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Interview of Fr. Manuel Rivero, O.P.

Interviewed by Fr. Mark Hoo, O.P.

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Can you share with us your background prior to joining the Order of Preachers?

I was born in 1951 in the City of Bilbao which lies in the Spanish Basque region. My primary school formation and that of my sisters was realized under the tutelage of the Franciscan sisters. I must say that I retain very fond memories of my pre-secondary and secondary school years. This is because I was formed by the Christian Brothers of Saint Jean-Baptiste de la Salle. They were young, austere, and strict when it came to administering discipline, and, yet, they were also quite creative when it came to music and theatre.

It was with the Christian Brothers that I felt the call to become a priest. I loved participating in Mass early in the morning and, at this time, I also belonged to the Congregation of Mary, an association of Marian spirituality that had given each of us a scapular to wear. My life and that of the other students revolved around the pre-secondary/secondary school of St. James. We worked a lot…house chores in addition to the eight hours of course work. Our leisure time of sports, movies and youth clubs was also connected with the school. On Sunday mornings, however, I would teach catechesis in a working-class area. Sunday Vespers followed by Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament brought an end to the day that would pass by ever so quickly. Until today, whenever I sing the Tantum Ergo, I always think back to the Sunday evenings of my adolescent years.

In 1968 I entered University for a period of five years to pursue studies in economics. This was a time when I discovered another world for myself. Thoughts on development and justice attracted me at a time of the dictatorship of Franco. At the beginning of each year, they would be a drawn-out strike. Student assemblies were restricted, while police vehicles were often parked-out in front of the Faculty. Interceptions by the "greys" - the name given to police officers because of the colour of their uniform - were brutal. Socialism represented the true ideal. Christian discourse received sarcastic remarks from Marxist students who fancied themselves to be very scientific. During this time, I also loved to assist at debates in the student assemblies. The debates of the political leaders stirred within me a great admiration for them. But I was shy and incapable of speaking out [sharing the word] in public. Yet, it was also during this time that I became aware of the power of speech [power of the word] and the value of debates.

What is it that attracted you to the Order of Preachers?

I had been seeking out my vocation in life for some years. This was the most painful stage of my life, by the way, as I did not know where I was going. I was twenty years old when the friars in the Dominican priory of Bilbao shared with me the possibility of a Dominican vocation. While reading the Constitutions of the Order, I said to myself, "here is what I have been looking for!" Prayer, study, community life and, especially preaching, corresponded with what I had been profoundly desiring for myself.

Following this, I discovered the priory of Toulouse of which I entered in 1974. As a secondary school student, I had often frequented France to take part in summer-camp activities. While a university student I took literature courses at the Sorbonne. And, now, as a friar at the priory of Toulouse, I have lived many happy years in fraternal joy and study. My presbyteral ordination was celebrated in "la ville rose" in June of 1980.

When did you begin preaching on the Rosary?

My baptismal Godfather, Ricardo Diez de Ulzurrun, came from Navarre. He was also my uncle. Whenever I visited him at his home, I would often find him praying the rosary. He would pray it every evening before meals while listening to the rosary program on radio, though it was the rosary prayed with very little biblical content. My Godfather never shared with me about the faith, but then, he was also a good person, cheerful and faithful. I decided to follow his example and to pray the rosary especially during difficult moments…like exams!

At the priory of Toulouse, friar Joseph Eyquem, founder of "Equipes du Rosaire," proposed in 1976 that I go as a translator to the Congress for promoters of the rosary in Rome. It was there that I discovered the international scope of this Marian prayer. And, out of this experience, friar Eyquem proposed that I write in the Rosary newsletter and preach to the lay groups in the region of Toulouse. Each year, in the month of October, we would go to Lourdes for a rosary pilgrimage organized by the Dominicans of France. I began as a stretcher-bearer there. While I was assigned to the priory of Marseille, I was made director to the Rosary hospitality providers for the Bouches du Rhône region for five years. These hospitality providers were in service to the sick. During my time at Merseille, I was also made regional chaplain to "Equipes du Rosaire" and Marian lay movements that count upwards of 120,000 members in the world today.

Why do you love the Rosary?

The rosary is a school of contemplation and of preaching. With Mary as our guide, we make an interior voyage to the holy land of Jesus to relive his childhood, his preaching, his death and his resurrection. As a bird flies up into the heavens little by little by the regular movement of its wings, so too do our souls rise up to God to the rhythm of the Ave Maria and the Lord's Prayer.

I like to pray my rosary while preparing my homilies in order to be nourished by the Word. Each time that we say in the Lord's Prayer, "that your kingdom come," we are praying, "that your Holy Spirit come," because the Kingdom of God is none other than the fullness of the Holy Spirit. And Christian life does not have any other end than the attainment of the Holy Spirit.

The prayer of the rosary is a great educational tool that has developed over the centuries. It introduces us progressively into the mystery of Christ. The joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries of the rosary reveal within our hearts a deeper understanding of the mysteries of our existence, so that the life of God can dwell in us and ours in him - our lives dwelling in him that come complete with their cares, sufferings, hopes and joys.

In addition to this, the rosary represents a true preaching of Christian faith. In the Dominican tradition, the Virgin Mary did not request Saint Dominic to "pray the rosary," but to "go and preach the rosary." We have received this gift of Marian preaching. People say to us that, "when a Dominican preaches about the Virgin Mary, it is beautiful and different from that of the other priests." Our Jesuit brothers are excellent when it comes to the human sciences. One need only think of their publications such as "China News Analysis" of Taipei or "Etudes" of Paris. On the other hand, with Mary, we have among others, the grace of popular preaching.

Devotion to the rosary is not obligatory. Each has to feel free about praying it or not. Many severely criticize it publicly. I find this to be a serious problem. What does this serve? Very often, those who come to hear negative criticisms about the rosary not only cease to pray it, but cease to pray all other prayers as well. Admittedly, however, I do understand the reservations expressed when it comes to "rapid-fire rosary." Like all human reality, prayer and prayer of the rosary are meant to be converted when in contact with the Word of God. The French writer, Antoine de Saint Exupéry liked to say that, "churches are emptying because Christians do not know how to exalt the faith anymore." We have to give due honour to the rosary as the school of contemplation and preaching. During these days of the General Chapter, fr. Michel Van Aerde has spoken of preaching as an act of contemplation. So, why bring to mind the seductions of preachers or their insufficient grasp of exegesis, when one can highlight the very beauty of the act itself of preaching, where God manifests himself so as to give us his Spirit? After all, doesn't the promotion of vocations to Dominican life begin with this?

Can you share with us some of your experiences about your involvement in the pilgrimages to Lourdes?

While at Lourdes, I had the honour and joy of accompanying the sick. Sickness makes one stop to think, especially when they tire so quickly. But then, on the other hand, praying the rosary offers the sick the possibility of "making a pilgrimage on Holy Land without pain and payment" as someone from Marseille mentioned to Monsignor Roger Etchegaray. I like to say that "we have to put the sick to work," that is to say, we can ask them to pray for the salvation of the world. Saint Bernadette of Lourdes had received in her convent of Nevers "the job of prayer." Prayers by the sick are for us a graced source of grace. Just as we ask our Dominican nuns to pray for our preaching, so too can we ask the sick to do the same.

We live out a special grace at Lourdes. Social barriers crumble in favour of human reconciliation. Doctors and the sick, rich and poor, theologians and illiterates pray and live together in unique joy, and is not joy the signature of the Holy Spirit?

What is your sense about the popularity in the devotion to the rosary today, more particularly among the young?

Many of the young are in complete ignorance of the rosary. My experience hosting the rosary program on radio each Monday evening for the past eight years on Reunion Island, makes me think that children and the young appreciate this way of prayer. Among members responsible for running this program on Radio Arc-en-ciel (Arch in heaven) are children, junior-secondary and secondary school students. As this is direct programming, a quarter of an hour of which is given over to telephone appeals, we are aware that families with children, the young, the sick and prisoners pray the rosary each Monday evening while listening to the radio. One day, a woman wrote to me to say that "I live alone on a sugar-cane field, but since the rosary is said on Monday evenings, Monday has become for me a feast day."

Praying the rosary also permits the Dominican Family to work together. Each year, on the first Sunday of October, the nuns organize a rosary pilgrimage on Reunion Island that gathers as many as 3000 people. Each branch of the Dominican Family, the apostolic sisters, the laity and the friars, collaborates in this endeavour; they do the same as well for the rosary program on radio. Preaching the rosary permits the laity to live out their apostolic charisms without having to hold a Doctorate in Theology. This form of preaching gives them the desire to deepen their knowledge of the Bible and to deepen their spirituality.

During funeral wakes, the prayer of the rosary, in an evangelical context, also helps the grieving families to experience the force of faith. Personally, I have always left funeral wakes reflecting on their illuminated and peaceful faces. While on Calvary, did not Jesus give Mary over as mother and model to John the Evangelist? Mary prays for us at the hour of our death, and, as such, she is for us the passage way, the open curtain, the tunnel through which we cross toward the dawn of the resurrection.

Do you still have the opportunity to go to Lourdes?

While I was living on Reunion Island, I did not go to Lourdes. I privileged my participating in the local pilgrimage organized by our nuns. Since I will be in Toulouse for a part of next September, I have already requested to be registered for the upcoming pilgrimage to Lourdes to be held in the month of October. I will visit the Grotto again after eight years of absence, this grotto that Saint Bernadette called her "heaven on earth." puce


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