ROME, OCT. 30, 2009 (Zenit.org).- “I am a Honduran Salesian born 66 years ago in Tegucigalpa,” said Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, as he began to recount his vocation story.
And immediately the archbishop of Tegucigalpa mentions the event that changed his life decisively: “I entered the Salesian Congregation when I was 16 and there I made my journey as educator, as teacher, and was then ordained a priest in 1970.
“Subsequently my superiors sent me to study here in Rome. I studied moral theology and also clinical psychology between Rome and Innsbruck, Austria. Then I returned as prefect of studies for the Salesian Theological Institute of Guatemala and subsequently became rector of the minor seminary of philosophy in Guatemala.
“In 1978 I was appointed auxiliary bishop of Tegucigalpa and ordained on Dec. 8 of that year. Later I was [elected] secretary-general of the Latin American episcopal council (CELAM), and lived in Bogota for four years. Subsequently, I was appointed 16 years ago archbishop of Tegucigalpa and I was created cardinal by Servant of God Pope John Paul II in the consistory of the year 2001. Two years ago I was elected president of Caritas Internationalis.”
These are, in sum, the great moments of his autobiography. But in this interview, the cardinal goes further, illustrating the reason for his vocation, as well as its most beautiful and most difficult moments.
ZENIT spoke with Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga for this week’s installment of God’s Men.
ZENIT: How did your call to follow the Lord happen? How did you decide to become a priest?
Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga: The call was the Lord’s, through the father director of my school. I was enchanted with the Salesian life: I began at age six in primary school. I liked the environment very much and was an acolyte. In fact, on returning from Holy Mass in the school with the father director, who was later archbishop of Tegucigalpa, he said to me: “Wouldn’t you like to be a priest?” And I answered immediately: “Yes.”
From that moment I already felt I was in the seminary, but when I finished primary school, at age 12, I told my father that I was going to the Salesian minor seminary, as an aspirant, and he said: “You’re not going anywhere, because you don’t control yourself. You are very mischievous and they will return you to me the next day.” And, in fact, many times afterward I thought: “He was right.”
Then I forgot about my vocation and dedicated myself to aviation with my soul, life and heart. I learned English as a child precisely to be able to read books on aviation; I learned to fly when I was 14.
When I was about to finish high school, we had spiritual exercises. I remember that the preacher said to us: “If God calls you, don’t be cowards.” That resonated in my interior and I said: “God is calling me and I don’t want to be a coward.” That is why I joined as an aspirant, then I went to the novitiate: That was my journey.
ZENIT: You mentioned your passion for aviation, but many are also aware of your passion for music.
Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga: Yes, because as a child there was music in my home: My father loved music; my eldest sister and other siblings played the piano. So I was set to study piano since I was a child. On entering the congregation I was also assigned to be professor of music; they sent me to study in the conservatory and for many years I taught sacred music, Gregorian chant, which I love; I also put together orchestras and bands in the schools where I worked and thus learned to play several instruments.
ZENIT: Which ones?
Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga: The saxophone, the accordion, the organ, the piano, percussion instruments, the double bass, the clarinet. … So life has been very lovely for me.
ZENIT: Was there an important person in your decision to follow God?
Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga: Yes, it was of course the father director of the school, as well as St. John Bosco. The year before I was ordained a priest, my mother revealed something to me that I didn’t know: I was born prematurely and the doctor said I wouldn’t survive. Then she decided to pray the rosary every day for my health, assuring that, if God called me, she would offer me to the Lord. I never knew this, and here you have the result.
ZENIT: What have been some of the happiest moments since you decided to say “yes” to the Lord?
Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga: Very many. Of course, when I made my first vows as a Salesian, I always dreamed of being a Salesian and that was an enormous joy for me. Then, of course, the happiest moment was my priestly ordination — this is the greatest grace that God can give a person, after baptism. Subsequently, the episcopate rather frightened me and I didn’t think it was my vocation, but I accepted because Don Bosco said that a wish of the Pope for a Salesian was a command and so I accepted in faith. And I think the Lord has granted me 31 years of joy as a bishop, much joy. When Pope John Paul II called me to be cardinal, it was a surprise. I never dreamed of that, because Honduras never had a cardinal, so I was delighted because of the joy it gave my people.
ZENIT: And what have been some of the most difficult moments?
Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga: Well, the Lord also says: “If anyone wishes to follow me, he must deny himself, pick up his cross and follow me.” Among those moments was my father’s death, when I had hardly begun my journey, in my second year of philosophy. At times I also had difficulties with my health, I suffered from asthma for several years; the Virgin cured me miraculously, when I was in the first year of theology.
As well, I had many difficulties because of the situation in Central America. As apostolic administrator bishop I was in a diocese on the border with Guatemala and El Salvador: We had refugees. It was the time of guerrillas and, of course, everything was very difficult. Another very sad moment was John Paul II’s death.
Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga: Because I loved him very much, he was practically my father, and he always showed great confidence and affection for me. Of course we saw him getting weaker, but I didn’t think he’d die so soon. For me it was the same as when my father died, the same.