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Blessed Alvaro Del Portillo: Recounting the Beatification trip to Madrid and Rome

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Trisha Villarante

Trisha Villarante

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).

OnOurWayAlvaro 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.

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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. 

Madrid, we’re on our way!

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Trisha Villarante

Trisha Villarante

This week, for the little corner of the church, Opus Dei, all roads lead to Madrid!

With the Beatification of Bishop Alvaro Del Portillo, the first successor of St. Josemaria, happening in Spain, there is an estimated 100,000 people (according to the Catholic News Agency) coming to witness this momentous and God-glorifying moment.

Every step of the way the members of the Work (Opus Dei) are giving thanks and collecting intentions.

A good friend of mine, Coeli Anne Bugash,  mentioned the trip to a friend of hers and offered to bring along her rosary and any intentions she might have. The following day she received a beautiful tin box full of rosaries and slips of intentions to pack in her suitcase.

Across Canada, there are over 400 people heading to Madrid this week. Some have left early to tour Spain before the blessed occasion and for many of these pilgrims, Rome is the next destination. There they will be attending the thanksgiving mass and the Papal audience on Wednesday morning.

At this moment, my group and I are on route to Madrid. However, we have encountered a minor set-back. After a delayed flight, 3 re-bookings and seperate hotels in London, we are all anxiously waiting for the next flight to Madrid. While laying low, we have discovered that there are others stranded around the world, so together we are praying the new prayer card to Don Alvaro that was sent to us in our Beatification packages in solidarity.

We’ve been through a lot today, but spirits are high and regardless of what has happened so far we still feel as though we are floating in the prayers of people from all over the world.

MADRID, WE’RE ON OUR WAY! #Alvaro14

Written by Trisha Villarante, guest blogger. 

Perspectives Daily: KofC and Gary Sinese helping wounded veterans

Today on Perspectives: The Knights of Columbus annual convention continues. At the states dinner the KofC announced their latest joint project with the Gary Sinese Foundation, Cardinal Gerald Lacroix reflects on the power of fraternity, and Pope Francis’ resumes his General Audiences. Also, the Ebola virus touches the religious men and women working on the front lines in Western Africa.

A pilgrim arrives


S+L’s Kris Dmytrenko has been walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Read his previous blog entries about the pilgrimage here.

After walking 800 kilometres, I finally reached Santiago de Compostela, the Spanish city at the end of my cross-country pilgrimage. But where was the Cathedral? My pace quickened as I marched towards the historic city centre, but still my ultimate destination remained obscured by the hilly terrain. The pavement was soon replaced by cobblestones and — there it is! — the church’s four spires could finally be seen through a gap in the buildings above.

The sound of bagpipes welcomed me to the cathedral square. It’s a strange instrument to hear in Spain, even after one learns that this coastal region (called Galicia) has Celtic roots. I didn’t stop to listen, though, nor did I pause for more than a brief moment as two fellow pilgrims congratulated me. I only wanted to see St. James.

I climbed a tall staircase to the front doors and waded through thick crowds of pilgrims and tourists — a task made more difficult by my unwieldy backpack. To the left of the altar, I spotted a downward staircase marked by the sign: “Sepulcrum Sancti Iacobi Gloriosum”— meaning, the “tomb of the glorious Saint James”.

He is the reason this pilgrimage exists. The apostle James son of Zebedee (distinguishing him from the apostle James son of Alphaeus) was one of the first disciples. The Gospel of Mark describes how he, along with his brother John, encountered Jesus at the Sea of Galilee and immediately left his life as a fisherman. Following the resurrection, it is believed that James traveled to Galicia to preach. He returned to Jerusalem and was martyred, but tradition holds that his remains were brought back to his mission territory.

I felt a huge sense of relief as I proceeded to the crypt and knelt in front of the silver reliquary. My initial prayer was simply “St. James, St. James, St. James,” over and over again. My heart swelled with gratitude for his intercession along the way, guiding me and the millions of others who trod this path before me.

Walk, pray, love


S+L’s Kris Dmytrenko has been walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Read his previous blog entries about the pilgrimage here.

“All I have to do is walk”. This is what I told myself in the weeks leading up to my pilgrimage, as I imagined how simple life was about to become. The Camino de Santiago seemed like a total escape from day-to-day life. At home, I often wonder how I’m going to accomplish all that is required of me. But on the Camino de Santiago? You just walk and pray. I can handle that.

In reality, the Camino still requires some decision-making. Pilgrims ask themselves: should I walk alone today, or join someone else? For dinner, do I indulge in a “pilgrim menu” at a restaurant, or survive another day on sandwiches? Should I search for a wifi signal to check my email, or totally disconnect? Lastly, there is the daily question: when do I stop walking and rest for the night?

These questions cause little stress, naturally, since the choices are limited. But they can be made more difficult by the strange dynamics of the pilgrim community.

Though I traveled here alone – as did most of the pilgrims I’ve met – I didn’t stay that way for long. Like a nomadic convoy, a group has formed among the pilgrims who walk around the same pace and distance every day. While the scenery has been constantly changing over several hundred kilometres, amazingly, the people have remained largely the same.

Like any community, there are people in need. Someone needs a band-aid for his blistered foot. Someone lost her camera and needs help retracing her steps. Someone doesn’t want to eat alone and needs a friend.

There may exist pilgrims who are meant to walk the Camino in prayerful isolation. But for most of us, the pilgrimage has become a school of love of neighbor – in this sense, not far removed from our lives at home. Whether we are walking along an ancient trail, or working late in the office, or caring for a child with the flu, the obligation is the same: loving God and neighbour is all we need to do.

Where is God on the Camino?


S+L’s Kris Dmytrenko is walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain. He may write regular updates for the blog, or he may not until he reaches the end–as the spirit (and wifi availability) leads him.

The Camino de Santiago is infused with Spanish Catholicism — as it should be, since this walking pilgrimage leads to the remains of the apostle St. James, buried in north-west Spain.

Yet the Camino’s appeal extends to non-Christians, as well. The beauty of the French and Spanish countryside, combined with the unparalleled adventure of walking 800 km, can push the figure of St. James into the background. His image is everywhere, but it’s evident that many pilgrims only vaguely understand who is he, what he was martyred for, and why we venerate his relics.

So can God still be found on the Camino, particularly for those still searching for Him?

As I was wondering this, I met Helen. I had seen her before at a few of the evening masses in various towns, but we had never spoken until we stayed at the same pilgrim hostel one night.

Helen shared with me that she had just been confirmed into the Catholic Church before she began the Camino. This was her second Camino, in fact, and it was during the first pilgrimage a year ago that she encountered Jesus for the first time.

In the village where Helen and I were staying, the church remained locked apart from Sunday mass. But Helen found the local woman who had the key, and the church was opened for us. There we sat in silence, in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

Here, in the tabernacles of the hundreds of churches along the pilgrimage, God is found by pilgrims every day. As Helen quietly thanked God for coming into her life one year ago, I was reaffirmed in my conviction that God is still watching over his pilgrimage.

Madrid: One year later

A year ago Madrid was getting ready to receive the pope. The youth of the world arrived in Madrid to celebrate the faith. But one year after, were there fruits?

I first thought about this when Salt and Light prepared the anniversary of WYD 2002. As a staff member for the Madrilenian WYD I asked myself what fruits the did event give the Church? Keeping in mind is too early to see the real fruits, and knowing WYD is a work of God is so big, we may never be able to measure the real effects it had.

To realize what the results are we need to look at what is the purpose of WYD and the goal is nothing less than show that the church is alive and the model of life offered by the church is in fact something more relevant than ever. Looking at WYD Madrid we realize despite of all of the difficulties many people went through during that week, all participants will say was the experience of a lifetime.

My work at WYD brought me to Salt and Light and from my point of view that is one of the fruits together with many others. In Madrid my job was taking care of the content of the official Portuguese web site. It was an amazing experience to share the stories of hundreds of young people around the world making sacrifices to be there, to celebrate their faith together with other people, to have the Holy Father Benedict XVI there thanking them for choosing the way of Christ.

But the experience that really showed me what the Catholic faith is about was my work with the Portuguese Conference of Bishops.  My function was to organize a general meeting for all Portuguese pilgrims. After five months of work on August 18, 8.000 young boys and girls celebrated Christ in their lives, jumping singing and waving flags.

Why that event was so important for me? My past is connected with youth ministry I arrived in Madrid with nothing less than 14 years of experience as a youth minister. In Madrid I was seeing all my work coming to maybe to its most visible fruition. As a youth minister my concern was always try to get young people walking close to God and to not be afraid of showing what they really believe.  That moment in the Madrid Arena was living proof of it.

So looking at all of this WYD Madrid has already given fruits for both those who went and met God in their lives,  and also those who followed the event from afar and were captivated by these young Catholics standing firm in their faith

San Fermin: The saint behind the running of the bulls


One of the most famous feasts in Spain is that of San Fermin in the city of Pamplona. Everyone has seen the images of people dressed in white running in front of the bulls. Behind that feast is Saint Fermin of Amiens. Who is he?

Fermin is said to have been the son of a Roman of senatorial rank in Pamplona in the 3rd century. He was converted to Christianity by Saint Honestus, a disciple of Saint Saturninus. According to tradition, he was baptized by Saturninus at the spot now known as the Pocico de San Cernin, the “Small Well of San Cernin”, across from the facade of the church dedicated to St Cernin, which is built on the foundations of a pagan temple.

According to the local legend, he was ordained a priest in Toulouse, and returned to Pamplona as its first bishop. On a later voyage preaching the gospel, Fermin was beheaded in Amiens, France. He died on September 25, AD 303. Several miracles are associated with the discovery and translation of the relics of Saint Fermin in the time of Savin, bishop of Amiens. It is said that a sweet odor arose from his grave. The smell caused ice and snow to melt, flowers to grow, the sick to be cured, and trees to be inclined reverently toward the saint.

The reason why he is celebrated in  Pamplona with the running of the  bulls is because of an incident attributed to Fermin that actually happened to his master Saturninus. Legend says he was arrested and condemned to the death penalty because of his faith. He was tied to a bull by his feet and dragged to his death. In spite of the fact it was not Fermin who died that way the people of Pamplona started celebrating San Fermin with bull races, the Encierros.

These celebrations have fascinated countless people around the world. Ernest Hemingway wrote a book about the Encierros. The Sun Also Rises is set in Pamplona during the feast of San Fermin.

The universal Church celebrates Saint Fermin of Amiens on September 25. In Pamplona the feast takes place on July 7 because the bulls are such a vital part of the celebration and the bull fairs take part in July.


Photo courtesy of Catholic News Service

St. Elizabeth of Portugal: Bread into roses


Yesterday the universal church celebrated Elizabeth of Portugal known in her home country as Saint Queen Elizabeth.

Elizabeth born in Zaragoza, Spain in 1271, she was the daughter of Peter III of Aragon and was married off to King Denis of Portugal in 1282.  From the beginning Elizabeth showed a great compassion to the poor.

Legend says she would leave the palace disguised, in order to take food to the poor. She was very devoted to God and also passed great part of her time in prayer.

One of the miracles attributed to her is the “miracle of the roses”. After the king had discovered she was leaving the palace to take food to the poor he forbade her to do it. He threatened to lock her up and confine her to the palace. She never gave up and every day she was still leaving behind the king’s back. One day in the winter time she was carrying pieces of bread hidden in her dress. The King saw her going out and stopped her asking, “What you are carrying?” She answered, “Roses, my lord.” He didn’t believe because it was winter. He asked her to show him the roses. Obediently she unfolded the dress and there were roses instead of bread.

This is the most famous miracle attributed to her. She was always an example of devotion to God and to those in need. When her husband died in 1325, she entered in a convent of Poor Claires in Coimbra where she spent the rest of her days.

She left the convent one time in the summer of 1336 to try to stop a war between her son, Alphonse IV of Portugal,  and her grandson, Alphonse XI of Spain.  In spite of being sick she walked to the middle of the battle field and did not leave until the two men came to a resolution peacefully. The battle was averted, but Elizabeth died shortly after.

Pope Urban VIII canonized her in 1625 and choose the date of her death, July 4 as her feast day.

Walking the talk: Spanish clergy funds diocesan food bank

The economic crisis weighing down on Europe has caused staggeringly high unemployment rates, resulting in some families losing part or all of their income. People who never had trouble making ends meet, now find they need help feeding their families. At the same time many people who used to donate faithfully to aid agencies, have had to reduce their support in order to feed their own families.

The result is more demand on aid from charities like Caritas, a church-run charity, and fewer resources with which to help those in need.

In Spain, the bishop of Segovia, Angel Rubio, called on his priests to follow him and “walk the talk” so to speak. During the Chrism Mass celebrated on Holy Thursday he asked his priests to do as he was doing and donate 10 percent of their salaries to Caritas for one entire year.

The money would be used to fund a Caritas food bank in the diocese. The bishop also called for a campaign to recruit volunteers to help staff the food bank.

Caritas Internationalis, the Church’s international aid agency, has national organizations in countries throughout Europe. Those national branches help fund aid initiatives overseas and run programs like food banks and soup kitchens in many European dioceses.

Photo: Pope Benedict visits Caritas soup kitchen in Rome

Photo courtesy of CNS