The year 2005 will go down in history as the year of the death of John Paul II and the election of Benedict XVI. During April and May, the whole world’s attention was focused on Rome as the center of Christianity. The clear demonstration of love and fidelity to the Roman Pontiff, the joy of the hundreds of thousands of Catholics who went to Rome to say goodbye to the former Pope and to greet the new one, with a deep awareness of the Church’s continuity, and also the example of submission to God’s plans that we saw in Benedict XVI from the very first moment, remain forever engraved in the hearts of all Catholics.
For the faithful of Opus Dei, the year 2006 is a new incentive to grow in our union with the Roman Pontiff, shown in deeds and prayer. During the month of June we will celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the arrival of St. Josemaría in the Eternal City, where he remained until his death in 1975.
This anniversary highlights some of the essential traits of St. Josemaria’s life, especially visible during his “Roman years.” The first is his veneration for and union with the visible head of the Church. “Since we are children of God,” he wrote many years ago, “our greatest love, our greatest esteem, our deepest veneration, our most submissive obedience, our greatest affection has to be . . . for the Pope. Always remember that after God and our Mother Holy Mary, in the hierarchy of love and authority, comes the Pope. Therefore, I often say: “thank you, my God, for the love for the Pope that you have placed in my heart.”
From the first moment he saw very clearly (it was a divine gift) that the Work our Lord had called him to found had to be an instrument in the service of the Church. He expressed this conviction in a concise and clear phrase: omnes cum Petro ad Iesum per Mariam! All with Peter, to Jesus, through Mary! During the twenty-nine years that he spent in Rome, this close union with the See of Peter that characterized Opus Dei from its beginning was transmitted to the faithful of the Work and to innumerable people throughout the whole world.
The story of St. Josemaría’s first hours in Rome is very telling in this regard. His deep emotion when he first caught sight of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica on the evening of June 23, 1946, and the night he spent in vigil, praying for the person and intention of the Roman Pontiff on the terrace of the small apartment on the Plaza de Città Leonina from which he could see the pontifical apartments, was not a matter of sentimental piety. Rather it was a vivid manifestation of his great love, both theological and human, for the Church and the Pope—a love that all the faithful of the Prelature know they are called to emulate.
“Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia, ibi Deus,” the Founder of Opus Dei used to exclaim, making his own the common conviction of the Church. And he would continue: “We want to be with Peter, because the Church is with him, God is with him; and without him we will not find God. That’s why I’ve tried to ‘romanize’ the Work. Love the Holy Father a lot. Pray for the Pope often. Love him very much, very much! For he needs all his children’s affection. This is something that I understand very well by experience. I’m not a stone, I’m a man of flesh and blood. Therefore I want the Pope to know that we love him, and will always do so, since he is the ‘gentle Christ on earth.’”
Another key trait of St. Josemaria’s life is summarized in the following words: “My role is to hide and disappear so that only Jesus shines forth.” This rule of conduct, inspired by the example of St. John the Baptist—illum oportet crescere, me autem minui; “he must increase, but I must decrease”--guided his conduct at all times, and was especially apparent during his years in Rome. It did not imply any abandonment of his duties, but rather reflected his untiring effort to be very faithful to the spirit he had received from God.
St. Josemaría lived for almost thirty years in the Holy City, which he very seldom left. He made only a few trips to prepare the first steps of Opus Dei’s apostolic work in various countries of Europe, and then towards the end of his life he traveled throughout the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America in a wide-ranging work of catechesis. The exercise of his pastoral charity—the study and resolution of the questions that arose with the development of Opus Dei, the formation of the people who spent time in Rome, the construction of the central headquarters—completely absorbed the Founder’s days. Through his faithful work in tasks that had no human glamour, without sparing himself fatigue and never putting himself in the limelight, St. Josemaría was a firm support for the Church and spurred forward in a very direct way the beginnings of the apostolic work of the faithful of Opus Dei all over the world.
It is God’s will that this living portion of the Church should grow and develop all over the world, bringing to every environment and place a “romanizing” leaven. With his move to the Eternal City sixty years ago, the Founder of Opus Dei wanted to make the city of Peter and the first Christian martyrs the point of departure for his many sons and daughters who would be dispersing throughout the world carrying with them the seed of the Gospel. May this anniversary be a spur to a more intense “romanization”—a union of hearts with the Church and its visible Head—in all the faithful of the Prelature, shown in a more intense love for the Church and the Pope, following St. Josemaria’s example. “When you are old, and I have gone to render my account to God, you will tell your brothers how the father loved the Pope with all his soul, with all his strength.”