The Conference Vir Fidelis Multum Laudabitur, Rome (March 12-14)
For the centennial of the birth of Bishop Alvaro del Portillo and his upcoming beatification, the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross organized an international conference from March 12-14 on his life and teachings. More than 300 people took part.
Those giving presentations focused on Bishop del Portillo’s contribution as St. Josemaría’s principal co-worker and successor; his love for and service to the Church; and his teachings regarding the new evangelization, the mission of priests, and the role of the laity in the Church.
In his inaugural address (reprinted in full below), the Prelate of Opus Dei and Grand Chancellor of the University stressed Bishop del Portillo’s loyalty “to God, to the Church, to the Roman Pontiff, to St. Josemaría, and to the spirit of Opus Dei.”
Emphasizing the faithfulness of the soon to be blessed to the Roman Pontiff, the Prelate said: “I have no doubt that the spiritual biography of Don Alvaro, a good and faithful servant (Lk 19:17), offers us an example that we can all imitate.” For “our greatest aspiration as Christians is to serve the Church, the Roman Pontiff and all souls, as the Gospel teaches us.” This was always “Don Alvaro’s way of acting; he strove with peace and joy, with constancy, to put into practice the spirit St. Josemaría had passed on to him.”
The first day continued with a presentation by Professor Fr. Josep Ignasi Saranyana from the University of Navarra, who gave a global view of Bishop Alvaro del Portillo’s life from 1935 to 1994. This was followed by a presentation by Professor John F. Coverdale from Seton Hall University in New Jersey. He stressed that “St. Josemaría was a holy man, endowed with great human qualities, but he also needed affection and support, which he received, above all, from Alvaro del Portillo.”
Love for the Church
Alvaro del Portillo played an important role, working behind the scene, at the Second Vatican Council. This topic was the focus of the second day of the conference. Cardinal Julián Herranz, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, underlined various aspects of the work that Msgr. Del Portillo carried out as secretary of the Commission on the life and ministry of priests in the Church and the world.
His presentation also included a story about his recent visit to Benedict XVI . “I went to visit him,” recalled the Cardinal, “a few days ago in the Vatican gardens. He already knew about the upcoming beatification of Don Alvaro and he said to me: ‘How wonderful! I had his help for years, when he was consultor in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. What a good example for all of us!’”
Msgr. José Luis Gutierrez, from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, spoke about “Bishop Alvaro del Portillo and the Canonical Codification.” In his talk he stressed the future blessed’s role in fostering the active participation of the laity in the Church’s mission.
At the close of the second day, Msgr. Lluis Clavell offered an historical overview of Alvaro del Portillo’s efforts, grounded on his strong faith, to make the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross a reality.
The saints are people in love with God, but who also have a deep concern to assist those around them. Under Bishop Alvaro del Portillo’s inspiration, dozens of social initiatives all over the world sprang up to assist those most in need. As Msgr. Fernando Ocáriz, Vicar General of Opus Dei, said in his presentation: “the tie between charity and justice was not only a topic for preaching, but also for action.” Some of the people in charge of these social initiatives shared their reflections at the conference.
Ruben Laraya, from the Philippines, said that in 1987, when his country was undergoing great social upheavals due to poverty and political oppression, “and when many were speaking about terror, one man was speaking about change: Alvaro del Portillo.” Four years later, in Cebu, the Center for Industrial Technology and Enterprise opened its doors, and since then has offered human and professional training to many young men from that region.
St. Josemaría’s first successor also gave impulse to the Monkole Medical Center, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which began its activities with three beds in 1991. Today, with several buildings and 50,000 medical visits each year, it is a reference point for health care in one of the potentially richest, but also most war-torn, countries of Africa. Dr. Leon Tshilolo, its director, said that even during “the country’s most agitated moments, the center never closed its doors. And the people from the surrounding area protected it against the armed bands that repeatedly invaded the capital city of Kinshasa.”
Roberto Ueda, director of Pedreira, a center for professional training situated in the slums of São Paulo, Brazil, said that “it is clearer every day that people can only contribute to peace in their surroundings if they first find peace in themselves.” Hence the need “to not limit our work to what is exclusively ‘social,’ but to direct it to the whole person, as the Pope asks in Evangelii gaudium.” The latter point was especially stressed by Sharon Hefferan, who directs Metro, a center for assisting young women in the inner city of Chicago.
Carlo Caffara, Archbishop of Bologna, attested to his gratitude for the personal help he received through the future blessed’s friendship and advice. Particularly detailed was the testimony of Mother Maria de Jesús Velarde, foundress of the Religious Institute “Daughters of our Lady of the Heart of Jesus.” In describing the help she received from Bishop del Portillo in difficult moments, she said. “I had twenty-four meetings with him over a nine-year period, almost all of them an hour long. I also have ten letters and three documents that he sent me. Over the telephone we had more than a hundred conversations. I was moved by the friendliness and supernatural spirit he showed in answering my calls.”