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"Others as core topic of success in Álvaro del Portillo".


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Diario de Navarra

Pablo Pérez López

Full Professor of Contemporary History

The 20th century could be described as the century of the triumph of individualism over collectivism. At the beginning, collectivism burst in with force and seemed to impose itself. Sometimes with the acclaim of the masses, and very soon by force. Fascism or Nazism had a success that seemed fleeting due to their defeat in the Second World War, but communism, in its two main versions, Soviet or Maoist, was presented until the 1990s as an attractive alternative for many, who were finally shipwrecked and ended up surrendering to the individualism that triumphed in the West.

Alvaro del Portillo (1914-1994), beatified by the Catholic Church in 2014, went against the current. He showed an intense social sense in all the stages of his life: it is enough to consider his activity as a young catechist in the outskirts of Madrid when he was a student, or his initiative that turned Italian day laborers into landowners on a farm he administered and reformed in 1954, or his promotion of social work by people of Opus Dei and, above all, his attention to the family as an institution, and to the sick. As Chancellor of the University of Navarra, he particularly promoted research work as the basis of an ever-renewed service to society.

But, more than for his interest in some activities, it can be said of him that he lived for a common project , that he spent his life unconcerned about his own degree program, pending the service to others. He did not seek the affirmation of his projects as his own. On the contrary, he strove to identify himself with one received from others to which he wanted to be as faithful as he could: the mission statement of the Church and, in it, of Opus Dei.

A civil engineer, he abandoned a brilliant and promising professional future to give himself to God in Opus Dei in 1935 and was ordained a priest in 1944. During the time he spent with the founder, St. Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, all his eagerness was to remain his closest support and financial aid , remaining as hidden as possible. And he succeeded.

After the death of the founder, his idea of the government of Opus Dei was a project of continuity, not conceived as immobility, but as a creative and dynamic continuation. But he did not intend to leave his own mark. His goal was to govern as St. Josemaría would have governed, to follow in his footsteps.

This was not due to a lack of his own ideas or initiative, but to the fact that in him the idea of being someone was to be someone through someone else. In other words, he wanted to do things for a motive of love. At final, love is giving oneself. "I only live for you", or similar phrases, are characteristic of those in love. Alvaro del Portillo, in his personal notes, once summed up his intention: "purpose not to do anything because I like it but because Love dictates it to me. May I always say yes to Love." An existential summary of the essence of Christianity.

This same principle made him a great friend of freedom, convinced that only those who are free can love. He suggested, for example, changing slightly the lyrics of a song so that instead of saying "where souls usually talk to God as you do", it would say "where souls can talk to God as you do". This seemed to him to be more in keeping with the spirit of freedom he had learned from St. Josemaría.

One of the fruits of fin de siècle individualism is the intense preoccupation with one's own image. And in this he also went against the current. When, after the death of the founder of Opus Dei, it was proposed to him that he hold informal meetings with many people, large gatherings, like the ones St. Josemaría had held, he doubted whether he should accept. He did so even though he considered that he had neither the wit nor the ease of speech of his predecessor, unconcerned that anyone might compare them. He thought only of the usefulness that these acts could have in his evangelizing task.

In final, rather than focusing on an individualistic project staff , Álvaro del Portillo built his life on a voluntary forgetfulness of himself in order to put himself at the service of many. This does not seem an insignificant lesson for anyone, but perhaps especially for those of us who work at the University of Navarra, which is currently commemorating the 30th anniversary of his last visit. He made many visits to these lands, often to attend to university tasks such as honorary doctorates, which he made compatible with visits to the sick at the University Clinic.

Now that the limits and bitter consequences of an exaggerated individualism are better appreciated, their example offers an attractive alternative that can serve as an inspiration if you want to achieve meaningful and lasting success.