Mumbai (AsiaNews) - "Asia was always very close to the heart of Mgr Alvaro". This was clear when the first members of the Opus Dei arrived in New Delhi in 1993. On that occasion, he asked the world "to pray for the beginning of the Prelature in this great subcontinent," said Mr Kevin de Souza, director of the Opus Dei Centre in Mumbai. Speaking to AsiaNews, he talked about Mgr Alvaro del Portillo, who will be beatified on 27 September in Madrid. Here is the interview.
How relevant is the life and mission of the Blessed Alvaro today?
Álvaro has always been regarded as an icon of fidelity. Saint Josemaría, the founder of Opus Dei, nicknamed him saxum, which means 'rock' in Latin.
At only 26 years of age, he was named secretary general of Opus Dei. He had to oversee the expansion of the apostolic activities of Opus Dei in Madrid and other Spanish cities whilst completing his engineering studies and earning a living. He did all these with a great sense of calm.
"He has left a very deep imprint," said Javier Echevarría, the current Bishop Prelate of the Opus Dei, after Álvaro's death.
"One of his essential features was a strong sense of filiation, accompanied naturally by an effort to be faithful, first to Our Lord and then to the spirit of Opus Dei, left to us by our founder. Bishop Álvaro incarnated to perfection all aspects of the spirituality of Opus Dei, making them flesh of his flesh, bone of his bone."
During his years in Rome, various popes, from Pius XII to John Paul II called upon him to carry out numerous tasks as a member or consultor of 13 entities within the Holy See.
He played an active role in the Second Vatican Council. John XXIII appointed him a consultor to the Sacred Congregation of the Council (1959-1966).
Before 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 consultor to the post-conciliar Commission for Bishops and the regulation of dioceses (1966).
For many years, he was also a consultor for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Was Asia a continent close to the heart of the Blessed Álvaro?
Asia was very close to Bishop Álvaro's heart from the times he was studying for his civil engineering degree. Whilst the Spanish Civil War was going on, Álvaro thought he could use the time he had to study another language so that he could later go to a faraway country to start the apostolates of Opus Dei there. He chose to study Japanese.
Even though he did not go to Japan, many years later Bishop Álvaro as the prelate of Opus Dei gave a fresh impulse to it in Asian countries.
In 1987, he visited Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and the Philippines, among other countries.
Since 1976, he was looking for ways to start Opus Dei in India. In 1993, the first people of Opus Dei arrived in New Delhi. Bishop Álvaro wrote to the centres all over the world asking everyone to pray for the beginnings in this large subcontinent.
How was he concerned and how did he care for young people?
A young Guatemalan man came to India in the 1960s searching for spirituality. He returned to his country dressed in saffron robes. On one of the flights he took, he happened to sit down next to a young Catholic priest. They had a warm conversation that could have lasted longer, except that the priest excused himself at some point saying he had to pray.
The lad did not exactly know what that meant, but it did strike him deeply. Many years later, he would say that that moment was pivotal in his returning to the Catholic faith.
As a matter of fact, he discovered his vocation for the Opus Dei as a married person and had the chance of meeting that Catholic priest again. It was Bishop Álvaro, the prelate of Opus Dei.
Bishop Álvaro's zeal for souls was universal. He had a great capacity to make friends with the people he met.
Do you have any other thoughts about Mgr Álvaro?
Bishop Álvaro was a very intelligent person, holding several doctorates (in Civil Engineering, History and Canon Law).
Yet, he was very unassuming and put himself at the level of everyone. Many people testify to that gaudium cum pace - joy with peace - that he always spread.
On 23 March 1994, in the early hours of the morning, he suffered a heart attack. The physician who was called in, someone from Opus Dei, was worried, as one might imagine, as he attended to Bishop Álvaro.
Noticing this, Bishop Álvaro tried to put him at ease by joking about the dressing gown he was wearing and in this way helped the doctor to smile and calm down.