Blessed Alvaro del Portillo

Just two weeks ago, Bishop Alvaro del Portillo was beatified in Madrid. Tens of thousands of people from all over the world were in attendance to witness to his holiness in this life and celebrate the official acknowledgement of his beatitude in the next.

The next step for the newly Blessed (Deo volente) will depend upon Rome’s approval of a second miracle, leading to his canonization in Rome by the pope, whoever that pope may be and whenever that may be. These things take time, but happily much less time than they used to (which could often be centuries), thanks to the reforms of St. Pope John Paul II.

Don Alvaro was one of St. Josemaria Escrivá’s first followers and was at his side when he died of a heart attack in 1975. Don Alvaro was among the first handful of members of Opus Dei, well before official Church approval.

In throwing in his lot with Fr. Josemaria in this young initiative, he showed tremendous fidelity and generosity of spirit, abandoning the possibility of a brilliant career as an engineer. After his ordination as one of the first three priests in Opus Dei, he played a central role as the successor of the Founder, St. Josemaria, overseeing its continued development throughout the world.

In 1982, after Opus Dei was named the first personal prelature of the Church (a Catholic organization headed by a bishop but defined functionally instead of geographically as dioceses are), Don Alvaro became the first Prelate and Bishop of Opus Dei, opening a new chapter in canon law of the Church which can help other new foundations as they appear.

I myself met Bishop Alvaro many times through the years, in Rome, as a seminarian in Spain, as a young priest both soon after my ordination, and also at various times when he visited the United States, for which he had a great affection. I therefore had the great privilege of spending some time with Blessed Alvaro up close and personal.

One time in particular holds special significance for me, because I stopped him in the hall to let him know that I was willing to be ordained if he found me suitable. He spent considerable time talking to me even though he had been on the point of leaving for an important meeting in the Vatican. But he always put his spiritual sons and daughters first, as a true father would.

Some years later, very soon after my ordination, much to my surprise, I encountered him and he asked me to bless him: It should have been the other way around!

               St. Josemaria Escrivá (left) with Bl. Alvaro del Portillo

During my time in Rome, I was impressed above all by his serenity, his cheerfulness, and his devotion and loyalty to the founder of Opus Dei, St. Josemaria.

Those not privileged to have known him in his life can learn much about him on the Vatican and Opus Dei websites, including sound and footage documenting some of his visits to many countries in the world. In addition, I recommend a fine and very readable biography of him by Professor John Coverdale to better understand the new Blessed Alvaro.

What would he tell us from his current vantage point in heaven? Many things I am sure, but above all he would echo the exhortation of the founder of Opus Dei (which of course is also the Church’s exhortation): Be a Saint!

What were some of his signature virtues and accomplishments? In my opinion (though there are many to choose from):

1.              His loyalty and service to the Church and the Holy Father
2.              His loyalty to his vocation to Opus Dei and its founder.
3.              His cheerfulness – always wearing a smile, even in great difficulties.
4.              His love for the poor, seen in his many efforts to help them in Africa in particular but also in other developing     countries.
5.              His love for the priesthood, religious and secular.
6.              His grueling work during the Second Vatican Council, for which he played an important role in its final   documents.
7.              His founding, at the request of Pope St John Paul II, of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross now thriving in Rome.
8.              His love for Our Lady and the Rosa, as evidenced among other ways by his visits to Marian Shrines all over the world.
9.              His love for the Eucharist was crowned at the end of his life when, after having said his Holy Mass in the Cenacle, where Jesus had his Last Supper, Don Alvaro returned to Rome to be taken to heaven shortly after his eightieth birthday.

Ask his intercession before God for a healing – who  knows, you may be the one who puts him over the top to canonization and you will someday find yourself in Rome attending his canonization because through his intercession God granted you a miracle!

Fr. C .J. McCloskey is a research fellow of the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington, D.C.
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Fr. C. John McCloskey (1953-2023) was a Church historian and Non-Resident Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute.