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Opus Dei leader dies aged 84

Bishop Javier Echevarría, right, with Mgr Fernando Ocariz in 2006 (AP)

Bishop Javier Echevarría Rodríguez, the Prelate of Opus Dei, has died at the age of 84 after a lung infection. He had been suffering from pneumonia.

In a statement, Opus Dei said that Bishop Echevarría’s “clinical situation was complicated in the final hours provoking respiratory insufficiency, which resulted in his death.” He received the sacrament of anointing from Mgr Fernando Ocáriz Braña, vicar general of Opus Dei.

The bishop was the third prelate of Opus Dei, following St Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of the organisation, and Blessed Álvaro del Portillo. Like Blessed Álvaro, he was personally chosen by St Josemaría as a successor. Bishop Echevarría and Blessed Álvaro were seen as those closest to the founder, and the bishop’s death marks the end of an era for the organisation.

Opus Dei has around 90,000 members, of which the overwhelming majority are laymen and women. Its aim is to help people know God in their ordinary lives.

Bishop Echevarría, who worked for Opus Dei all his life, became Prelate in 1994. Born in Madrid in 1932, he was 16 when he met St Josemaría, and became the saint’s personal secretary from 1953 to 1975.

As Prelate, he also served as chancellor of several Opus Dei universities, and wrote books including a portrait of St Josemaría.

Jack Valero, the press officer of Opus Dei in Britain, said: “Those who knew Bishop Javier remember him as a man of deep faith, both strong and very affectionate, with a teasing sense of humour and a great sense of fun. His time as prelate of Opus Dei was characterised by fidelity to the spirit of St Josemaría, apostolic expansion, and close union with all the Popes who reigned during his time of office.”

In 2005, the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination, Pope Benedict XVI praised Bishop Echevarría for his contribution to the new evangelisation, and for fostering “the eagerness for personal sanctity and the apostolic zeal of your priests and lay people”. He said the bishop had “spread the Christian message” in the cultural and scientific worlds, and was especially dedicated to “the defence of life, the family and marriage, and the formation and pastoral care of young people.”

Bishop Echevarría’s successor will be chosen by an “elective congress” in the next three months. Mgr Ocariz will act as interim leader.