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On September 27, 2014, as early as 7:00am, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from over 80 countries made their way to Madrid’s Parque de Valdebebas for the Beatification of Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, the first successor of the founder of Opus Dei, St. Josemaria Escriva.
Our group of 50 Canadians travelled by Metro to the site. At each stop we were accompanied by other passengers clearly heading to the Beatification as well. Dressed in Sundays’ best, carrying folding chairs and proudly baring their flags of origin, we could tell they were going where we were going. The obviousness caused an excited stir of conversations and selfies throughout the train. Anyone who was not attending the Beatification approached the train with caution, as if they were witnessing a giant flash mob. The atmosphere on the train was a jubilant one.
The stop for Valdebebas was decorated with posters of Alvaro del Portillo with arrows directing people to the bus line-up. The event was equipped with 1,600 busses transporting people from various locations to the beatification site. From end to end, the 185,000 square meters of the park contained 80 confessionals, 13 chapels, 26 screens, a massive altar, 300 concelebrants for the Mass, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and 3,500 volunteers running the ‘show’. The altar had a backdrop of Our Lady of Almudena with handwritten script, “Regnare Christum Volumus” (We want Christ to reign).
From 8:00 am onward people made their way to their sections which ranged from A to I. While patiently waiting for the ceremony to begin, mood setting music played over the speakers while we Canadians watched, astounded by the regalia suited to the people from their respective countries. From colourful African dresses and head pieces to intricate Korean Hanboks, this was the realizing factor that the whole world had really come to celebrate a Saint.
Under sunny skies, contrary to the forecast of showers, the Beatification began with some words from Pope Francis read by the Vicar General of Opus Dei, Fr. Fernando Ocariz. In the Holy Father’s letter he outlined del Portillo’s life, with a special dissection of his famous aspiration, “Thank you, forgive me, help me more”. Without failing to mention his works during his travels to several different countries, Pope Francis also captured the spirit of Opus Dei, that simplicity and ordinary life are a sure path to holiness. (The Pope’s letter can be found at www.alvarodelportillo.org)
After the solemn Beatification, the screens revealed a larger than life image of the new Blessed, which displayed one his finest qualities, a serene gaze. Shortly after this, Jose Ignacio, the young boy who had received a favour which lead to del Portillo’s Beatification, presented the new Blessed’s relic to the altar. Uproarious applause ensued and the choir began a regal rendition of ‘Christus Vincit’. The massive crowd joined in singing with a joyful pride.
During the Mass, the most impressive moment was the seemingly endless procession of priests that administered Holy Communion. Young men holding yellow and white umbrellas accompanied each of the 1,200 priests. Communion was timed perfectly with the singing of ‘Nearer, my God, to thee’. When all the Hosts were consumed, with the accompaniment of the orchestra, the park resonated an aura of prayer and thanksgiving.
At the end of the Mass, the Prelate of Opus Dei, Bishop Javier Echevarria, shared his gratitude to God, the Church, Pope Francis, Pope Emeritus Benedict the XVI, Cardinal Amato and to all who made the event possible. He proclaimed Alvaro del Portillo’s example, that it should remind us of the universal call to holiness. He also asked that we pray especially for fellow Christians who suffer persecution and are martyred in different parts of the world. When the ceremony concluded, and the pilgrims started back for Madrid, the thousands of volunteers remained to clean up the park so that it would be spotless for the following day’s Thanksgiving Mass.
On the Monday following the Thanksgiving mass, many of the Faithful travelled to Rome to pray in front of Blessed Alvaro del Portillo’s remains, which was transferred from the crypt of the Prelatic Church of Our Lady of Peace, to the Basilica of St. Eugenio.
While moving around Madrid and Rome it was surreal to see so many familiar faces in a foreign land, the affair resembled a giant family reunion. Historical sites that pertained to Blessed Alvaro’s life in both Madrid and Rome were decorated with large posters that would explain his significance to each building.
In Rome, during the Wednesday Papal audience, amidst the thousands of Faithful, you would have never known that the majority of the crowd had just come from Madrid. That is, until Pope Francis made a special mention of Opus Dei and Bishop Javier Echevarria, which caused the crowd to cheer with enthusiasm.
Another memorable event that cannot go unmentioned was the Benediction on Thursday evening for the transfer of Blessed Alvaro del Portillo from St. Eugenio back to Our Lady of Peace. St. Eugenio was exceedingly crowded, so much so that the concept of personal space was non-existent. However, during the Benediction, when the Blessed Sacrament was exposed, the crowd managed to find a way to kneel, albeit in awkward or uncomfortable positons. This was a beautiful illustration that in the midst of all the hype over the new Blessed, the glory remained to God as a reminder that He marks the Saint, not men.
Alvaro del Portillo’s obedience to Our Lord’s will paved the way for so many to draw nearer to Christ both while he was alive and even after his death. Today all the favours of his intercession are pouring in, including the favour that was granted on the day of his Beatification.
During the Mass on the 27th of September, the Polish representative reading an intention included a special intention she read out in Spanish for a boy name ‘Lorenzo’. The story goes that Lorenzo’s family came to Madrid to attend the Beatification. At some point 18-month old ‘Lorenzo’ had fallen into the hotel’s pool and was found by an ex-fire fighter who was able to stabilize him until reaching the hospital. In the end, the favour was granted thanks to Blessed Alvaro’s intercession and the prayers of the thousands of pilgrims at Valdebebas. ‘Lorenzo’ was spotted later in the week running around Rome in full health.
If you’ve heard of del Portillo before or are only getting to know him now, I would recommend reading “Saxum: The Life of Alvaro del Portillo” from the synopsis you’ll find that, “the book is a fact-filled biography set against the background of historic events like the Spanish Civil War and Vatican Council II. It depicts a person of powerful integrity and conviction who set aside a promising engineering career to follow the vision embodied in Opus Dei. Don Alvaro emerges in these pages as a tower of strength, reliability, and good humor in the face of a host of threats and challenges that might well have defeated a lesser man.”
If there is one thing to take away from this experience it is that the Beatification of Alvaro del Portillo is a vibrant example of what marvels Our Lord can work in our lives if we simply abandon ourselves to Him.
Written by Trisha Villarante, guest blogger.
Today on Perspectives, a look back at Pope Francis’ weekly general audience, our Salt + Light team talks to pilgrims ahead of the upcoming Synod of Bishops and 43 seminarians are ordained to the diaconate at St. Peter’s Basilica.