For Daniel Fernando Sturla Berhouet, Salesian priest and Archbishop of Montevideo, Uruguay, much is new. It’s been just three years since Archbishop Sturla was consecrated as an auxiliary bishop and less than twelve months since he was installed as ordinary of Montevideo. Born in 1959, ordained in 1987 and 55 years old, Sturla will be one of the youngest in the College of Cardinals (the very youngest, his fellow appointee Bishop Mahi of Tonga). Surprised to have been named, Sturla sees his appointment “as a distinction for the church in Uruguay rather than me.”
Roughly the size of Missouri, Uruguay is the second smallest country in South America. Half of its 3.3 million people live in capitol city Montevideo, port city on the Atlantic Ocean just across the Rio de La Plata from Argentina’s Buenos Aires. In many respects—press freedom, economic growth, lack of corruption—the nation prospers. Its democracy ranks first in Latin America. The United Nations designated it as Latin America’s only "high income" country.
At the same time the country’s religious affiliation has waned. The number of Uruguayans who identify themselves as Catholic has diminished by nearly 20 percent over the last 20 years. The country has also instituted a number of policies of concern to the church, including the legalization of abortion, the legalization of marijuana and gay marriage.
When asked by Spanish newspaper El Pais about these issues, Archbishop Sturla explained, "I defend the family, formed by man and woman, defend that these families be generous in the transmission of life, and at the same time I feel an enormous respect for the persons who form a homosexual people." With regard to both gay marriage and abortion, he believes the church must “move on/look ahead, because the law is already approved.”
The archbishop’s episcopal motto is “Servar al Señor con Alegria”—“To Serve the Lord with Joy.” Being a cardinal, he said recently, is “a call to a greater service and love.”
How do you feel about being named Cardinal? How has your family reacted?
It was a very strong shock to receive the news from a Uruguayan priest who was in St. Peter's Square and who called me, followed by two texts of two other friends. Once recovered from the initial surprise, I gave thanks to God and offered myself once more in order to become a good tool in his hands. My family and friends received with great joy the news.
What do you hope for the church today?
A friend who works in marketing of an important company said to me a while ago: "You all have the best product and you do not know how to place it." I asked him: "What is this product?" He answered: "Happiness. He who has faith, he who is Christian, is the happiest. You have happiness but you do not know where to 'place it'"...
I share the diagnosis of my friend and I believe that the hope is that we can testify and talk in such a way that we can give that which we have by pure grace: The joy of being Christian.
What is one message you feel the church should be offering to today’s world?
The beauty of life, beyond the complex challenges of human existence, and the joy of the Gospel.
What are the most pressing issues facing your region and community?
In my country, there exist difficult social problems because of a strong fall in the educational level. There are pockets of "hard" poverty that have not been able to be erased in spite of the economic growth of these last years. But the most difficult problem is the lack of a sense of life of many, especially by youth.
What has your work and your community taught you about God and the church?
That the most important things are simple. That the church is called to be transparent and close.
What’s an image of God, passage from scripture or figure from church history that you look to for support and encouragement?
I love many passages of scripture. I like the book of Exodus, the image of God the liberator. Now, if I have to pick only one passage of all the scriptures, it would be that of Emmaus.
I love many saints in the history of the church. As I am a Salesian, St. John Bosco is my "father,” who inspires me to serve the Lord with joy in the youth and in the poor. St. Therese of the Child Jesus has been a sister and friend who helped me to better understand the gospel of grace.
Finally: what are your hopes for next October’s Synod?
My hope is that the fathers of the Synod listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and that this be their only goal.
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