A GATEWAY TO HEAVEN
Year 1934. A group of students regularly visits the ill and those in need from poor districts of Madrid and preaches catechesis there. In the country there is strained political atmosphere, hatred to the Church is growing. During one of visits, students were mugged. Prepared for that situation, local inhabitants are watching the situation: one is having his ear torn away, and a student of land engineering - Alvaro is being hit in his head with a wrench. They manage to run away to a nearby underground, train door shut behind them. Bloodstained Alvaro says at home that he fell over, not to worry his family, but newspapers describe the brutal attack the next day.
Year 1943. A 29-year-old man in a uniform of Spanish civil engineers visits pope Pius XII. He presents the Pope a wide panorama of pastoral activity among laymen aiming at holiness in everyday life, explains the universal meaning of the organization existing only for a short time.
The institution about which the Spanish engineer named Alvaro spoke, getting prepared for priesthood then, gained the first approval from the Holy See in 1947, through the so-called Decretum laudis (Latin: a decree of praise).
Year 1978. On the first day after the election of the pope, John Paul II ‘slips away’ from Vatican in order to visit his severely ill friend – bishop Andrzej Deskura. In hospital he meets and cordially greets Fr. Alvaro del Portillo – the general Chair person of Opus Dei for a short time. Fr. Alvaro and the bishop of Cracow Wojtyła met each other during a debate of the Second Vatican Council just via Fr. Deskura.
A breakthrough meeting
Alvaro del Portillo was prepared by the atmosphere of his home to undertake the later tasks. He was born in Madrid on 11 March 1914 as the third of eight children of Clementina Diez de Sollano and Ramon del Portillo. Although he was a toreador in his childhood, he chose short, 3-year studies in order to gain the title of a specialist for public works and support his family financially. Soon after graduating these studies, he continued his learning in a prestigious School of Roads Engineers, also working to earn money. Prominent and also modest student, he also took an active part in a Conference of St. Wincenty a Paulo’s Association, giving catechesis and visiting the ill and people in need in poor districts of Madrid. At that time it required much courage which is proved by the mugging in 1934.
Thanks to his colleagues from the group, he met Fr. Josemaria Escriva at the age of 21, a saint today, who was running pastoral work with students at that time, being the beginning of Opus Dei (Latin: God’s Work). It was a turning point in his life. He took part in a recollection day and having listened to some reflections of Fr. Josemaria about God’s love, he decided to join God’s Work, committing to celibate for the whole life, as a layman at that time.
Soon (1936-39) a bloody civil war broke out in Spain, which betrayed many martyrs for faith. In the beginning Alvaro was sentenced to imprisonment, later he with Fr. Escriva and other members of God’s Work found a shelter in the embassy of Honduras. Being squeezed together in a small room, they did not lose hope or peace. Fr. Escriva preached deep reflections about God’s love and Christian life to them. In these circumstances, Fr. Alvaro started learning Japanese, thinking about the future development of apostolic works of God’s Work.
Finally, Fr. Escriva left Madrid, and Alvaro and two other members went to report to militia and deserted straightaway, providentially crossing the frontier line and going onto another side of the fights. His being in the army had an influence on his personality, later he even used military comparisons to explain various issues.
A good pastor
Soon after the ending of military actions, Fr. Escriva returned to Madrid. After demobilization Alvaro joined him, being his most faithful cooperator since then. He continued engineering studies, supported apostolic work Opus Dei, making journeys to various cities in Spain, and he also started getting prepared for priesthood. Bishop of Madrid – Alcala Leopoldo Eijo y Garay, with whom he had friendly relationship, asked: - Alvaro, are you aware that you are losing individuality? After all, you are an appreciated engineer and later you will be another priest. – It has already been many years since I gave my individuality to Christ – said Alvaro.
It was a difficult time for God’s Work because of the lack of material means and also lack of understanding and opposition which were experienced by pastoral work led by Fr. Escriva in Spain. Trustfulness expressed to him by the founder of Opus Dei is proved by the fact that in 1943 he sent him to the pope in order to explain what the new pastoral phenomenon in the Church was based on.
Alvaro was ordained a priest in 1944 with two other members of Opus Dei. Since then he had been a 100% priest he celebrated the Holy Mass with great concentration and carefulness and devoted a lot of time on giving confession. In 1946 he moved to Rome, where there was the central headquarter of Opus Dei in order to help St. Josemaria in managing the Work and developing the range of apostolic works. He had the most difficult tasks, like collecting funds for building the central headquarter of Opus Dei, in order to, for example, pay workers on time.
Fr. Alvaro also worked in Vatican and let others get to know him as a wise and religious priest, so when the Second Vatican Council started he was appointed a secretary of one of the Vatican council commissions – for discipline of clergy and God’s people and a legal advisor of many commissions. It was under his editorial work and with his significant participation that the Decree about ministry and life of priests ‘Presbyterorum ordinis’ was created, which defines priestly identity in the contemporary world.
In 1975 Fr. Josemaria Escriva – the founder of Opus Dei dies – with whom Fr. Alvaro spent over 40 years of his life, also being his confessor. At this moment God’s Work had 65 thousand members on five continents, not saying all cooperators and big groups of people using spiritual formation of Opus Dei. Such a development of the Work was possible thanks to God’s grace and everyday devotional work of many men and women, among whom Fr. Alvaro del Portillo takes an important place.
Fr. Alvaro was given a task of leading thousands of souls along a road indicated by the founder. His great merit is continuing apostolic works of Opus Dei without any shocks or changes, without any derogations from the founding spirit. Fr. Alvaro finished such an important work, like establishing suitable legal frames for Opus Dei, providing a proper place of this institution in the Church and faithfulness to its charisma. Endeavors for it lasted for a few dozen years, till in 1982 pope John Paul II established God’s Work as a personal prelature of the Catholic Church. Fr. Alvaro also led to beatification of the founder of Opus Dei in 1992.
As a prelate of Opus Dei, and from 1991 bishop Alvaro del Portillo significantly contributed to developing the range of God’s Work. He decided about starting apostolic work in 20 countries all over the world. Moreover, he established the Papal University of the Holy Cross in Rome, at which also Polish priests gain very good intellectual formation. His social sensitivity, visible from his youth, gave out a rich fruit because he contributed to establishing a few dozen social and educational works all over the world, such as centres of professional formation and social help, functioning in Cebu and in Manilla (Philippines) or the hospital in Congo in which the local people, clergy and missionaries have medical care.
All these actions are the fruit of intensive prayer life of bishop Alvaro, based on a deep sense of being a child of God; and their purpose was, first of all, God’s glory and to lead people to Christ.
Alvaro del Portillo visited Poland four time, the first time in 1979, when he met with cardinal Stefan Wyszyński. We owe him the apostolic work of God’s Work begun in Poland in 1989, first in Szczecin to the request of bishop Kazimierz Majdański at that time, and also in Warsaw.
Moreover, the will of John Paul II was development of God’s Work in Poland, the saint Pope saw the good, which is a constant formation for laymen, regular confession and spiritual leadership, run by this organization.
St. Josemaria also expressed particular friendliness to Poles, knowing that we are the nation which maintained faith during persecutions and prayed for Poland.
In 1994 bishop Alvaro set off into a journey to the Holy Land, following Christ. He celebrated his last Holy Mass with great emotions and reflection in the church by the Upper Room. He died on 23 March in the early morning, after returning to Rome on the following day.
This fact was passed to pope John Paul II, who celebrated the Holy Mass in the morning in the intention of the deceased bishop. On the same day he arrived in the church of Our Lady of Peace, in order to pray by his body debris. Later he said ‘Salve Regina’ and ‘Father’s Glory’ three times.
Alvaro del Portillo attracted others with his religiousness and human goodness. As a writer and a journalist Vittorio Messori says, he went to him for professional purposes, in order to conduct an interview, whereas, after a while he felt like throwing his notebook and nearly have the holy confession. People knowing Fr. Alvaro note that he never complained about any difficulties and never lost peace and he had many justified reasons for it. He was very patient in enduring many serious illnesses and operations.
God gifted Alvaro with great intellectual abilities which he fully used for God’s glory. He matched thinking with deep humanistic culture. He was PhD of land building engineering, PhD of Philosophy and PhD of canonic law. He had a very intensive life, having many functions in the Holy See, in Opus Dei and running apostolic work. He changed all these actions into a prayer, constant being in God’s presence. He also spent a lot of time on praying before the Tabernacle.
Through the intercession of bishop Alvaro
After his death, many people prayed to bishop Alvaro in important matters and everyday troubles. Fr. Flavio Capucci, a postulator of the beatification process, received 12 thousand descriptions of graces received through the intercession of bishop Alvaro. Miraculous healing of a newborn baby from Chile, suffering from the defect of intestines and heart, as well as defect of brain caused by hypoxia during one of operations, was investigated. Several days after the birth, after another operation, the boy’s heart beating stopped for over half an hour and the boy got haemorrhage. His parents were praying at that time through the intercession of God’s servant Alvaro. When doctors were going to stop the therapy, the boy’s heart started beating again. Moreover, the illness did not cause any harm, which is medically inexplicable. Despite the severe clinical state at that time, after ten years Jose Ignacio leads a normal life.
The Holy See on 5 July 2013 acknowledged the decree about recognizing the miracle through the intercession of bishop Alvaro del Portillo. On the same day the miracle was acknowledged through the intercession of John Paul II, which can be considered as providential convergence.
Soon on 27 September, Alvaro del Portillo will be raised to the glory of the blessed. The ceremony will take place in his hometown – Madrid. Hundreds of thousand pilgrims are coming to it. Its mortal remains are buried in the crypt of the prelate church of the Blessed Mary the Virgin the Queen of Peace in Rome by Viala Bruno Buozzi 75.
‘Vir fidelis multum laudabitur’ (Proverbs Book 28.20) (Latin: Faithful husband will be praised by many people). These words of the Holy Scripture present the characteristic virtue of bishop Alvaro del Portillo in the best way: faithfulness’ – these are the words with which the Holy See sums up his life, emphasizing his faithfulness to the Church and the Holy Father faithfulness to priesthood, faithfulness to Christian vocation and giving him as an example of love and faithfulness for all Christians.