Questions to the Postulator about the Cause
From 1997 the postulator of Alvaro del Portillo’s cause of canonization was Msgr. Flavio Capucci, who died on August 7, 2013, a few days after the approval of a miracle attributed to the intercession of the venerable Alvaro del Portillo. He was succeeded as postulator by Fr. Javier Medina Bayo, author of the biography Alvaro del Portillo, a faithful man, who has made his own several answers given by Msgr. Capucci and answered some more questions himself afterwards.
1. The Holy Father approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of Bishop Alvaro del Portillo. Can you tell us what this miracle is?
The miracle is the recovery of a Chilean baby, with brain damage and other pathologies who, after suffering a cardiac arrest for over half an hour and a massive hemorrhage, not only continued living, but experienced an improvement in his general state, eventually reaching the point of being able to lead a normal life.
The events took place on August 2, 2003. His parents prayed with great faith through the intercession of Bishop Alvaro del Portillo and, when the doctors thought the baby had died, in a totally unexpected way, the heart of the baby started beating again, until it reached 130 beats per minute. Perhaps the most surprising thing about this case is that, despite the gravity of the clinical diagnosis, the child today, ten years later, leads an absolutely normal life.
2. Why is Bishop Alvaro de Portillo a candidate for beatification? What has he done?
His life was a constant “yes” to God’s demands. Bishop del Portillo gave himself heroically to the service of the Church and of souls, faithfully following the example of St. Josemaría Escrivá. He brought many people closer to God.
To open a cause of canonization, the decisive factor is a well-established reputation for holiness, which is both spontaneous and widespread among a significant portion of the People of God. Bishop del Portillo’s cause was initiated because, right from the day of his death, there were very clear signs of this reputation. Many people all over the world were convinced that he was a saintly man and invoked his intercession with a view to obtaining favors from Heaven. The role of the “cause” is to verify that this reputation has a real basis. The decree regarding heroic virtues promulgated by the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints on June 28, 2012 tells us that the Church has indeed reached a positive judgment about his holiness of life.
In addition to his personal struggle for holiness, one should also consider the decisive push he gave to the creation of institutions for the good of others, such as for example the Monkole Hospital in Kinshasa (Congo), the Niger Foundation hospital in Enugu (Nigeria), the Campus Bio-Medico University in Rome, the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross and International Ecclesiastical College Sedes Sapientiae, also in Rome, where thousands of seminarians and priests receive careful doctrinal and spiritual formation.
3. What is his principal message?
Alvaro del Portillo’s teachings include doctrinal matters such as the role of lay people in the Church, the foundations of the ministerial priesthood, and unity with the Pope and the hierarchy. However, I would underline as a general characteristic of his personality, the virtue of faithfulness. He was an example of faithfulness to the Church (first as an engineer, then as a priest and finally as a bishop), of faithfulness to the Popes he knew, of faithfulness to his vocation and finally to the founder of Opus Dei. Fidelity should be seen as a creative virtue, which demands a continuous renewal both interiorly as well as exteriorly. It is not a question of simply “preserving” something, but of always drawing out new potentialities from the treasure one has received.
On his death, John Paul II wished to recall “his zealous priestly and episcopal life, the example he always gave of fortitude and of trust in divine providence and his fidelity to the See of Peter.” The then Cardinal Ratzinger recalled “his modesty and availability in every circumstance,” a characteristic of the service Alvaro del Portillo rendered for so many years in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which, Cardinal Ratzinger went on to say, “he enriched in a singular way with his competence and experience.”
4. Of all his virtues which one would you emphasize?
Obviously, the three theological virtues: faith, hope, and love for God and others. Those who knew him, in addition to his faithfulness, emphasize other virtues which might be considered as being lesser but which nevertheless are essential for a Christian. Among these we could mention affability and gentleness, because one could not say merely that he smiled a lot: he smiled all the time. Also good-heartedness, the capacity to spread around him an atmosphere of serenity, especially in difficult moments. And one should not forget his work ethic: he had an enormous capacity to work hard, never sparing himself, and even then his smile never left him. He was very demanding with himself and also with others: he gave the maximum and asked it of others, but always in a peaceful way, sowing joy.
Nevertheless, in addition to all this, I would like to stress above all his charity. He loved God and others with his whole heart. He possessed the gift of a deep spiritual fatherhood. All those who approached him remember him as a good father who understands, who forgives, who has an unconditional confidence in others, in each person’s loyalty.
Finally, I would like to speak of his humility: he never tried to impose himself or his opinions on anyone. When he was called to succeed St. Josemaría at the head of Opus Dei, his governmental program had as it only goal continuity with the founder’s example.
5. Is devotion to Alvaro del Portillo confined to Opus Dei?
No, his reputation for holiness can truly be called a Church-wide phenomenon. Up to 2012 we had received 12,000 signed accounts of favors obtained, attributed to his intercession, very often from countries in which Opus Dei is not as yet established. Right now the number exceeds 13,300. It is an enormous number, especially considering that among those who receive favors, only a few decide to put them in writing and send them to the postulator of the cause.
The newsletter about his cause for canonization has reached five million copies in print; ten million prayer cards for private devotion have been distributed world-wide. One can truly say that Bishop del Portillo is a gift of the Church and for the Church.
6. What was Alvaro del Portillo’s role in the Second Vatican Council and in general in the Holy See?
During the Council he was secretary of the Commission De disciplina cleri et populi christiani, from which came the decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, and he was a “peritus” in the Commissions De Episcopis et diocesium regimine and De religiosis. Afterwards he was consultor for the Congregation of the Council, qualifier for the Supreme Congregation of the Holy Office, and consultor for the Pontifical Commission for the revision of the Code of Canon Law. He was also a judge of the Tribunal for the causes of competence for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and consultor for the same congregation, as well as secretary of the Commission for Secular Institutes of the Congregation for Religious and consultor for the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
Those who worked with him underline his determination to promote the rights of the laity in the Church’s mission (his book Faithful and Laity in the Church is a classic text of theological and canonical thought on the topic) and the beauty and importance of priestly holiness.
7. Does Bishop Alvaro del Portillo have anything to say to non-Catholics?
The nucleus of Opus Dei’s message, preached insistently by St. Josemaría, is the sanctification of work and one’s ordinary duties. Bishop Alvaro incarnated this teaching of St. Josemaría in an exemplary manner. He worked unceasingly throughout his whole life: first as an engineer, then as a priest and in his latter years as a bishop, always giving a deep meaning to his work, through which he sought the glory of God and the good of his neighbor. I think that precisely by seeing and living his work as the “hinge” for attaining holiness, he offers us a teaching of universal scope, valid not only for Catholics but for all men and women who want to give a transcendent and spiritual meaning to earthly realities.
8. Could you give us some data on the process which ended with the declaration of his heroic virtues? Who have been the witnesses?
In accordance with the relevant Church norms, I can make known data that is of a public nature.
There were two parallel processes. One of these was carried out before the tribunal of the Opus Dei Prelature, since the Prelate was recognized as being the competent bishop in this cause. Nevertheless, as his own name figured in the list of witnesses, he considered it preferable that he not to be interviewed by his own tribunal, but rather by an external one, so as to more scrupulously guarantee neutrality in the whole process. Consequently, he asked the Cardinal Vicar of Rome to entrust to the tribunal of the Vicariate of Rome the whole task of interrogating the principal co-workers of Bishop del Portillo in the government of Opus Dei. These included himself, as well as several ecclesiastics residing in Rome. In addition, given the great number of witnesses who live far from Rome, eight other processes were held in Madrid, Pamplona, Fatima-Leiria, Montreal, Washington D.C., Warsaw, Quito, and Sydney.
In total 133 witnesses were interviewed (all in visu, except for two who gave accounts of two miracles attributed to the Servant of God). Among these were 19 cardinals and 12 bishops or archbishops: 62 of the witnesses belong to the Prelature; 71 do not belong to it.
9. You told us earlier that more than 13,300 accounts of favors obtained through the intercession of Bishop del Portillo have reached your desk. Can you tell us if there is a “specialty,” some type of favor or grace that many people ask Alvaro del Portillo for? Are there any favors that have especially struck you?
Those who have received favors through the intercession of Bishop Alvaro del Portillo tell us in their letters of graces of all kinds, both material and spiritual. Clearly the most striking are the extraordinary cures, of which there are several: from the disappearance of melanomas with metastasis after praying to Alvaro del Portillo, to the full recovery of a child who had drowned in a swimming pool.
But thinking of what you ask—his “specialty”—I would highlight the many graces that the venerable Servant of God has obtained in favor of the family: married couples who are reconciled and live together again in harmony; the ability to have children, sometimes after waiting for many years before going to his intercession; reconciliations between estranged relatives; giving birth to healthy children after being told that the baby would be born sick or malformed. Bishop Alvaro was a family person, who carried out a wide and deep catechesis on the family. It is perhaps because of this that the desire to go to his intercession for these kinds of matters arises spontaneously. Personally I am moved in a particular way by the favors granted to children—there are many of those.
10. What do you think of the coincidence of the announcement of the canonization of John Paul II and the approval of the miracle that paves the way for the beatification of Bishop Alvaro del Portillo?
For me it was a great joy. St. John Paul II and the venerable Alvaro del Portillo met during the Second Vatican Council and, since then, were united by a deep closeness and a great filial trust on the part of the Prelate of Opus Dei for the Pope.
They were two shepherds in love with the Church. Bishop Alvaro del Portillo had great admiration for the generosity and self-giving of the Pope, and did all he could to follow faithfully all the evangelization initiatives put forward by St. John Paul II. It was perhaps for that reason that the then Pope encouraged several other pastors to seek the spiritual help of the Prelate of Opus Dei.
This affection of the Pope was shown in a special way when Bishop del Portillo died. Pope John Paul II went to the residence of the Prelate of Opus Dei to pray before the mortal remains of Bishop Alvaro. In my opinion, what shone in both of them was their humility, their love for the Church and all souls, their devotion to Our Lady, and their sense of paternity, among other things. There was a great spiritual harmony between them.
Romana, No. 58, January-June 2014, p. 95-100.