Address at the Congress Center of Andorra la Vella, Principality of Andorra (December 1, 2012)
Your Excellency, Archbishop Joan-Enric Vives y Sicilia, Co-Prince and Bishop of Andorra.
Honorable María Rosa Ferrer Obiols, Chief Consul of Andorra la Vella.
Distinguished Joaquim Manich, President of the Associació d'Amics del Camí de Pallerols de Rialb a Andorra (Association of Friends of the Path of Pallerols from Rialp to Andorra).
Most Excellent Authorities. Ladies and Gentlemen, and also you youngsters.
Before beginning, I would like to say that I am a bit stunned by the affection you have shown me. I have overcome that emotion because I think your affection is directed to St. Josemaría, to whom so much is owed, not only by Opus Dei, as is only logical, but by all mankind, because with his faithful response he has opened up the divine paths of the earth to countless women and men. He has made known to them that, right where they find themselves, they are loved by God and sought by God, who is awaiting our response.
If I were to try to give due witness to the significance of this anniversary, it would take much too long. But I want to tell you that that path towards Andorra in 1937 had great importance not only for the life of our Father but for the Church, for millions of people all over the world. His passage through this land made it possible for St. Josemaría to carry out the mission that God our Lord entrusted to him on October 2, 1928, a number of years after he began to feel intimations of it in his soul while still a young boy. He responded with great generosity while always feeling that he came up short in the face of God’s love—which is always true, since we can never correspond fully to the hand that our Lord is constantly extending to us, calling us to a great intimacy with him.
I will now go on to read what I have prepared.
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Seventy-five years ago, on December 2, 1937, early in the morning, St. Josemaría entered Andorra together with other members of their expedition. They had already crossed the frontier during the night, without knowing the exact moment when they had passed from one country to the other. When the guides told them that they were now inside the territory of this beloved principate, which they were so eager to reach, St. Josemaria, as was his life-long custom, raised his heart to God and—I have not the slightest doubt—prayed for the citizens of this land and for those who would come later throughout the years.
Those first steps on Andorran soil were the first ones he had taken in freedom after a long year and a half undergoing all types of dangers and privations. He had often spent the night walking in the street, on the sidewalk, without documents, with the risk of being arrested and taken directly to jail or to a firing squad. Now in Andorra, after waiting for so long to do so, they rejoiced in being able to do something as simple and necessary as praying or singing out loud.
I had the privilege of accompanying him on many trips. These were never monotonous, although yes they were tiring, because he made long journeys. They were real family trips, for along with the piety that he tried to foster in his own soul and in those who accompanied him, from time to time he would sing. Thus he could say sincerely that he had filled the highways and streets of Europe and the world with prayer and with singing—songs of love for God and for all humanity. Those hours of his passage through Andorra remained engraved forever in his heart and mind, for they meant the beginning of a new stage in the fulfillment of what God was asking of him: the foundation of Opus Dei and its expansion throughout the world. I often heard him recall those difficult days and that happy ending—without complaining, but rather giving thanks to God, because it is precisely in suffering that love grows, and one’s response to a calling is strengthened.
On the morning of December 2, as they entered Andorra, the first light of day revealed the beauty and grandeur of these valleys. When St. Josemaría spoke about drawing close to the village, as they were praying the Rosary, it was obvious what a deep impression the pealing of the bells of Sant Julià de Lòria for Mass made on him, the first time he had heard this sound since the war began.
I would like to make a brief digression here. I had the opportunity to serve his Mass many times and I can assure you that his Mass was never the same as the previous day. The celebration of the Holy Sacrifice was the culminating moment of his day, and he put all of us into it. He brought to the paten the whole Church, the whole of mankind, so that we would be very close to the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
St. Josemaría recalled that a young fellow from the area guided them to Sant Julià. There in the village they met the priest, who opened the church so they could pray before the Blessed Sacrament. Though brief, that visit to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament in the first tabernacle they encountered was a very intense moment in his heart. The men and women of Opus Dei have learned from our Father that Eucharistic piety, which was one of the foundations, the fundamental one for bringing about the Work as we now see it, and as those who come after us will see it. He always strove to give that time of real encounter with our Lord all the characteristics of a life in love.
They reached Andorra exhausted, after those long nightly hikes, hungry and cold, with the constant threat of danger. How grateful St. Josemaría was for the warm hospitality that Andorra offered them! Finally (and he wasn’t thinking only of the material aspect but also of the affection shown) they could get the good meals and restful nights they so urgently needed. But Andorra principally offered St. Josemaría the freedom needed to calm a hunger that was no less acute: the freedom to exercise his faith and carry out the supernatural mission that he knew God had called him to.
St. Josemaría was not just fleeing from danger. He had confronted that during the time he had remained in Madrid, and then in Valencia, and later in Barcelona—a danger that was very real. His companions well knew how he had debated with himself during the whole trip as to whether he should continue on or return to Madrid, where so many people needed his pastoral care. The urgency to leave the country was provoked precisely by the impossibility of fully exercising his ministry in the service of souls, by the desire to carry out with freedom the Work that God had entrusted to him. For the Father, Andorra was a brief stretch of road, along which he traveled in freedom and towards freedom, the freedom that we need in order to live with the dignity that corresponds to each human being.
As he so often preached: “It is obvious that, in this field as in all others, you would not be able to carry out this program of sanctifying your everyday life if you did not enjoy all the freedom which proceeds from your dignity as men and women created in the image of God and which the Church freely recognises. Personal freedom is essential to the Christian life. But do not forget, my children that I always speak of a responsible freedom.
“Interpret, then, my words as what they are: a call to exercise your rights every day, and not merely in time of emergency. A call to fulfill honorably your commitments as citizens, in all fields—in politics and in financial affairs, in university life and in your job—accepting with courage all the consequences of your free decisions and the personal independence which corresponds to each one of you. A Christian ‘lay outlook’ of this sort will enable you to flee from all intolerance, from all fanaticism. To put it in a positive way, it will help you to live in peace with all your fellow citizens, and to promote this understanding and harmony in all spheres of social life.”
How greatly St. Josemaría loved freedom! To such an extent that he often said, although he had no particular reason to: “before speaking badly of anyone I would bite off my tongue and spit it far away.” That is how far his love for freedom went. It is for me a great joy, and very opportune, that this conference has been organized in the context of his journey towards freedom in those exceptional circumstances.
Here in Andorra St. Josemaría was able to experience once again the joy of celebrating Holy Mass with vestments and on an altar. In the nine days of his stay he celebrated the Holy Sacrifice in various churches and chapels of Andorra la Vella and Escaldes, with a piety that always impressed those attending. I like to imagine those Masses during the crossing of the Pyrenees, in the forests of Rialp and in La Ribalera, and how his Masses would have been when he was able to celebrate when they reached Andorra: how intently, with what a strong petition for help, he would have taken in his hands the Host in which Jesus Christ was present, with his Body and Blood, with his Soul and Divinity.
With that longed for freedom finally regained, St. Josemaría also sought out contact with his brothers in the priesthood. Mossén [Father] Lluís Pujol, as we have just heard, who was then the Archpriest of Andorra la Vella, regularly received visits from the Father and the group of his sons accompanying him. In the evenings, they chatted besides the warmth of the fireplace. I can testify that I heard him say many times: “I have to write to my dear brother mossèn Lluís Pujol.” And I am sure that while writing him, he prayed for this land, for all the people here.
God in his providence wanted me to accompany St. Josemaría for many years. I had the privilege and the responsibility of being close every day to the founder’s holy life and the fruit it produced in the Church, which constantly reaches more and more people and places. Clearly a few decisions in one person’s life can have great importance for the whole of society. St. Josemaría always encouraged us to live in such a way that we give to each instant the “vibration of eternity.” In exceptional moments, when they occur, but above all in one’s daily activities. In the episodes of those few days spent crossing the Pyrenees, in his brief stay in Andorra, we can glimpse the virtues that St. Josemaría lived every day, and that led him with naturalness to respond generously in such exceptional circumstances as that of crossing over the mountains that surround this country.
As we have heard, Father Lluis Pujol was deeply impressed by the humble acceptance of suffering and hardship that he discovered in St. Josemaría. He saw the state in which they arrived in Andorra, and he heard him say that they had suffered so much that he had made the resolution of never referring to the sufferings endured during the crossing. Those of us who lived with the Father in later years know that he fulfilled that resolution, since that was always his attitude. On the many occasions that we heard him talk about his memories of those days, we never saw him complain or refer bitterly to those historical circumstances. We always heard him speak of the need for reconciliation, since St. Josemaría was a man who knew how to forgive, because he forgave out of love for God. Therefore he was a great champion, a great preacher of the sacrament of Confession, which he called, with good reason, the sacrament of joy.
The archpriest of Andorra was also surprised by his constant concern for others, which he noticed in many small details during those few evenings spent next to the fire. For all of us who spent time with St. Josemaría, whether years or just a few hours, this is no surprise, since he was a man who knew how to love both in great things and in small ones, which true love always values. That same affection also led him to give thanks with magnanimity. It is a matter of justice to mention today the gratitude St. Josemaría had throughout his whole life for the reception he received in Andorra. And I thank you, knowing that from heaven he is look at you with joy and praying for you. This gratitude, especially visible in the warm correspondence he maintained for many years with Fr. Lluis Pujol, was directed to all the people of Andorra and their hospitality.
I also frequently recall how St. Josemaría returned to Andorra years later, to attend the installation of the new Bishop of Urgell and Co-Prince of Andorra, his friend Bishop Ramon Iglesias Navarri, as our dear Archbishop has mentioned, in a gesture reflecting the loyalty with which he treated his friends. With heartfelt affection he spoke to us many times of that second trip. He was accompanied by his sister Carmen, a strong woman with a wonderful sense of humor, which was at times a bit dry. He told us that Carmen (whom we familiarly called Aunt Carmen because she was the sister of our Father), when she came, reacted with incredulity to the idea that St. Josemaría had crossed those mountains on foot. She told him: “You mean you walked over those mountains? Impossible!” But it was possible by God’s grace and the determination of St. Josemaría, who was in good training for long hikes since he often had no money and walked from one end of Madrid to the other to take care of the sick and needy, without taking any public means of transportation because he didn’t have even the few cents needed for it. He also enjoyed the way the new Bishop addressed the Andorrans as “my faithful and vassals.” I’m sure that that Bishop, as have all those coming after him, have found the Andorrans to be faithful and vassals who are loyal, who have helped them, encouraged them, and supported them.
Saints, in their passage on earth, leave a trail. We shouldn’t view the paths they have traveled as an heroic example we could never imitate or a relic to be venerated. God wanted to leave us their lives as examples close to us, people who saw the same scenery and walked on the same land that we see and walk on each day. Considering episodes in their life, as we are doing today, thanks to your affection for St. Josemaría’s passage through Andorra, should serve to help us imitate the saints in points that bring us closer to God and to others. The few days spent in Andorra by St. Josemaría contain many lessons: the teachings of a man of prayer, who took advantage of the freedom to love and pray that Andorra offered him, doing so with great piety; the witness of a man who loved the freedom of all men and women; the example of a saint who knew how to love, to forgive, to give thanks.
I am sure that from heaven he is blessing all the people of this small but hospitable country, which welcomed him so generously, and that he is interceding for its governors and for all its inhabitants, so that God will fill with joy all the homes and each of the men and women of Andorra.