Bernardo M. Villegas
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published: Mar 31, 2017



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Successor of Saint for Beatification

           There are hundreds of thousands all over the world like me who have had the singular privilege of having met personally several modern Catholic saints.  In the chronological order of their canonization, I had the fortune of having had several personal encounters with Saint Josemaria Escriva, Founder of Opus Dei who was canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 6, 2002.  Then during his papacy of 26 years, I met John Paul II six times, twice in Rome and four times in Manila during his 1981 and 1995 visits.  The Catholic world will see his canonization on April 27, 2014.  Finally, on September 27, 2014, Pope Francis will beatify the successor of St. Josemaria, Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, whose 100th birthday will be on March 11, 2014.  It is hard for me to count the number of times I was in the presence of Bishop Alvaro.  There were so many of them.  From May 1964 when I met St. Josemaria for the first time to the day the Venerable Alvaro died on March 23, 1994, I must have spent hours and hours in his presence, either in his role as the right hand man of the Founder of Opus Dei or as his successor since September 15, 1975.  While he was in Manila in 1987, I even accompanied him in a courtesy call to then President Cory Aquino.  Then when he proceeded to South Korea after his visits to Manila, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, I was fortunate to have been among the few who kept him company for four days in Seoul as he paved the way for the future apostolate of Opus Dei in that Northeast Asian country.

           I can say then that my views about him as a very saintly person go much beyond first impressions.  Hearing him countless of times talking about the need for Catholics to be faithful to the Teaching Authority of the Church and to do an abundant apostolate of doctrine, I cannot but unite myself to the words of John Paul II in the telegram that he sent to the Vicar General of Opus Dei on the day of Bishop Alvaro's death:  "He was an example of fortitude, trust in divine providence and fidelity to the See of Peter."   The outstanding virtue of faithfulness to the Church he nurtured first and foremost by demanding of himself the most rigorous preparation in the doctrine of the Church.  Despite the tightest schedule imposed on him by his position as the closest collaborator of St. Josemaria almost from the very start of the foundation of Opus Dei, he found time to deepen his philosophical and theological studies, in addition to obtaining a doctorate in history.

          When the future Pope Benedict XVI was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, Cardinal  Joseph Ratzinger said of Venerable Alvaro:  "I remember the humility and availability in any circumstance that characterized the work of Msgr. del Portillo as Consultor of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith.  With his competence and experience, he offered an exceptional contribution, as I was personally able to verify" (Letter to the Vicar General of Opus Dei, Vatican City, March 25, 1994). Indeed, 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 18 bodies within the Holy See.  He played an active role in the Second Vatican Council.  John XXIII--who is also going to be canonized on April 27, 2014--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.  As he learned from the Founder of Opus Dei, his great passion was "to serve the Church as the Church wants to be served."

          The Decree on the Virtues, a step towards the announcement of his beatification, captured aptly the virtue of fidelity of Venerable Alvaro:  "The Servant of God was a living example of charity and fidelity for all Christians.  He lived the spirit of Opus Dei wholeheartedly in an exemplary way, without exceptions or shortcuts of any kind.  Opus Dei calls Christians to seek the fullness of the love of God and of neighbor through the sanctification of the ordinary tasks that make up their day.  'To sanctity one's work,  to sanctify oneself in the work and to sanctify others through that work'  this is the way to describe the intense life of the Servant of God, first as an engineer, then in his priestly ministry and lastly as a Bishop.  In each and every activity he carried out he gave himself completely knowing that was where he was meant to collaborate in the saving mission of the Church."    For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia