MADRID: Venerable Bishop Alvaro Del Portillo was beatified here in Madrid yesterday September 27. That means he is now called Blessed Alvaro. Blesseds are publicly recognized by the Church as saints but are not canonized or listed on the canon. One day he will be called Saint Alvaro del Portillo.
This capital city of Spain was where he encountered Opus Dei through its founder San Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer. Some 1600 of us Filipinos have come from the Philippines to attend the beatification ceremonies.
When I was ambassador to Rome in the nineties, the first item in my agenda was to pay my respects to the head of Opus Dei, an organization that I had the privilege to join a couple of decades earlier in Manila. Fortunately for me the Philippine Embassy in the Parioli area was quite near the headquarters of “The Work” which was and still is located in Viale Bruno Buozzi or Bruno Buozzi Street. Since the “father” (as the head is affectionately called by his “sons” and “daughters” who are members of the organization) had a very busy schedule, I had to wait a couple of weeks before I could get my audience.
Finally the big day arrived and I was called to meet Bishop Alvaro in the afternoon. As soon as he entered the room where I was waiting he broke into that big winning smile of his and gave that big hug with which he greets his sons. As we settled down my nervousness immediately disappeared as I sat before a man adored by some 80,000 members of an organization 90 percent of whom are laymen and laywomen. Only some ten percent of the members are priests.
Ever solicitous like a doting father he immediately asked how I was doing in my new job and if there was something he could do to make my stay more comfortable in Rome. His concern reached many people – not only members of the work. When I informed him that I just had lunch with his eminence Cardinal Sanchez who seemed lonely in his palatial surroundings attended only by a few helpers, he volunteered the information that he had an inkling about this and had sent a couple of priests from the work to take the good cardinal for a paseo on weekends. He seemed disappointed that I did not bring my daughter Bettina with me because he said that he was going to give her a rosary like the one he gave me. Before I left he was concerned about the rain outside and asked whether I had a raincoat or umbrella. Informed that I had a car and a driver, he felt relieved.
What I retained in my mind the most during that visit was his observation about the Philippines which he said pained him. This was the seemingly high level of poverty in the country dramatized by the number of beggars in the streets who swarmed around cars when the traffic stopped before a red light. Knowing that I was connected with the Center for Research and Communications (now the University of Asia and the Pacific), he told me to tell my colleagues to do something to help alleviate the plight of the poor folk.
Bishop Alvaro held important positions in the Vatican. In 1959 he was named a consultor for the Congregation for the Vatican Council, and in 1960, a qualificator for what was then the Supreme Congregation of the Holy Office. In 1963 he was also named a consultor for the Pontifical Commission for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law. Popes had great confidence in Don Alvaro. In 1964 he was named a judge in the Supreme Congregation of the Holy Office, and in 1966, a consultor for three organizations: the Postconciliar Commission for Bishops and the Government of Dioceses, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for the Clergy.
Among his great contributions to the Church were his recommendations of the status of the laity and the priests who, after the Second Vatican Council, seemed confused about their respective roles. Many priests wanted to act as laymen and many laymen tried to ape the priests. His book, on the “Faithful and Laity in the Church” which came out in 1969, did a lot to lend clarity to the roles of both the laity and clergy in the Church which may be well understood today but at that time was considered original and creative. Indeed Bishop Alvaro’s precise delineation of the two groups established, according to one of his biographers, Salvador Bernal, “a solid intellectual basis for the dignity of the priests and rights of the laity.”
In 1975 he was elected the first successor of Blessed Josemaria. During his years at the helm, he helped Opus Dei begin apostolic work in 20 new countries, oversaw its erection as a personal prelature and the process of beatification of its founder. Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, the Prelate of Opus Dei for 19 years, was outstanding as a holy priest, a talented pastor of souls and an insightful thinker. His death in 1994 was mourned by hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world, including Pope John Paul II and many high-ranking members of the church. Nicknamed “saxum” or “rock” by the founder of Opus Dei, he was verily so to San Josemaria as Petrus was to Christ.