By Tamara El-Rahi
Nearly 2,000 people came to Rosehill Racecourse to see Msgr Fernando Ocariz, the prelate of Opus Dei, on Sunday 20 August 2023, in what was more like a family gathering than a big event.
The get-together, held near the conclusion of the prelate’s pastoral tour of Australia in August, was composed of individuals and families who resonate with the message of Opus Dei: that everyone can strive to seek holiness through work and the circumstances of their everyday lives.
“It was so special to have the Father with us in Australia,” said Caitlin West, host of the Crash Course Catholicism podcast, who was an MC at the Rosehill gathering.
“He really is like a father. Getting to spend some time with him and so many other people of Opus Dei and their friends made me feel joyful and encouraged, and more united … to the Catholic Church.”
After visiting the Philippines and Indonesia, the Father (as he is known by those in Opus Dei) arrived in Sydney on 8 August, coinciding with the feast day of St Mary Mackillop.
From 8-23 August, Msgr Ocariz spent time in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. He took time to visit centres of Opus Dei, and to gather with students, young professionals and families.
With the aid of simultaneous translation from Spanish to English, he covered many topics, including faith, dialogue with Jesus Christ, friendship, joy, and praying for the pope.
Speaking to young men at Warrane College, UNSW, Msgr Ocariz echoed Pope Francis’ message at the recent World Youth Day in Lisbon: “Do not be afraid!”
He encouraged them to identify themselves with Jesus Christ, saying, “When we experience difficulties, don’t be overcome by fear. God is always stronger.”
When young women at Creston College asked the Father how to discover their vocation, he told them that God doesn’t send an angel to announce it—precisely because he wants them to act with freedom.
However, they could be certain that their calling would be the best thing for them. As for how to stay faithful in their vocations, Msgr Ocariz’s answer was simple: “Fall in love, and you won’t leave him.”
Sebastian Burfitt was lucky enough to attend several get-togethers with Msgr Ocariz, given his role as a translator.
“In all contexts, the Father frequently repeated the message of friendship, reminding us that friendship is not about trying to convince other people to think the same way we do, but to transmit to others the genuine joy and love that comes from a relationship with God,” Sebastian said.
“He also stressed the importance of prayer, and knowing that God always listens to us, despite the fact we may not see immediate results.
“Nothing is lost or wasted in our prayer. These were messages that resonated deeply with me.”
At Rosehill, young families spoke to the Father about the challenges of being open to life. He reassured them, saying that when people see that they are happy, they will understand the value of having faith in the plan of God.
Retirees asked about keeping their pioneering spirit alive as they got older, to which Msgr Ocariz responded that love is always young.
He said that while it is possible to get drained and tired, love can always be renewed by staying close to Jesus Christ.
Mary-Louise Fowler, who asked the Father a question at the Rosehill gathering, said it felt like a big family reunion, noisy and full of joy.
“Gathered around the Father, we were encouraged to transmit that joy to others in our family, at work, at play—everywhere.”
She went on, “Living on a farm as I do, far from town and far from friends, is typical in regional areas. The Father said we can pray into all the kilometres we must travel, putting intentions for many people in every kilometre.”
“I understood that our prayers are like putting a heart beat into the middle of our vast country, giving it life.”
Msgr Ocariz said not to be pessimistic when things are hard, whether it be laws passed that are contrary to the faith, or difficult situations with family or friends.
He said that in these difficulties, God is counting even more on his faithful to be a light, and find the good in all people.
Founded by St Josemaria Escriva in 1928, Opus Dei is a personal prelature of the Catholic Church. Msgr Ocariz, who lives in Rome, is the third successor of St Josemaria, and has been the prelate since 2017.