“The Beatification of JPII”
En route to central Rome from Termini station, our Taxi driver (who had scoffed at us for trying to find taxis for 14 girls plus luggage: “do you know what today is?!”) called over his shoulder as we raced through the Borghese Gardens “He was-a-the best Pope I ever seen. Best-a-Pope ever.” And certainly, the humble opinion of our taxi driver seemed to be shared by the hundreds of thousands of faithful who jostled, squeezed and wedged their way into the streets surrounding St Peter’s Square in Vatican City for the Beatification of John Paul II on May 1st.
How does one begin?! The buzzing crowds, the Polish flags, the street sellers, the euphoric singing and police sirens… and that was only at 3:30am on Sunday morning.
But the events surrounding the Beatification ceremony began the evening before, and I was lucky enough, blessed indeed, to find myself, on the evening of April 30th 2011, walking down the cobbled streets of Rome toward the Circus Maximus for the candle-light prayer vigil, a street-bought pizza folded and wrapped in newsprint in one hand, a camera in the other. Priests and other Religious passed by our group as frequently, it seemed, as laymen; as frequent as the Polish flags dancing above the heads of the crowd.
People collected long white candles and food packs from under the big screens placed at intervals down the ancient chariot track, which flicked through scenes from JPII’s life while waiting for the sun to go down. Songs floated across the evening air; sleeping bags were pulled out; rosary beads dangled from hands and pockets; and the cloudy sky, threatening rain and sending down the odd few drops now and again, miraculously held off, no doubt in response to many fervent prayers sent up by the scores of people who had clearly travelled from all over the world to be there.
The vigil began with a number of moving speeches by people who had lived and worked closely with John Paul II during the course of his life. Among those who spoke were JPII’s lifelong friend Cardinal Archbishop Staniswaf Dziwisz, and Sister Marie Simon Pierre, the French Nun whose miraculous overnight cure from Parkinson’s Disease was the miracle attributed to John Paul II for the cause of his Beatification.
Following the speeches, the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary were prayed – but to our great delight it was not led merely by people from the stage at the end of the Circus Maximus, but each decade was led in turn by people from Marian Shrines in Krakow, Tanzania, Lebanon, Guadalupe and Fatima, broadcast live to the big screens there in the Circus Maximus; a Rosary said and shared across the world. We ended with the Salve Regina, and the crowd were asked to light their tiny light discs and raise their candles in memory of the precise time Blessed John Paul II had left this life.
The crowd dissipated shortly afterwards, some heading through the dark streets of Rome towards St Peter’s, stopping at the 8 open Churches along the way for Adoration and prayer. Others, like us, remained to pray in front of the large icon of Our Lady and the Child Jesus at the back of the stage. People had stuck their dwindling candles into the marble pebbles of the grounds of the Circus Maximus in little patches here and there, so when I and two others walked slowly through the silent and largely deserted Circus at 2am, our path was lit by patches of candlelight here and there, each a little tribute in its own way to the Pope who had clearly ignited something in the lives of so many.
At 3:30am, my group made our way to St Peter’s square. Or, rather, we attempted to, for at 4am the crowds were cramming into every street that afforded even the barest glimpse of the great dome. We found a patch of grass at the very end of the street leading to St Peter’s square, and even that was hard-fought for.
In a vain and rather ludicrously optimistic attempt to reach the square, I set out into the crowd, but managed to progress 2 blocks (100 metres or so) up the via della Conciliazione towards St Peter’s before deciding to get out of the crushing closeness of the crowd and returned to our grassy spot outside the Castel St Angelo; a 300 metre circuit that took around 2 ½ hours to complete. And it wasn’t even 8am.
The crowds continued to pour in in a steady stream from 4am when we arrived until the moment the ceremony began at 10am. A group of pilgrims took up their drums and guitars and turned the wailing police sirens into a rhythmic song; there were flags of every nation (but mostly Poland) fluttering above the heads of the crowd; a single male voice sang a calming solitary tune above the fray; strong men hoisted old ladies over barriers to escape the crowded street; people in sleeping bags still lined the less-crowded streets and footpaths, and a lady lay faint in the midst of the crowd, paramedics forcing their way through the crowd to reach her… but it was a pleasant crowd who smiled despite the frustration and the lack of sleep, pleased perhaps just to be lucky enough to count oneself among those able to tread the streets of Rome within view of the great dome of St Peter’s on that joyful day; each person happy that the love he or she felt for John Paul II was shared in abundance by so many others.
The ceremony began at 10am after a performance by a mass choir, which no doubt soothed the increasingly hot and bothered crowds, for what had threatened to be a rainy day turned out to be a stunner. We could see very, very little, but the sound was amazingly good; people tuned in to translations of the ceremony broadcast over the radiowaves to hear first Cardinal Agostino Vallini present the cause for beatification to Pope Benedict, then to hear the familiar voice of the Holy Father announce that from henceforth, John Paul II would be called ‘Blessed’. Well, the crowds just went wild, and the whole street around us seemed a blaze of red and white Polish flags. Following this, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated mass. Then for me, it was time to battle the outskirts of the crowd and make a hasty dash for the airport, looking forward to the long flight home to reflect on an incredible couple of days, and to enjoy a much-needed sleep.
– By Nicole van Heerden 11.5.2011
In April 2011, I had the golden opportunity to attend the UNIV Forum, held in Rome during Holy Week. I can’t even begin to describe what a fantastic experience this was, not only being in the Eternal City, seeing the Pope, and taking part in the Palm Sunday and Easter Triduum solemnities IN ROME; but having the chance to meet and talk to university students from literally all over the world – South Africa, Denmark, Philippines, Kenya, USA, England, Canada, France…
Each year, the organisers select a certain number of research papers, submitted by students attending, to be presented during the course of the conference. I was lucky enough to have my paper selected, and to have the opportunity to present my research during the conference. It was a nailbiting experience, presenting to a lecture theatre-full of students in the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, with translators and all (apparently the Italians who could speak English couldn’t understand my kiwi accent). But it added a sense of purpose and achievement to the trip that just a holiday wouldn’t necessarily have given.
When we weren’t in the conference (which was really only two half-days all together) we were hitting the streets of Rome, visiting the Basilicas of St John Lateran and St Mary Major, seeing Caravaggio’s hidden at the back of the most breath-taking churches, walking up the Spanish Steps, down through the catacombs, wandering star-struck through the Vatican Museums and the Sistene Chapel, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and strolling along the Tiber with a slice of pizza or gelato (or both). We attended the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum and Palm Sunday Mass in St Peter’s Square – honestly, it’s an experience that continually brings you out of yourself, and shows you history and culture like you could never learn at school.
Above all, I really want to encourage every uni student to have a go at this. It’s a great challenge, a mind-altering experience, and a life-changing one at that. And it is definitely affordable (I’m a poor student – I should know).
If you’d like to read my research paper, or find out more about about next year’s conference (topic: Pulchrum: The Power of Beauty), have a look here: http://www.univforum.org/. But even better… if you’d like to talk to me about organising a group for next year’s conference, you can contact me at email@example.com.
What is it?
UNIV is an international gathering of university students, which since 1968 the Institute for University Cooperation (ICU) sponsors in Rome. Each year, several thousand students spend Holy Week in Rome, profiting from the cultural and historical riches that the Eternal City has to offer. Throughout the week, ICU provides students with various cultural encounters, conferences, roundtables, showrooms and concerts. all of these activities are occasions to delve more deeply into important matters relevant to the university, highlighting particularly the spirit of service towards those who are most in need.
The first UNIV encounters began thanks to the initiative and impulse of St. Josemaría, founder of Opus Dei. For the past four decades, scores of students and professors have expanded their cultural horizons through their contact with the international environment present in the heart of Christianity and thanks to the special audiences granted by Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI to the Univ participants.
From the Website – UNIV 2012
Pulchrum: The Power of Beauty
“Man can live without science, he can live without bread, but without beauty he could no longer live, because there would no longer be anything to do to the world.” This striking quotation from Dostoevsky sums up the thoughts of all those who, throughout history, have known how to perceive the transcendent meaning of life and the world. Indeed, the search for beauty is one of the strongest motivations for the transformation of the world: “Beauty is to enthuse us for work, and work is to raise us up” (Cyprian Norwid).
In Paul VI’s words, beauty “unites generations and enables them to be one in admiration”. The intuition of beauty is in fact a divine experience. It is to understand in a single detail the unity of the world; that, as Anaxagoras taught, “everything is connected with everything”: the small and the great, the divine and the human. It is the fruit of a look that is attentive and intense, profound and loving. And it is—and this is perhaps the most notable point—an experience that we can live on a daily basis. In the Classical period no distinction was made between artist, technician, and artisan: all were concerned with technê or ars, and all were concerned with beauty.
The ancients saw five ways of looking at everything that exists, based on five realities present in all things. Because of this omnipresence, they called them ‘transcendentals’. In different periods of history, one transcendental has seemed more relevant than another: unity, or truth, or goodness… In our modern culture, which prefers feeling to argument, beauty seems to occupy a special place.
Paradoxically, however, we find ourselves—just when it is most needed—in a crisis ofeducation in aesthetics, which can degenerate into a shapeless and aimless emotionalism. It is necessary to learn how to discover beauty, a discovery that is possible in every field of activity and research, from the world of fashion to the most abstract sciences.
At the same time, it seems timely to reflect upon the language of beauty and upon beauty as a communicator of truth and goodness, to which it remains closely linked. As Joseph Ratzinger noted in connection with the year 2000, Christianity’s best answer to a relativistic mentality is to be found precisely in Christian life.
UNIV Forum 2012 wishes to contribute to reflection on beauty, on its power to transform and inspire (in art, in science, in the life of peoples), on its power ofattraction (in the media, for instance), on the possibility of learning to recognize beauty and on distinguishing true beauty from mere surface appearance.
As a young person, one of the best experiences you can have is to go on a service project in a third world country (or even in the poorer areas of your own community) to see what life is like without the comforts most of us take for granted.
This page contains some articles and info on service projects and experiences youth can take part in. In particular – check out the section below on the DRIVE programme, a new initiative for girls in their last years of high school or at university.
“He who wishes to secure the good of others, has already secured his own.” – Confucius
“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.” – Edmund Burke
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” – Anne Frank
In the Slums – Service Project in India
In January 2010, one of the youth of our Parish, Nicole van Heerden, travelled to New Delhi, India, for 3 weeks to take part in a programme of volunteer work along with 5 other girls from New Zealand and 18 from Australia. The service project was organised through Fernhall (an Opus Dei centre for women, located in Newmarket) and Reledev Australia Ltd., a non-profit, voluntary, non-governmental organisation that aims to provide relief, education and development in Australia and around the world.
When I first heard about a proposed volunteer project taking place in India, I was genuinely excited. Thanks to a good friend I was kept in touch with the preparations for the trip, but I knew that the likelihood of me actually doing it was nil – I am not the sort of person who does that sort of thing. I didn’t have enough money, there was no way I’d organise myself in time, I needed a job, needed to prepare for post-grad, couldn’t eat curry… but by the time I’d run through every possible excuse in my head, and finally decided that I couldn’t go, circumstances wheeled themselves around in a remarkably ‘pointed’ direction, and I found myself the slightly nervous owner of return air-tickets to Delhi. Strange how these things happen.
Aside from a few short workshops in the months before going, my expectations of India were based on Kim by Rudyard Kipling, andSlumdog Millionaire. When we walked into the dusty customs hall at Delhi airport, however, and walked out through the hordes of taxi drivers all staring like mad at our large group of white-skinned girls, I thought that perhaps I didn’t quite know what I was heading into. When some random guys took charge of our suitcases outside the airport and loaded them into our waiting bus in an attempt to earn some Euros, I knew that I really had no idea what I had got myself into.
Even now, it’s difficult to know where to begin. All 24 of us stayed in a large house in a housing enclave in Vasant Kunj, South Delhi. I was shocked at the narrow, dusty street outside the house when I climbed out of the bus on the first night. However, when we went out through the two sets of security gates (guards and dogs inclusive) and walked around Sarojini Market the next morning, I realised that our area was actually very, very good.
During the three weeks of the trip, we rotated between three different organisations. We spent the mornings either in one of the Deepalaya schools, located in the hearts of the major slum areas in South Delhi, or in the Cheshire Home for the Disabled, doing physio work and craft activities with the residents. In the afternoons, we went to one of two Kamalini Vocational Centres for Women, and either taught skills or painted the rooms.
I spent most of the three weeks teaching in a small Deepalaya School in the Gole Kuan slum. Each morning, we had to walk through the narrow, twisting footpaths of the slum alongside open sewerage drains, amidst a labyrinth of pastel blue, pink, green and yellow brick shanty houses. Cows stood munching I-don’t-know-what in open rubbish piles, stray dogs and scrawny chickens were everywhere, and pigs waddled where they pleased among the houses. I even saw a goat sleeping on someone’s roof. We saw a man sitting on the dirt path outside his home, pouring grey water over his head, clearly attempting to wash himself. But despite the shock and squalor of the surrounding slum, the kids inside the classroom were dressed in spotlessly clean uniforms, their hair neat and shiny, and all of them grinning non-stop and unbelievably eager to learn. The first few days were difficult, as they could not speak English very well, and we couldn’t speak Hindi at all. Things improved rapidly as we got to know them, however, and we taught them maths, English, and New Zealand geography. In the breaks, we played games with them and took photos (“Ma’am! Photo! Here, Ma’am please photo!”). One of the highlights of the trip for me, and certainly one of my most cherished memories is walking into the classroom each morning to a standing chorus of “Good morning Ma’am!”. Most of the children come from big families (it is not unusual for 8 people to sleep in the same tiny one-roomed house), so the school tries to create a family-like atmosphere in each classroom. They teach all year round, because if they have holidays, most kids are sent out on the streets to work, and do not come back.
I spent two days at Cheshire Home, a spacious hospice-like centre for the physically and mentally disabled. The residents spent the mornings in a large hall-like room, where they seemed to sit for most of the day. This was where the physio work took place. By the end of the three weeks, the girls doing physio managed to get several residents walking again, and many moving in ways they clearly had not been able to in a long time. It was truly amazing. Though I only spent a couple of days there (it seemed like more), I grew very attached to many of the residents. ‘The fonz’ was a deaf and dumb man who looked, dressed and walked exactly like an Indian version of the ‘Happy Days’ character – and was extremely proud of his nickname. Bhagwan (meaning ‘gift of God’) was a middle-aged man who had polio as a child, and had lost the ability to speak and control his body movements, though was perfectly sound mentally – so though he could understand perfectly what was going on around him, he could not communicate with people. I’d never worked with mentally disabled people before, and I found it one of the most important, rewarding, and humbling experiences of the whole trip.
Our afternoons were spent at one of the Kamalini Vocational Centres in Shahpur Jat and Kishan Gar. The Kamalini Centres provide courses for young women with little or no education on cutting and tailoring, computers, cooking and other areas that will make them more employable in the job market. I spent the first visit to Kamalini carrying out surveys of past students at their homes in the towering, maze-like ‘suburb’ of Shahpur Jat. Going into their homes and seeing how they lived was a real eye opener – it made me infinitely grateful for the size of my bedroom at home. Interestingly enough, though every home we went into had multiple people staying in only one small room, they all had a large-screen television – their ‘window’ to the world.
The rest of our time at Kamalini was spent sanding, plastering, painting and stencilling the walls of not just one room, as we had been told before we got there, but of seven rooms at both locations. The rooms were small – thankfully – but being ‘non-professionals’ it took us all three weeks to finish the job.
I also had to give a talk on ‘fortitude’ to the women and girls at Kamalini, with two of the other kiwi girls. Unfortunately, when we stood up to speak, we were informed that no-one in our audience could speak English, and therefore we would have to speak through a translator. Not only that, but the translator did not know how to translate the word ‘fortitude’. Not only that, but the group we were speaking to were extremely unwilling to discuss things in groups or to answer our questions, so you might say it was less-than-successful from our point of view. Looking at the lives of the people we were speaking to, however, I’m sure they could have taught us a lot more about fortitude in life than we managed to teach them.
While teaching, healthcare and manual labour took up our weekdays, and lesson plans and discussions took up our evenings (alongside a spectacular course of dinners and mouth-watering desserts served by our caterer, Mr Sahani), our weekends were left free for the thing I had been most looking forward to; sightseeing. We visited the Qutb Minar, the world’s tallest brick minaret, under the watchful eye of a guide who assured us that he knew the ‘real’ history of the tower. We saw Humayun’s tomb, the Sikandara tomb, a Hindu Temple (where people attempted to give us peppermints to offer at the shrines), the Lotus Temple (Baha’i religion), the largest mosque in India, and the Red Fort. But the highlight of all this was most certainly the day trip to Agra, where, despite being waylaid by snake charmers and monkey-trainers, being mobbed by shop-boys and very nearly being mauled by a woman trying to assure us that she was our tour guide for the day, we saw the much-anticipated Taj Mahal. We were also in Delhi for Republic Day, so went the through ultra-tight security to see the famous Republic Day Parade, where the Indian army in all its glory marched down the long wide boulevard between the Presidential Palace and India Gate, followed by floats as big as houses from all over India, and a motorcade of absolutely incredible motorbike stuntmen.
So, to sum up. It is easy to hear someone say ‘It was amazing! You must do this or that!’ but it is just as easy to nod and smile and forget all about it. My experience in India taught me over and over again that things I thought I could not do were in fact very doable after all. It also showed me the importance of experiencing the world beyond your own everyday sphere, and how this helps you to grow, but also helps others to grow as well. Volunteer work in India opened my mind. It let me see people who live in desperately poor situations just as happy (if not happier) than people living in 4-bedroomed houses. It made me appreciate hot water, tap water, drinking water. It made me realise that there are things that I just do not need; that there are things I can quite easily do without, and that I could eat curry for three weeks straight, and miss it desperately when I came back to New Zealand.
I must thank again the many generous members of the parish, Father Raphael, and Father Francis for all their help, support, generosity, and interest in my trip – it is not exaggerating to say that I could never have gone if it wasn’t for your kindness and help.
– Nicole van Heerden, February 2010
To find out more, visit: http://indiaserviceproject2010.blogspot.com/
Reledev is an Australian aid agency that co-organised the 2010 service project to India, and (as far as I am aware) may provide opportunities such as this from time to time. You can check out their website here:
Service projects for young women who are students or young professionals are usually run once each year in co-operation with Fernhall in Newmarket (http://fernhall.org/) and their partner centres in Australia. Contact them for more details or to enquire about the next project.
DRIVE: Discovering Real Initiatives In Volunteering Experience
The DRIVE Programme is a new initiative for girls in their last years of high school or at university to lend a helping hand to the disadvantaged and disabled in our local community. Last year, the inaugural year of the project, highschoolers visited and assisted at old age homes and in the homes of the elderly, and university students visited Rescare facilities in South and East Auckland to spend a morning with people with mental and physical disabilities. It is in giving that we receive; find out how to get involved here…
If you have information on other opportunities for young people to be involved in service projects or mission work, and would like to contribute to this section of the website, please contact Nicole at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Miscellaneous Interesting Content”
A collection of items of interest written by youth at St Marks, for youth (and the youthful at heart) of St Marks.
If you would like to contribute an article or miscellaneous item, please contact Nicole (yes me again) at email@example.com.
The Gentleman Saint
“Great occasions of serving God present themselves but seldom, but little ones frequently. Now he that is faithful in that which is least, says our Saviour, shall be set over that which is much. (Matt. xxv. 23) Do all things in the name of God, and you will do all things well: whether you eat, or whether you drink, or whether you sleep, or whether you recreate yourself, or whether you turn the spit, doing all these things because it is God’s will that you should do them, then you will profit much in the sight of God.”
– St Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life.
In his London Journal (4th Feb, 1835), Leigh Hunt describes how, after picking up a book on St Francis de Sales, he realised he had discovered “so delicious a saint, that we vowed we must make him known to our readers”. “What wisdom with simplicity” wrote Hunt; “what undeviating kindness, what shrewd worldly discernment with unworldly feelings… and wit too”. This ‘Gentleman Saint’ as Hunt referred to him, Bishop of Geneva, a Doctor of the Universal Church and the Patron Saint of writers and journalists, St Francis de Sales reached and converted thousands through his writings and his exemplary life. His most famous work, Introduction to the Devout Life is considered one of the outstanding works of Christian literature, instructing the ‘ordinary Christian’ on how to ‘have confidence in God, and how to be genuinely and truly pious’ – that ‘devotion can be a quality of life to which everyone can aspire’ (Introduction to the Devout Life).
As with so many saints, his life was as astonishing, inspiring and exemplary as his literary works. Born into a noble family (21 August, 1567), Saint Francis gained degrees in Law and Theology at the University of Padua, before following his true calling – against his father’s wishes – and being ordained a priest at the age of 26, thanks to the intervention of the Bishop of Geneva. At the time, the region of Chablais in France had been reconquered from the Calvinists by the Duke of Savoy, and St Francis volunteered to go down and begin the re-evangelisation of the area, which had been Protestant for some 60 years previously. Churches had been burnt, Catholicism outlawed, Catholics persecuted and killed, and a general climate of fear induced by militant anti-Catholicism made this a near-suicidal mission, and St Francis had little success in the first few months. However, he began writing pamphlets in an effort to reach the many people who simply would not listen to him. Combined with his tireless charity, patient trekking back and forth in the snow between people’s homes, and his determination, in just four years practically the whole region had reconverted to Catholicism; an astonishing 72,000 Calvinists – one of the most remarkable conversion stories in the history of the Church. (Catholic Controversies – Introduction).
Following his success in the Chablais, St Francis was made Bishop of Grenada in 1602, and one of his first acts was to institute catechetical instruction for the faithful, both young and old. He lived as a shining example of meekness, humility and goodness to all those in his diocese and surrounding regions. He established the Institute of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin in 1607 with St Jane Frances de Chantal, and wrote and published numerous works. Along with his instantly celebrated ‘Introduction to the Devout Life’, the pamphlets he used to convert the people of Chablais were collected in ‘A Defence of the Catholic Faith’, called by Pope Pius XI a ‘full and complete demonstration of the Catholic religion’. St Francis died on the 28th of December 1622.
“Observe also,” wrote Hunt, “what a proper Saint he was for everyday, as well as holidays, and how he could sit down at table and be an ordinary unaffected gentleman among gentlemen”. St Francis de Sales has given us a wealth of information on how to live in the world and how to defend our faith, but more than that, his zeal for souls combined with a Christ-like example remains one of great relevance and importance to all Catholics living in the hostile secular world of today.
– Nicole van Heerden
I’m sure you’ve all seen the marvellous St Mark’s Recipe book – Breaking Bread (available through the Parish Office, and all proceeds go to the St Marks redevelopment work) – put together, designed and edited by Cheryl van Heerden.
There are many special recipes and stories in the book, so here is a taster of the delicious contents of that scrumptious book (if you haven’t already purchased your copy); this is a rather special recipe of a very special lady and one of the parishioners of St Marks, the late Pat Lawson.
Recipe donated by Vivienne Birdling
My name is Vivienne, I am the daughter of the late Pat Lawson who went to St Marks. Mum was famous for her Russian Toffee (fudge really). She often made it and would give it away to say “Thank you” or cheer someone’s day. She also grew lots of Sweet Pea flowers and when abundant would also give small posies away to people. Mum passed away on 4 August 2010.
I think she would be quite chuffed to have her recipe included, however, I doubt it is entirely original.
1 tin sweetened condensed milk (Highlander Brand is best)
½ lb (225g) sugar (Brown or white)
2oz (50g) Butter
small dash Vanilla essence (optional)
½ c Walnuts (optional)
Stir condensed milk, sugar and butter in heavy based pot, bring to boil continuing to stir.
This should take about 20 minutes and mixture will look brown and thicken.
If a candy thermometer is available, the temperature should reach 242°F (or just over soft ball stage – 110°C). Remember mixture should look thick and shiny.
Pour into greased, lined tin and allow to cool, then set in fridge.
Mark serving squares prior to fully set and cut once set.
If using walnuts, decorate once mixture is poured into tin.
This is an article that was written as a contribution to the Lion’s Roar, under the theme of ‘Living as a Catholic in an increasingly secular World’.
Whether or not it was sent in time to be included in the magazine has slipped my memory, but to consider the theme of how to live a Catholic life in an increasingly secular world, one cannot look past this important saint of the 20th Century.
St Josemaria Escriva – the ‘saint of ordinary life’ (Pope John Paul II)
St Josemaria Escriva, canonised in 2002, was the founder of Opus Dei, said by Pope John Paul II to be one of the ‘great witnesses of Christianity’.
St Josemaria Escriva was born in the small town of Barbastro in Aragon, Spain, in January 1902. When he was 16 years old, walking through the forest one day, he saw a set of footprints in the snow, left by a monk travelling barefoot. “If others sacrifice so much for God and their neighbour,” he thought, “couldn’t I do something too?” It was thus that he felt that God was calling him to do something, and, in order to discover this vocation, he became a priest in 1925.
After working for two years in a small rural town, he moved to Madrid to study Civil Law. The following year, in October 1928, while on a spiritual retreat, St Josemaria ‘saw’ what the Lord was asking of him; “to open up in the Church a new vocational path, aimed at spreading the quest for holiness and the practice of apostolate through the sanctification of ordinary work in the middle of the world, without changing one’s place” (from Biography of St Josemaria Escriva, www.vatican.va).
Following this revelation, St Josemaria worked tirelessly to establish Opus Dei, spreading awareness and fostering in the growing number of followers a ‘personal commitment to follow Christ, to love their neighbour and seek holiness in daily life’, and to ‘place Christ at the heart of all human activities by means of work that is sanctified, and sanctifies both the doer and those for whom it is done’.
Throughout his life, Opus Dei grew and expanded to reach countries all over the world. It obtained papal approval in 1946. The Priestly Society of the Holy Cross was established in 1943, and saw close to a thousand laymen ordained as priests in the following years.
By the time of his death in June 1975, Opus Dei had reached 60,000 members in five continents. He had also written and published a number of books; The Way, Holy Rosary, Conversations with Mgr Escriva, Christ is Passing By, Friends of God, Love for the Church, The Way of the Cross, Furrow, and The Forge have reached millions of copies.
St Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer was canonised on October 6th 2002. During the ceremony, Pope John Paul II summed up St Josemaria’s message:
“Saint Josemaria was chosen by the Lord to proclaim the universal call to holiness and to indicate that everyday life, its customary activities, are a path towards holiness. It could be said that he was the saint of the ordinary. He was really convinced that, for whoever lives with an outlook of faith, everything offers an opportunity for a meeting with God, everything becomes a stimulus for prayer. Seen in that way, daily life reveals an unsuspected greatness. Holiness is really put on everyone’s doorstep”.