Ramón Goyarrola, The New Bishop of Helsinki Photo: Opus Dei

The new bishop of Helsinki and the challenges facing one of the world’s smallest dioceses

Ramón Goyarrola was recently appointed Bishop of Helsinki by Pope Francis. Several media have echoed the story of this priest of Opus Dei, who has been living in Finland for almost twenty years.

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(ZENIT News – Opus Dei / Helsinki, 10.30.2023).- Ramón Goyarrola (Bilbao, 1969) takes immense pride in being Basque. It’s precisely his Bilbao background and the strength associated with people from this region of Spain that he attributes to his positive attitude and enthusiasm regarding his recent appointment as the bishop of Helsinki. He is well-acquainted with this diocese, as he has been the vicar general until now. He says he is calm and that he prayed and meditated on this appointment by Pope Francis, which he accepted only a few weeks ago.

Ramón studied Medicine at the University of Navarra, and a few years after completing his degree, he became a priest. His journey to Helsinki dates back almost 20 years when, in 2006, the then-bishop of the diocese asked the prelate of Opus Dei to send a priest to support various evangelization efforts in the country.

It was he who packed his bags and headed to Northern Europe, and he says he had no trouble adjusting to a country with such cold weather, few daylight hours, and a language and culture very different from what he was used to. Locals changed his first name, Ramón, to Raimo, which is more in line with Finnish naming conventions. In interviews with some media outlets, such as The Objective and El Correo, he claims to have been enamored with the North since he was a child, particularly the European Nordic countries.

The shortage of Catholic priests in the country – there are barely 30 – has led Ramón to perform a wide range of duties. For years, he served as the chaplain of the university residence established by Opus Dei in Helsinki, where he had extensive contact with the country’s youth. Later, he also became the chaplain of the Helsinki Commercial College. Additionally, he has been involved in prison ministry and even military chaplaincy.

The diocese he will begin shepherding in a few weeks is one of the most secular and impoverished in the world, with just 16,000 Catholics, less than 1% of the population, and eight parishes. The majority of believers are Lutherans at 68.7%, and 1.1% are Orthodox, with the rest being atheists or agnostics. This diversity of faiths has made the country a model for interreligious dialogue, marked by strong ecumenism and respect between different belief systems.

Ramón himself has noted in several interviews the Finns’ impressive capacity for listening and understanding. He says, “People here have no prejudices; they know how to listen. They can have very different ideas, but they respect each other and believe they can learn from one another, whereas in Southern Europe, they might sometimes see each other as enemies. Here, there’s a common good that is considered above one’s individual viewpoint,” he told El Correo. He is also aware of the financial challenges his diocese faces. With humor, he mentions that they are poor, and the little money they have goes towards heating due to the country’s low temperatures.

Goyarrola highlights two issues to address in the country: alcoholism and suicide, both of which, he says, can only find remedy in the “Happiness in capital letters that God provides.” The episcopal ordination is scheduled for November, and Ramón will lead this small portion of God’s people and tackle the challenges ahead in Finland, where, in addition to the cold northern winds, it seems that the Holy Spirit is blowing as well.

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