Of great significance for the Prelature in this half-year was the beginning of the diocesan phase of the canonical investigation into the life and virtues of Saint Josemaría’s first successor as head of Opus Dei, the Servant of God, Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, who died in Rome on March 23, 1994.
The opening of a Cause of canonization always stems from spontaneous devotion rooted in the living faith of the people of God. The Church, by her investigation, seeks to establish that this devotion is authentic and well-founded.
As Bishop Javier Echevarría recalled on March 20, 2004, during the opening session of the Prelature’s tribunal, “Bishop Alvaro del Portillo has truly left behind him ‘a particular legacy of admiration and affection’ (Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Gregis, no. 25),” which very quickly produced “eloquent signs of a wide-spread reputation for sanctity,” especially in the form of thousands of signed statements attributing spiritual and material favors to his intercession.
Having completed the requirements foreseen by the Normae servandae in inquisitionibus ab episcopis faciendis (February 7, 1983), nos. 10-14, and having verified the solidity of the evidence for the Christian exemplariness of Bishop Del Portillo’s life, the Prelate decided to begin the juridical investigation into his life and virtues. His address given at the opening of the tribunal on March 20 is found in this issue of Romana. Several of its points are worth highlighting here.
First of all, we can note the rigor with which the requirements of the first phase of the investigation were carried out, and the decision to work in an unhurried manner, allowing ten years to pass since Bishop Del Portillo’s death before beginning the investigation, rather than being governed by the five-year waiting period foreseen by the canonical norms. During these years, publications have been prepared on his reputation for sanctity while still living, on favors granted after his death, on the biographical details of his life, and on his spiritual personality.
Secondly, Bishop Echevarría decided to ask his eminence Cardinal Camilo Ruini, the Vicar of His Holiness for the Diocese of Rome, to designate a tribunal from the Vicariate to hear certain witnesses, among them the Prelate himself, various members of the Prelature, and persons attached to the Roman Curia. Cardinal Ruini, after examining the documentation gathered during the past decade, in his address at the opening session of the Vicariate’s tribunal expressed his conviction that “this Cause of Canonization is well-founded. Bishop Del Portillo’s reputation for holiness, which gave all indications of being solidly based, precluded the need to wait any longer. Therefore I have given my approval to this project without any hesitation. The Bishop’s Conference of the province of Lazio, which I consulted, also gave its unanimous approval.”
On November 21, 2003, the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints authorized that the diocesan investigation would be carried out aequaliter, that is to say, with the same degree of competence, by the Vicariate of Rome’s tribunal and that of the Prelature. This explains why there were two opening ceremonies for the work of the tribunals: the first for the Vicariate’s tribunal, on March 5, 2004, in the Lateran Palace, and the second for the Prelature’s tirbunal, on March 20, in the Palazzo dell’Apollinare.
Since many of the witnesses reside far from Rome, other tribunals will also be called upon to intervene. Thus tribunals from dioceses throughout the world will take part in the inquiry, which will make evident another characteristic note of Bishop Del Portillo and his work: that is, his services to the entire Church and his spirit of communion. In this regard some words of Cardinal Ruini in the address just mentioned are quite relevant: “We can highlight here the multi-faceted activity carried out by Bishop Del Portillo in the service of the Holy See. His deep pastoral experience gained at the side of Saint Josemaría, his proven human qualities, and his theological and juridical competence fitted him for multiple tasks. Thus, as far back as the pontificate of Pope Pius XII, he was named Consultor to the Sacred Congregation for the Religious. Pope John XXIII named him Consultor to the Sacred Congregation of the Council (1959-1966) and Qualifier of the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office (1960). During the Council he was chosen as one of the first ‘peritos’ or experts. He was Secretary of the Commission on the Discipline of the Clergy and the Christian People, which drafted the decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, and Consultor for other Conciliar Commissions.
“Paul VI named him Consultor to the Pontifical Commission for the Revision of Canon Law, and later Consultor and Judge of the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, in addition to confirming him as a Consultor to the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy. Pope John Paul II name him Consultor to the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of the Saints and to the Pontifical Counsel for Social Communication, as well as a member of the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops in 1983. As a Pontifical appointee, he participated in the ordinary general assemblies of the Synod of Bishops ‘on the vocation and mission of the laity in the Church and in the world’ (1987) and ‘on the formation of priests’ (1990) . . . Another notable aspect of the work of Bishop Del Portillo in the service of the Church is the activity that he carried out during his numerous pastoral trips all over the world.”
We can be sure, as the Prelate of Opus Dei stated, that “the Cause of canonization of Bishop Alvaro del Portillo will bring many tangible benefits to Christians,” and that “through his life many people will discover the fatherly face of God, smiling on them, encouraging them, forgiving them.” This is the deepest significance of any Cause of canonization: the edification of souls, the good of the Church. This Cause will enable us to better appreciate the one who, as Cardinal Ruini said, was “the most faithful son” of Saint Josemaría, and who transformed his daily life into a continuous offering to God.