A new patron for the poor
Hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world will witness today in Madrid the beatification of Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, first successor of St. Josemaria Escriva—the founder of Opus Dei—and prelate of this Catholic institution for 19 years. I had the great fortune of meeting Bishop Alvaro numerous times over a period of 30 years. Among the heroic virtues that brought him to the altar, I would like to comment on his preferential option for the poor. He was a saintly person curved out to the heart of Pope Francis, whose concern for the poor and for the spirit of poverty could be the distinguishing mark of his papacy.
In the first biography written of him, Salvador Bernal wrote: “[Bishop Alvaro] never stopped urging people to practice the works of mercy, as had always been encouraged and done in Opus Dei, from the very beginning. ‘As much as possible,’ he wrote in 1981, ‘all of us have to make contact with those who are suffering, who are sick, who are destitute, who are alone, who have been forsaken by all.’ We find them, he said, ‘our richness, enabling us to work harder; our treasure, enabling us to fall more deeply in love with God and to grow stronger in our vocation; our strength, the strength of God, enabling us to conquer.”
It was St. Josemaria who planted this virtue in the soul of Bishop Alvaro very early in his vocation as a numerary in Opus Dei. Even before he joined the Work, the founder of Opus Dei already asked him as a young civil engineering student to go to the most miserable and depressed districts of Madrid to minister to the needs of the poor and the sick. In one of these occasions, some hoodlums antagonistic to Christianity almost cracked his skull, leaving him bloody.
After he succeeded St. Josemaria as president general and then prelate of Opus Dei, Blessed
Alvaro was responsible for the establishment of the prelature in 20 new countries. The majority of these countries were in the developing world to which he traveled extensively, including the Philippines. As Bernal also wrote: “The priestly heart of Bishop Alvaro—here, too, in full resonance with that of the founder of Opus Dei—was wrung by the terrible poverty of the Third World. Although he was, of course, very happy about the many projects begun and run by members of Opus Dei in those countries, he encouraged people to do much more to relieve at least the most serious needs. He was open to a wide range of solutions, from additional corporate works entrusted to Opus Dei to more individuals participating in nongovernmental organizations in the less developed countries.”
A specific example of these projects in favor of the underprivileged is found in the city of Cebu. When Bishop Alvaro visited Cebu in 1987, he was visibly moved by the sight of families living in the most dehumanizing conditions in the slum areas of this second largest city in the Philippines. In a get-together with thousands of those in contact with Opus Dei, he emphatically suggested that they do something for the uplift of the conditions of the poor in their city.
His admonition was no mere motherhood statement. When he returned to Rome, to his place of residence, he asked two specialists in Italian organizations of international cooperation to study the possibility of helping to start a technical school for out-of-school youth in Cebu. Three years later, in 1990 (a record time in this country where things seem to take forever), the Center for Industrial Technology and Enterprise (CITE) began operations. Its mission was to offer technical and administrative training, as well as formation in values and basic services, to young people and families with financial and social difficulties, so as to be a positive influence in many communities in the Visayas and Mindanao. Currently, CITE offers courses in mechanics, electricity, electronics and information technology. More than 3,000 skilled workers have graduated to date. The school has obtained international quality certificates and is recognized by the Philippine government as one of the best technical schools in the country.
Another initiative that was inspired by Blessed Alvaro is the Developmental Advocacy for Women Volunteerism (DAWV), an educational program that started in 1989 in Manila in order to develop the social conscience of those with financial resources and encourage them to help those in need, not just with material means but also with education and advice. The DAWV works with volunteers (housewives, doctors, businesswomen, social leaders, students) who receive formation on topics such as the roots of poverty, the principles of social justice, and the social teaching of the Church. It organizes courses, such as the promotion of volunteer work and the program for rehabilitation. Through a network of 1,500 young volunteers, the foundation helps about 50,000 individuals in different areas of the National Capital Region.
As an economist very much involved in advising NGOs and business corporations in formulating their projects or programs for corporate social responsibility, I do not hesitate to recommend Blessed Alvaro as an intercessor for the success of their respective missions. During his life on earth, Blessed Alvaro was an accomplished civil engineer and the “chief financial officer” who directly assisted St. Josemaria in establishing major projects for the good of the apostolic activities of Opus Dei. We can find no other more fitting patron saint for corporate social responsibility in modern times.
Bernardo M. Villegas ([email protected]) is senior vice president of the University of Asia and the Pacific.
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