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Where the People Are – An Interview with the Bishop

Where the People Are – An Interview with the Bishop


In March the newly-ordained Bishop of Helsinki, Raimo Goyarrola, spoke with the Journal Fides about the past couple of months and also introduced his plans for the future. The Bishop, who is very busy, is full of both joy and trust.

The work of Monsignore Raimo Goyarrola as the shepherd of the Diocese of Helsinki, which comprises all of Finland, began officially on March 25th. Since this date, the Bishop has already managed to visit each parish of Finland, in addition to many of the diaspora locations where Masses are occasionally, often in the facilities of the Lutheran or Orthodox parishes.

ONWARD TOGETHER

“Since my Ordination as Bishop I have visited many locations in different parts of Finland. I have noticed that the Church here is united. I have experienced lots of joy, hope, and interest. There is a wish to walk onward together. This gives me lots of joy and trust. Thanks be to God!”

The calendar of the Bishop has been full since the very first day of “work.” “Many people have told me to take some time off and to rest every once in a while. I should do that, of course, but so far there has been no time. In the beginning of all this—after four years without a Bishop—there is so much to do.”

Bishop Raimo smiles and repeats: “Joy, peace, and dreams with the whole Church. That has been my experience.” In the parishes he has notices this same joy, as well as a readiness to move forward together.

MANY NEEDS AND A SHARED PLAN

It is among the responsibilities of the shepherd of a Diocese to know the wishes and needs of the parishes. This is exactly what Bishop Raimo is trying to discover, determined to develop a proper pastoral plan for the parishes, as well as for the whole Diocese, spanning a period of five years.

“At this point we do have lots of Masses in the parishes and in the diaspora, but in many of the locations we live week to week. It is as if we were riding on a large horse without much ability to guide it.” Our goal is to not allow this horse to determine the pace. Instead, the Bishop and the priests, together with the laity, should truly ride it and guide it where the Holy Spirit leads us.

“It is important to think about what we need: catechesis, work with children and youth, pastoral care of the elderly and the sick, as well as care for families. We cannot only react. Instead, we need to have the ability to anticipate and direct events ourselves. We should not simply be led by the challenges and respond to problems.” As a consequence, we must move forward with a plan and create a strategy with “strength from the grace of Jesus.”

A CHURCH THAT PRAYS AND LISTENS

Bishop Raimo encourages the priests and all the faithful to pray. “This is the Year of Prayer in the whole Church. I have urged also the priests to really take time for personal prayer. Everything arises from prayer. With prayer, it is possible to build and to plan. We all need it.”

It is also important to listen. Previously, Bishop Raimo worked as the Vicar General of the Diocese. “I was the Vicar General during the time of Bishop Teemu. I know the Diocese well, and maybe it is due to that that I have already formed a vision of what is needed. However, it is not only my vision. It belongs to all of us!” I want to listen to others, to priests and laity, and to hear about all kinds of joys and hardships, challenges and successes. I want to hear about dreams, about hopes of what could be achieved.” This is what Bishop Raimo means about “a vision”: the sum of the hope and goals, which through prayer can form a tangible plan. Without prayer, nothing works: “The better I pray, the better I hear God and other human beings.”

As both a shepherd and a doctor, I must say that I am concerned about the well-being of the priests. They work 24/7. Whereas most regular employees get to rest during weekends, the priests arethen even more active. In addition, they must travel long distances and they are available most of the time. Yet, also priests need time to rest.” It is therefore desirable, as was also expressed in the synodal responses collected in the Diocese, that more parish council members, as well as the parishioners at large, could take more responsibility by doing things that are outside of the main tasks of priests. People other than the priests know how to pay bills, care for the garden, take care of the website of the parish, clean, cook, and shop. “This would allow the priests to concentrate more on their spiritual duties. It is better for a priest to sit in the confessional than at the office!”

It is true, as is sometimes said, that we are the Church, each of us. And the Church is a family.” A family, in which we do things together.

DREAMS AND PROJECTS

And now on to the pastoral plan. What are the goals and what is to come? “There is definitely a new spiritual center on this list. There is a plan to renovate the old Carmelite Monastery to function as a retreat house, which would allow various groups to gather there and also different kinds of conferences to be held there.” The Bishop is currently negotiating with a religious order which might be interested in caring for the facilities, while living in the former Ecumenical Centre. “We must also get Stella Maris functioning again.” There is already a committee working on each of these projects.

There is also a plan in place for a group of Conventual Franciscans to arrive in Finland, as well as plans to found a Catholic school, an home for the elderly, as well as new chapels and churches. But not everything pertains to buildings. There is a need for people and resources, but also for continuous prayer. “Prayer is the air, gasoline, or electricity needed.” And behind it all, there are people, also when thinking of the future. “I have re-established the youth organization Juventus Catholica, and in August we will organize the Youth Days of the Diocese. In addition, I want to strengthen the training of the altar servers and increase support for married couples.

All this obviously cannot be built without sufficient financial resources. Walls, properties, heat, electricity, and water all require money. Therefore we must all be mindful that it is our responsibility to support the Church, also financially. Bishop Raimo remarks: “For these new projects I have already found multiple sources of aid from different countries. Next year I may possibly travel to the United States for this purpose, and we have contacts also at least in Spain, Italy, and Germany. However, I also trust that we, Catholics living in Finland, will one day be able to live financially independently. It is possible.”

WHERE THE PEOPLE ARE

In financial terms, the concern of the Bishop is the balance of supply and demand. Before this summer, the first priority is to have a well-functioning registry program for the Diocese, as this is a requirement to truly know where the Catholics are located, in order to target “services” in the correct areas.

“The registry is important in three ways. First, only it can allow us to know where the people are and how we can contact them, so they can feel like part of the Church family. Secondly, this will allow us to genuinely approach them, e.g. by sending them letters, by inviting the children to catechesis, and by sending the Journal Fides to each home. Thirdly, it is important with the state. The more of us there are, the more support we receive.”The websites of the Diocese and the parishes are also important. There is a plan to update the website of the Diocese yet this spring. “Hopefully, they will serve people even better, as they are these days the visible face of the Church. They offer nourishment, various materials and information, Mass schedules, videos, etc.

Bishop Raimo also hopes that already after this summer there will be more knowledge about where there is need for the potential new chapels and churches. It is not a question only of the location for a monthly Mass, but of a Catholic center, which would have “a Mass each week, of course, but also activities during the week.”

This is the “holy problem” of which the Bishop has already talked quite a bit. There is need in many locations: “In Espoo, Vantaa, Porvoo, Ahvenanmaa, Kerava… But we must start sensibly. The challenge is not only to find a location, but the monthly costs involved. If we receive 200 euros in the collections, but the expenses are 2000 euros, this is not possible for us. If we can break even, I am ready.”

Yet, the Bishop is confident. “It will happen. The Catholic Church is growing, I have witnessed it in all of Finland. We have lots of children and youth, we have joyful people that have received their new Bishop with open arms. Affirmations of love, hugs, and an endless amount of selfies!” Close co-operation with the Lutherans and the Orthodox will also continue. In addition, there are plans to start a new theological dialogue with the Orthodox.

It sounds like the Bishop is unlikely to run out of tasks any time soon. “But the Bishop does not do this alone. Instead, it is all of us, together. The most important is to listen in prayer, to listen to God, but also to listen to the people.”

Marko Tervaportti

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