We have lost a father, Bishop Javier Echevarria. He was bishop, prelate, but over and beyond these, he was Father. He was 84. I never met him personally, but I can say I knew him to be Father, and not just in the figurative sense. I wrote him a few days before he was admitted to the hospital. Among other things, I thanked him for keeping us always present in his heart and his prayers. I had other things to tell him at Christmas, but that’s unnecessary now; he knows. And that was one thing characteristic of the Father, and which everyone who met him felt. When you were with him, you felt known and very much loved.
He knew how to love, with a love that kept both memory and initiative alive. A man who would notice that a daughter of his was unwell, even though she has tried – with some degree of success – to hide it from the others. A man who would tell his other daughters to consider getting a good sunscreen for a European daughter of his who lives in Africa but is spending a few days in Rome. All these because, just seeing her for a few minutes, he feels she has aged significantly since the last time he saw her some years ago: the lady in question didn’t even notice this. He had many children, yet he sought to have a personal relationship with each one. He would remember family situations that people just mentioned by the way – a parent’s birthday, a sibling’s illness. He had eyes. He would notice a small tear in the cassock of a priest son of his. He created a warm family atmosphere wherever he was, with little things. He teased a daughter of his who had just turned 25 that she needed a walking stick, now that she was old. He joked about an African son of his who needed layers and layers of clothes to keep the winter cold of Rome away.
He wrote to us each month unfailingly. He loved us so much that he would urge us on constantly on our journey to God, telling us very clearly the dangers that lay ahead. He himself began this journey at a young age, with a young heart that matured and became big enough to fit in everyone. He gave everything till he had nothing left for himself. At 80, it’s perfectly normal to seek a well-deserved rest, to retire at the front porch and bark at passers-by. Not the Father. He travelled many countries, spreading the love of God. We would never know just how much those journeys cost him, because he would not say, but I imagine it must have cost him a lot at that age. He showed us with very practical examples that love meant deeds. The Father would be the first to stand up to serve.
When the Father accepted the election that made him the Father, he said he was counting a lot on our prayers and our support. During the last years of this life, he repeated even more earnestly that he leaned on each one of us, that we shouldn’t leave him; he needed our prayers, our little sacrifices. This only served to endear the Father us even more to us. We felt and still feel that beautiful communion of saints that transcends space, time and natural ties. I guess there were many things we could have said about the Father while he was alive, but separation makes one reflect. Now, there are so many things we can say, and perhaps even more that we cannot exactly translate into words, but one thing sure fills our hearts now – gratitude. Gratitude for a life poured out in love and service of God, the Church and everyone.
That night of the Father’s death, I had seen a short documentary of our Lady of Guadalupe. The woman who acted the part of our Lady had such beautiful eyes. Our Lady chose to take this son of hers on her feast day. What beautiful eyes the Father would behold in heaven!
Rest in peace, Father, and pray for us.