. Josemaría used to say, I have learned that the Opus Dei is for to serve the Church as the Church wants to be served

I came to Finland because the Bishop of Helsinki at that time (Józef Wróbel, S.C.I.) specifically asked for a priest of Opus Dei. Bishop Javier Echevarría, who was the prelate of Opus Dei, thought of me and I said yes. I was in Seville, in the sunshine, and I came at -30. That is what I have learned in the Work: a big heart where there is room for everyone.

When I arrived in Finland I introduced myself to the parish priest and began to collaborate in the parish: baptisms, catechesis, Masses in Spanish because there was a fairly large Latin American community... Along with this, I started a chaplaincy at the university and Catholics and non-Catholics came, the local Church goes beyond the parish. At the university, or at the Opus Dei residence, we reached people that perhaps the parish could not reach. 

Where does the work of the Church begin and where does the work of the Work begin? I am convinced that they are one and the same. Through the work of the Work in Finland, many people join the Catholic Church every year. It is a imput We all add up! The Church is the sum. We are all. It is not an "either this... or that" it is a "plus": The cross of Christ is the sign +. We all row, as in the trawler (laughs). 

My spirituality is the same: holiness in the midst of the world. Now as a bishop, I will receive the fullness of a sacrament, but the mentality of simplicity and magnanimity that I have lived in the Work will be the same. I believe that simplicity leads you to trust in God and trust in God leads you to dream, to be magnanimous. The bishop is universal, I will belong to the universal college of bishops and the Church is catholic because there is room for all of us. We live the catholicity of the Church when we add and support each other. 

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