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How do you feel now, Fr. Raimo?

How do you feel now, Fr. Raimo?

Peace and Joy

“First of all, I would like to thank everyone for their prayers!” Fr. Raimo begins the interview with these words. “It may sound strange,” he states, “but there is a lot of peace in my heart. There is obviously excitement in the air, the Diocese in Finland is small. There are challenges and difficulties, but behind them there are more dreams and resources – possibilities – because in the end we are never alone but God is with us. Therefore I want to thank all those that have prayed for me and I hope that the prayers will continue.”
“I would use one word only: peace, lots of peace.” Peace, because ”God does everything,” and as Christians it is our duty –also the duty of a Bishop – “to give space for Christ.”There is a place for Jesus in the middle of our lives, “so let us give Him space, because peace comes from God. It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, a spiritual gift. I experienced joy, even though the appointment came as a surprise to me.”
After the Apostolic Nuncio had told Fr. Raimo about the appointment, “it was a big deal,” Fr. Raimo admits. “I prayed a lot. I thought about the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph. I said to Jesus: ‘May it happen according to your will’ and ‘Here I am.’” Fr. Raimo describes his prayer in an almost Biblical manner: “My heart was filled with joy. There was peace. It was a sign that I am not alone. Everything comes from Heaven.”

Doctor and Priest

Before the priesthood, Fr. Raimo had already worked in Spain as a medical doctor. He was ordained a priest in 2002 after his theological studies in Rome. “I am also a doctor by profession. I have two legs and I want to walk on both. I am a doctor and a priest. These two vocations and fields of study help me a lot.”
As doctor, Fr. Raimo knows that there are medicines that sometimes heal, as well as spiritual medicines e.g., when a person receives grace from Jesus through the Sacraments. On the other hand, there is also palliative care. “Sometimes we are unable to heal, but we can do a lot by accompanying people, by listening to them and being close to them.” This topic must feel close to Fr. Raimo, as it is also the topic of the doctoral thesis he is currently writing. “I see myself as a shepherd who is close to people. I want to be with people.”
Here we are likely already hearing the thoughts of a Bishop: “It will demand a lot of travel, throughout Finland. I want to visit all parishes as soon as possible, also the diaspora.” Fr. Raimo lists: “I especially have in my heart the sick, the suffering, and those living in the diaspora. As Pope Francis says: a shepherd with the smell of the sheep. It is clear to me: I want to be with the people.”
For a shepherd, a priest, certain matters are of course above others. “My first task is especially to care for my own prayer life. The Mass is in the center of everything. One cannot live without the Mass.” And the Mass is obviously more than just the Eucharist, the reception of Communion: “I of course want to receive the Body of Christ. But the Mass signifies even more, as in it we have the Body of Christ both as the Eucharist and as the Church. The whole Diocese is included in the Mass, the whole Diocese grows at Mass.”
“The Mass is the central point of my life.” In addition to prayer life, there is pastoral work, the care for souls. “As a spiritual doctor I want to visit people, discuss with them, listen to them and comfort them – to bring them the consolation and presence of Jesus.”

Problems and Dreams

“On my desk I have two lists. One is a list of problems, definitely long, with real estate properties and financial matters. However, I also have another list, which I find even more important. It is a list comprised of dreams. On it there are first the people, there are projects and dreams.” We must concentrate on both, but in my view the second list is very important: “We cannot live like fire fighters,” that when there is a fire, we go to the location to put out the fire, and then the next one. “We must of course do this, but we must also plan and look forward.”

“During this time before the Ordination I have listened to many people. There are lots of projects and ideas. Fortunately there are dreams! It is worth dreaming because Jesus is with us. With Him everything is possible.” Fr. Raimo is full of optimism about the future of the Diocese of Helsinki. “Our local Church is a living Church, it is a growing Church. In my opinion it also has unity, we have a good priesthood, and we have devout laity.” The problem is that the Masses are full. “It is a holy problem!” We need new locations, new chapels or parishes. ”Of course even positive problems need to be solved.”

The Catholic Church – in Finland

Our Church in Finland is ”alive, young, and a genuinely catholic Church.” There are over a hundred nationalities. ”This is richness. We can learn a lot from other people.” But also as the Catholic Church specifically in Finland ”we –who may have come from other places – may learn about Finland, about the Finnish culture, about Finnishness. It is also a wealth for the Church.
In Finland we are obviously a small minority church, but also representatives of the world-wide Catholic Church. How is this visible? “I very much like the parable of Jesus in which he talks about us being salt and light. The Catholic Church may be a small family in Finland, but we need light, ”not too much, but adequately. And an appropriate amount of salt. We have this task: to be salt and light.” Even scarcely portioned, the taste of this salt “is fantastic.”
“We are the Catholic Church. It is a great responsibility but at the same time easy, because we are a communion, a unity, and we are not alone. The Church is the Church precisely, because we are in union with the Pope and with all the Bishops, with all the Dioceses on the earth. This is the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church.”
“We also have a great responsibility in ecumenism.” In Finland it is, however, also a great gift and miracle. “How is it possible to pray with each other and to love each other? We have about 25 Catholic Masses in various temples.” However, the hospitality is not one-sided: ”We do not necessarily only receive, we also give.” The witness and faithful example of the Catholic Church of the good news of the Gospel, “our faithfulness to Jesus” is an important support also for many non-Catholic Christians. “Also through ecumenism we can help, walk together upwards, toward Heaven.”

Finland and the Basque Country – together

Fr. Raimo was born in the Basque Country. Is he then these days more Finnish or Basque?
“I like to say that on the passport, in the heart and mind I am Finnish,” Fr. Raimo states and continues: “I have visited the Basque Country many times and arranged pilgrimages to Santiago, which begins in the Basque Country.” Even there “I think of Finland the whole time. I think of what is happening in Finland and I miss Finland.”
Fr. Raimo came to Finland in 2006 and from the beginning tried to learn Finnish, get Finnish friends and become familiar with Finnish history. “This is my country, I am grateful to God for that. Each day I thank God that I am in Finland.”
However, at times I am Basque-Finnish or Finnish-Basque,” chuckles Fr. Raimo. “If one is asked which one loves more, mother or father, it may be dangerous to give an answer.” One or the other may get upset. “I have a father and a mother, and now – thanks be to God – I have Finland and the Basque Country – together.”

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