BLESSED ALVARO DEL PORTILLO, BISHOP
- Biography of Blessed Alvaro del Portillo
- Pope Francis’ Letter on Beatification of Alvaro del Portillo
Dear brethren in Christ, below you have a biography of Blessed Alvaro del Portillo and Pope Francis’ letter to Bishop Javier Echevarría, Prelate of Opus Dei on the occasion of the Beatification of Alvaro del Portillo.
Alvaro del Portillo was born in Madrid on 11 March 1914, the third of eight children of a Mexican mother, Clementina Diez de Sollano, and a Spanish father, Ramón del Portillo y Pardo.
After receiving his secondary education at El Pilar school (Madrid), he entered the School of Civil Engineering, where he completed his studies in 1941. Subsequently he worked in a number of state water authorities. At the same time he studied Philosophy and Literature, specializing in history, and in 1944 he completed his doctorate on the early exploration of the California coast.
In 1935 he joined Opus Dei, an institution of the Catholic Church that had been founded seven years earlier by St. Josemaría Escrivá. He received formation directly from the founder, with the spirit corresponding to this new path in the Church. He carried out a wide-ranging work of evangelization among his fellow students and colleagues, and from 1939 he undertook numerous apostolic journeys to various cities in Spain.
On 25 June 1944 he was ordained a priest by the Bishop of Madrid, Leopoldo Eijo y Garay, together with José María Hernández Garnica and José Luis Múzquiz. These were the first three priests of Opus Dei, after the founder.
In 1946 he moved to Rome, a few months prior to St Josemaría moving there, and lived alongside the founder in the years that followed. This proved a crucial period for Opus Dei, which around that time received its first juridical approvals from the Holy See.
For Alvaro del Portillo it was also a decisive period during which he carried out a deep reflection on the role and responsibility of the lay faithful in the Church’s mission, through their ordinary work and their social and family relations.
“In a hospital,” he wrote years later by way of illustration, “the Church is not only present through the chaplain: it also acts through the faithful who, as doctors or nurses, strive to provide good professional service and to show respect and care towards the patients. In a particular locality, the church building will always be an indispensable point of reference, but the only way of reaching those who don’t attend it will be through other families.”
Between 1947 and 1950 he spurred forward the apostolic expansion of Opus Dei in Rome, Milan, Naples, Palermo and other Italian cities. He promoted Christian formational activities and provided priestly service to many people. The impact his work had in Italy is reflected today in the numerous streets and squares that have been dedicated to him in various cities.
On 29 June 1948, the founder of Opus Dei erected the Roman College of the Holy Cross in Rome, an international center for formation, of which Alvaro del Portillo was the first rector and in which he taught moral theology (1948-1953). In that same year, 1948, he obtained a doctorate in Canon Law from the Pontifical University of St Thomas.
During his years in Rome, the various Popes from Pius XII to John Paul II called upon him to carry out numerous tasks as a member of or consultor to 13 bodies within the Holy See.
He played an active role in the Second Vatican Council. John XXIII appointed him as consultor to the Sacred Congregation of the Council (1959-1966). In the stages prior to Vatican II, he was president of the Commission for the Laity. In the course of the Council (1962-65), he was secretary of the Commission on the Discipline of the Clergy and of the Christian People.
After the Council, Paul VI appointed him as consultor to the post-conciliar Commission for Bishops and the regulation of dioceses (1966). He was also for many years consultor for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The life of Alvaro del Portillo was closely united with that of the founder. He remained always by his side until the very moment of his death, on June 26 1975, helping St Josemaría in his work of evangelisation and pastoral care. He travelled with him to many countries to help set up and give advice on the apostolic works of Opus Dei.
At the time of Alvaro del Portillo’s death, an Irish Augustinian, Father John O’Connor, wrote: “on seeing his friendly and unobtrusive presence beside the dynamic figure of Mgr Escriva, there came to my mind the thought of the humility of St. Joseph.”
On September 15, 1975, in the General Congress convened after the death of the founder, Don Alvaro del Portillo was elected to succeed him as head of Opus Dei. On November 28, 1982, when Blessed John Paul II erected Opus Dei as a personal prelature, he appointed Alvaro del Portillo Prelate of the new prelature.
Eight years later, on December 7, 1990, the Pope named him bishop, and on January 6, 1991, he received Episcopal ordination in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Over the years he spent as head of Opus Dei, Bishop Alvaro del Portillo promoted the start of activities of the prelature in 20 new countries. In his pastoral visits, which took him to every continent, he spoke to thousands of people about love for the Church and the Pope, and preached persuasively on the Christian message of St. Josemaría about seeking holiness in ordinary life.
As the Prelate of Opus Dei, Mgr Alvaro del Portillo inspired the start of many social and educational initiatives. The Monkole Hospital in Kinshasa (Congo), the Niger Foundation Hospital in Enugu (Nigeria), the Center for Industrial Technology and Enterprise (CITE, en Cebú, Filipinas) are example of social development projects carried out by members of Opus Dei, with others, under the direct impetus of Bishop del Portillo.
In addition, the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (since 1985) and the Sedes Sapientiae International Seminary (from 1990), both in Rome, and the Bidasoa International Ecclesiastical College (Pamplona,Spain), have formed for the dioceses thousands of candidates for thepriesthood sent by bishops from around the world.
They show the concern of Bishop del Portillo for the role of the priest in today’s world, a theme to which he devoted much of his energies, as evidenced during the years of Vatican II.
“The priesthood is not a career,” he wrote in 1986, “but a generous, complete self-giving, without calculation or limits, to be sowers of peace and joy in the world, and to open the gates of Heaven to those who benefit from this service and ministry.”
Bishop Alvaro del Portillo died in Rome in the early hours of March 23, 1994, just hours after returning from a pilgrimage to Holy Land. On Tuesday, March 22, he had celebrated his last Mass at the Church of the Cenacle in Jerusalem.
Alvaro del Portillo was an author of publications on theological, canonical and pastoral subjects: Faithful and Laity in the Church (1969), On Priesthood(1970) and numerous articles, many of them collected posthumously in the volume Rendere amabile the Verità. Raccolta di scritti di Mons. Álvaro del Portillo, which was published in 1995 by Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
In 1992 the book Intervista sul Fondatore dell’Opus Dei was published, a collection of interviews with Italian journalist Cesare Cavalleri about St. Josemaría Escrivá. It has been translated into several languages. The English translation is entitled Immersed in God.
Since his death in 1994, thousands of people have testified in writing to the memory of Bishop Alvaro del Portillo: his kindness, the warmth of his smile, his humility, his supernatural courage, and the peace of mind his words inspired in them.
The beatification of the Servant of God Alvaro del Portillo, faithful collaborator of St Josemaría Escrivá and his first successor at the head of Opus Dei, is a moment of special joy for all the faithful of the Prelature, and also for you, who were for so long a witness to his love for God and others, and his fidelity to the Church and to his vocation. I too wish to unite myself to your joy and to thank God, who embellishes the face of the Church with the holiness of her children.
His beatification will take place in Madrid, the city where he was born and spent his childhood and youth. Here his life began to take shape in the simplicity of family life, through friendship and service to others, as when he went to outlying districts to help provide human and Christian formation to so many people in need. And in this city, above all, there took place the event that definitively marked the course of his life: his meeting with St Josemaría Escrivá, from whom he learned to fall more in love with Christ every day. Yes, to fall in love with Christ. This is the path to holiness that every Christian has to follow: to let ourselves be loved by the Lord, to open up our hearts to his love, and to allow him to be the one who guides our lives.
I like to recall the aspiration that the Servant of God would often repeat, especially for personal celebrations and anniversaries: “Thank you; forgive me; help me more!” These words bring us closer to the reality of his interior life and his relationship with the Lord, and can also help to give a new impulse to our own Christian life.
In the first place, Thank you. This is the soul’s immediate, spontaneous reaction on experiencing God’s goodness. It cannot be otherwise. He always goes ahead of us. However hard we try, his love always arrives first, touches and caresses us first. He takes the initiative and is always waiting for us. Alvaro del Portillo was aware of the many gifts God had given him, and thanked God for that manifestation of his fatherly love. But he did not stop at that: his recognition of our Lord’s love awakened in his heart desires to follow him with greater commitment and generosity, and to lead a life of humble service to others. Especially outstanding was his love for the Church, the Spouse of Christ, whom he served with a heart devoid of worldly self-interest, far from discord, welcoming towards everyone and always seeking in others what was positive, what united, what was constructive. He never spoke a word of complaint or criticism, even at especially difficult times, but instead, as he had learned from St Josemaría, he always responded with prayer, forgiveness, understanding and sincere charity.
Forgive me. He often confessed that he saw himself empty-handed before God, incapable of responding to so much generosity. But to admit our poverty as human beings is not the result of despair but trusting abandonment in God who is our Father. It means opening ourselves to his mercy, his love, which is able to regenerate our life. His love does not humiliate us, nor cast us into the depths of guilt, but embraces us, lifts us up from our prostration and enables us to go forward with more determination and joy. The Servant of God Alvaro knew the need we have of God’s mercy, and devoted a lot of his own energy to encouraging the people he met to go to the sacrament of Confession, the sacrament of joy. How important it is to feel the tenderness of God’s love, and discover that there is still time to love!
Help me more. Yes, the Lord never abandons us, he is always at our side; he journeys with us, and every day he expects new love from us. His grace will not fail us, and with his help we can take his name to the whole world. The heart of the new Blessed beat with the desire to bring the Good News to all hearts. And so he travelled to many countries to foster new projects for evangelization, undeterred by difficulties, moved by his love for God and his brothers and sisters. One who is very immersed in God is able to be very close to other people. The first condition for announcing Christ to them is to love them, because Christ loves them before we do. We have to leave behind our selfish concerns and love of comfort, and go out to meet our brothers and sisters. That is where our Lord is awaiting us. We cannot keep our faith to ourselves: it is a gift we have received to give away and share with others.
Thank you, forgive me, help me! These words express the pressing concern of a life that is centered on God. It is the life of someone who has been touched by the greatest Love and who lives totally on that love; someone who, while experiencing their own human weakness and limitations, trusts in God’s mercy and wants all mankind, their brothers and sisters, to experience it too.
Dear brother, Blessed Alvaro del Portillo is sending us a very clear message. He is telling us to trust in the Lord, that he is our brother, our friend, who never lets us down and is always at our side. He is encouraging us not to be afraid to go against the current and suffer for announcing the Gospel. He is also teaching us that in the simplicity of our daily lives we can find a sure path to holiness.
I ask all the faithful of the Prelature, priests and lay-people, as well as all those who take part in its activities, to please pray for me. At the same time, I give them all my Apostolic Blessing.
May Jesus bless you, and may the Holy Virgin watch over you.
PHOTO CREDIT: Ángel Guillermo Martínez Escolar (painter)