In his 20 years as a bishop, what has distinguished Archbishop Ricardo Blázquez Pérez, 72, is his willingness to enter into the realities of the people that he serves. In 1995 he was made bishop of Bilbao, a region riven by the violence and terror of the separatist paramilitary group ETA. (Bilbao lies in the Basque country, which has long struggled with Spain over the question of independence.)
Neither from the region, nor a Basque, then-Bishop Blázquez entered into the struggle. He denounced the ETA, calling their continued existence “unbearable”, insisting that their movement “represents no one” and saying their disappearance would “ethically dignify our society.” At the same time, he tried to mediate a peace accord, a move condemned by the government as legitimizing the separatist movement.
Since becoming Archbishop in Valladolid in 2010 Blázquez has similarly entered into the harsh economic struggles of the Spanish people post-recession. One of his first moves as Archbishop was to announce that he would be setting aside part of his salary to help those struggling with Spain’s financial crisis. He encouraged his priests to do the same.
Archbishop Blázquez has also served the broader church in Spain; since 2005 he has been first president, then vice president, and now president again of the Spanish Episcopal Conference and has been responsible for many of the conference’s recent documents, as well as many other articles and books about theology and the church.
Each day the Archbishop says Mass at the community of retired priests next door to the chancery. The sisters there note the little gifts he often leaves—rosaries blessed by the pope, prayer cards from his journeys. They say he is like family to them. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
How do you feel about being named cardinal? How did your family react?
The feelings I had once I heard the announcement were of surprise, of profound gratitude to the Pope for the confidence that he was offering me and of a renewed availability to collaborate with him on whatever he asked of me. The reaction of my family was at first incredulity and then immediately shared joy. They will accompany me in Rome.
What do you hope for the church today?
That it will be faithful to the mission that the Lord entrusts to it in the present situation of humanity. Our world is also the recipient of the Gospel; God also offers salvation to us of today. I trust that the church offers us the Gospel with humility and courage, compassion and trust. I want the church to discover daily, as appears in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 16: 6-10), the ways to bring the Gospel to the world.
Pope Francis has sparked hope not only in the church but also in humanity. That we will all be aware of the signs of the Spirit, which never ceases to indicate where comes the light.
What is one message you feel the church should be offering to today’s world?
It is the message of God's mercy towards humanity, particularly those who are wounded by life, the poor and left out, those who scrape by without hope.
Moreover, the church is called to proclaim God's compassion with joy, because the Gospel is in itself good news that gladdens life. To evangelize with sadness is inconsistent. The church must be close to the poor and excluded, it must defend their cause, and should draw close to each person in the specifics of their situation.
The Gospel must be spread by the presence and the signs offered by Christians. So the embrace of the leper in the story of St. Francis of Assisi finds a version in our days in the embrace of Pope Francis with a man who had a skin disease that disfigured his face. This hug is a parable of what the church should offer today.
What are the most pressing issues facing your region and community?
The church today must promote Christian initiation among its own people, as the earlier form has proven insufficient to transmit the faith in our generation.
Unemployment falls in a heavy and humiliating way upon the youth, hindering their confidence in society and their ability to look at the future with hopefulness. Work today is gotten, done and offered under conditions very different from what had been normal. People should share the work that is available, and harmonize work and married life and family life.
The church among us is perceived largely as sensitive, understanding, a good Samaritan of those who are poor and beaten down by life. It’s true, at times events and situations occur that discredit the message of the Church and its own life. Currently we run the danger that many people choose paths for their future based upon a painful and lasting experience of being left out.
In addition, the economic corruption of recent years has generated a fairly widespread outrage.
What has your work taught you about God and the church?
We must be near to the people, with attitudes of humility and hope, especially when they suffer for any reason whatever.
God is also found along the path of brotherhood among men. God is the friend of all people; therefore, conversion to God always sends us out to his children. You cannot separate the cause of the Gospel and the cause of humanization.
The church must show itself as turning to God by its faith and worship and as inclined towards the needs of humanity by being close to it and listening to it. The bishop must be among people with the attitude of the Good Shepherd; he must not keep his distance or claim superiority.
What’s an image of God, passage from Scripture or figure from church history that you look to for support and encouragement?
The Gospel passage of the appearance of the risen Jesus to the disciples of Emmaus always attracts me and speaks to me. You can discover in the story several moments that easily correlate to our situations. First, the disillusioned return of the disciples at Emmaus after the painful experience of the crucifixion of the Master. The hope they placed in the words and deeds of the mighty Prophet were cut short.
But the conversation with the stranger along the road removed these things from within them and began to revive their hearts. Dining with the walker he was still unknown to them, but they felt something. And he opened their eyes to recognize him. And the encounter with Jesus impelled them to retrace the way to Jerusalem to announce to the apostles what had happened to them.
It is noteworthy that before discovering Jesus everywhere are obstacles, night has fallen. Where is a companion going to go by himself at this hour on this road... But once the meeting has illuminated his heart, neither the gloom of night nor the distance to Jerusalem matters. Many times what we lack is the meeting with the risen Lord, who puts us on the road to sharing the Gospel after we have been his companion discovering the cross in God’s design for us.
Finally: What are your hopes for next October’s Synod?
I want the church to be like an alarm clock that allows humanity to discover or rediscover the fundamental meaning of marriage and the family. Without family people remain as though outside, by themselves. I want the church to find the pastoral way to testify at the same time to the truth of what God wants for the family—the love that draws you close to every person and every pastoral challenge—and the compassion to announce to people to trust in God despite everything. That the church may be a home where people are welcomed by God. I want the sacrament of marriage, like all sacraments an event of faith, to be an invitation to hope for other marriages and families. That the family may be an evangelist in being such a family!
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