Pastoral letter of Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela, Archbishop of Madrid (April 20, 2014)
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord:
Pope Francis has recently promulgated the decree of beatification for the Venerable Alvaro del Portillo. A priest born and ordained in Madrid, a universal “madrileño.”
The celebration in which he will be proclaimed blessed will take place, God willing, on Saturday, September 27 in Madrid, in Valdebebas, precisely in this year in which we celebrate the centennial of his birth. Presiding will be Cardinal Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, as special delegate of the Holy Father. On the following day a Mass of thanksgiving will be celebrated in the same place. The beatification of the Venerable Alvaro del Portillo is a great joy for the whole Church and in a very singular way for our Archdiocese. His figure is united to that of so many of Madrid’s sons and daughters who in the twentieth century lived their specific Christian vocation heroically as a vocation to sanctity. Some of them are venerated in the holy Cathedral church of Our Lady of Almudena. The saints build the Church; and the Church needs above and before everything else, holy women and men. Let us give thanks to God for so many “madrileños,” beginning with our patron, St. Isidoro, who have lived and worked among us, offering themselves to God and being faithful to death, attaining holiness.
The future Blessed Alvaro del Portillo was born in Madrid on March 11, 1914, near the Gate of Alcalá. He was baptized in the Church of St. Joseph, next to the Gran Via, and received his First Holy Communion—together with his companions in the Marianist’s Colegio del Pilar—in the parish of the Conception on Goya Street. He studied in our city to become a Public Works Assistant and then graduated as a Civil Engineer. After several years of professional work, he was ordained a priest in 1944 in the chapel of the bishop’s residence, by the Bishop of Madrid, the patriarch Don Leopoldo Eijo y Garay. Later he received doctorates in History and in Canon Law. His life was especially linked to that of a saint whom we venerate in one of the chapels of our cathedral: St. Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer. The future blessed was one of the first members of Opus Dei, and faithfully assisted and worked alongside the founder. After the death of St. Josemaría, in 1975, he was elected to succeed him at the head of Opus Dei. In 1982, upon erecting Opus Dei as a personal prelature, St. John Paul II named him prelate of Opus Dei, and, in 1991, conferred on him ordination as a bishop. For nineteen years he directed this portion of the Church with great evangelizing dynamism, a deep sense of ecclesial communion, and fidelity to its foundational charism. He died in a holy way in 1994, after a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. St. John Paul II went to pray before his mortal remains, in recognition of his service to the People of God.
He was endowed with great evangelizing creativity. Following with fidelity the foundational light of St. Josemaría, he promoted new apostolic works in numerous countries and various initiatives in favor of the universal Church, such as, for example, the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, where priests, religious, and lay people from all over the world go to study. As a fruit of the need that he felt to live fraternal charity towards the poorest and most needy, he promoted social works in the poorest areas of many large cities and in the countries which some refer to as the “third world.” I had an extraordinary opportunity to deal with and get to know him well in the synod on “The Form ation of Priests in Circumstances of the Present Day,” in 1990. We formed part of the same “working group.” I would like to emphasize two features of his personality, along with his kindness, serenity and good humor.
The first was his special concern for needy people, of which he had already given examples in the first years of his university career, when he participated in the Conferences of St. Vincent de Paul. He formed part of a group of young men who helped families living in shacks on the outskirts of Madrid, along the Abroñigal stream-bed—now highway M.30—and in other places. They brought them food and medicines and tried to help them in their needs; and gave catechism classes, during a very difficult period, to the children in the parish of St. Raymond Nonnatus in Vallecas. One of his companions recalled him carrying in his arms through the streets of Madrid a child who had been abandoned near one of the shacks. In spite of the difficulties he did not stop until he had entrusted the child to the sisters of St. Cristina, so that they would care for him until his parents could do so. Among the young men who accompanied him to visit these needy families in the slums, and who were friends of his, we find towering figures of our diocesan church, such as the Blessed Jesús Gesta, who became a brother of the Hospital Order of St. John of God and died as a martyr; and the Venerable José Maria Garcia Lahiguera, Archbishop of Valencia, who for many years was spiritual director of our seminary and auxiliary bishop of Madrid.
A second feature of his life was his untiring work for the good of the Church. His warm charity towards everyone, united to his deep theological and juridical knowledge, earned him the appreciation of successive Popes, who entrusted him with numerous roles in various dicasteries of the Roman Curia at the service of the people of God. He participated very actively in tasks of great responsibility in the work of Vatican II, especially in the decree Presbyterorum ordinis, and he contributed to the spiritual renewal of the Church with an open mentality and fidelity to the Gospel. He gave special attention to the problems of women, and his books and essays, translated into various languages, have provided a notable contribution to the mission of the laity and of priests in today’s world.
Many people from our diocese personally knew the future blessed and go to his intercession. I unite myself to the joy of all of them, and in a special way to his relatives, among whom there are several priests and a missionary in Africa. I encourage all the faithful of Madrid to take part in the ceremonies for this beatification, and to open the doors of our homes, parishes and schools (as we did so generously for World Youth Day) to provide housing for the thousands of pilgrims who are going to come from all over the world. His beatification, besides being a great joy for the Church, should strengthen our eagerness to be saints in ordinary life. He is a clear example, with his deeds and teachings, of how to walk the path of holiness that we began on the day of our Baptism. Young people can learn a lot from him.
Let us ask our Lady of Almudena for the fruits of this beatification, so that it redound to the good of the whole Church, and in a special way of our Archdiocese of Madrid, to which the future blessed always felt himself so deeply united.
With all affection and with my blessing,
+ José María Rouco Varela