by Gordon Nary
Gordon: When you received your vocation, with whom did you first discuss it and what was their advice?
Father Manuel: Vocation is always a mystery in the true sense of the word and I have experienced this, a mystery and a gift, as Saint John Paull II said; it is something that comes from ‘beyond’ and overcomes us, in my case in a very unexpected way. The beginning of my call was rather an interior and personal process made of much thought, lonely prayer and reading of the Bible, attending the Mass, etc. Only in a second a moment, I confronted myself with two priests, Mgr. José María Serrano Ruiz and Mgr. José Luis González Novalín, who came often to my family house in Rome and then accompanied me also in my ordination ceremony. Later I also spoke regularly with the priest in charge of following the candidates who wanted to enter the Pontifical Roman Seminary, Mgr. Gianfranco Basti. They all advised me to take my time to discern well the call of God and if it was a call to priesthood.
Gordon: Where did you attend seminary and what was the most interesting course that you took and why was it so interesting?
Father Manuel: I had the privilege of attending the Pontifical Roman Seminary attached to the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, the Seminary of the Pope. It is the main Seminary where the priests of the diocese of Rome are formed. I also had the privilege to study my philosophy and theology at the Pontifical GregorianUniversity. One of the courses I most liked was in my first year of University. It was called “Introductio in Mysterium Christi” and it was given by Fr Peter Henrici s.j. It gave me a very good overview of the centrality and significance of Jesus Christ and offered me a good structure to keep together all I was about to study.
Gordon: What interested you in earning your Doctor in Dogmatic Theology?
Father Manuel: I was and am extremely interested and fascinated by the mystery of God and the mystery of the human person and the intrinsic and intimate relation between them; this is also what brought me to study Psychology. The best way to approach the mystery of God is through the human being and that is why Jesus Christ has to be at the centre of our theological thinking.
Gordon: When did you serve as Secretariat for Interconfessional Relations of the Spanish Bishops’ and what were your primary responsibilities?
Father Manuel: I served for 8 years, starting in 2011, as Director for Interconfesional Relations at the Spanish Bishops’ Conference. My primary responsibility was to help and coordinate the work of the dioceses in Spain on ecumenical and interreligious matters. In this sense, I kept relations with the leaders of other Christian Churches present in Spain and other religious communities, especially the Jewish and the Muslim communities. I also organized or helped to organize various events, like the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity each year, and international of national meetings with other religious communities, like the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee meeting that was held in Madrid in October 2013.
Gordon: When were you appointed General Secretary of the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Union (COMESE)?
Father Manuel: I was elected by the Bishops of COMECE in March 2019 and took office on the 1st of September 2019.
Gordon: What is the mission of COMECE?
Father Manuel: The mission of COMECE is the dialogue between the Church in the European Union and the European institutions. The Secretariat of COMECE is based in Brussels and maintains close contact with the institutions of the European Union and follows the legal initiatives and policies that are being proposed.
Gordon: What are some of the spiritual challenges in European countries and how is COMECE addressing them?
Father Manuel: There are many spiritual challenges in Europe in the present moment as the population grows older, people of other religious traditions are coming, and the young generations don’t feel part of the Church and Christian values are not accepted or ignored or even attacked by some. I think much work has to be done on the cultural side. As COMECE we try to do our part making present in Brussels, before the Eu institutions, the voice of the Church, and trying to contribute to the policies that are being implemented in the perspective of the Social Doctrine of the Church.
Gordon: Thank you for a great interview.