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Saint Josemaría in Miami, 50 years ago

by Editor mdc
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In his entire life, the Founder of Opus Dei, Saint Josemaría Escrivá spent barely two hours on U.S. soil. But those two hours were here in Miami. That was 50 years ago this month of May, long before any centers of Opus Dei were established in Florida. 

He spent those two hours at Miami International Airport, shortly before midnight on May 14, 1970, during a layover in his grueling Rome-Madrid-Miami-Mexico flight.

Saint Josemaría, who died in 1975 and was canonized in 2002, made this first trip to America when he was 68. He was accompanied by Blessed Álvaro del Portillo, his successor and Prelate of Opus Dei (declared Blessed on 2014) and by his second successor, Msgr. Javier Echevarria, who died in 2016.

When Bishop Álvaro del Portillo visited South Florida in January of 1988, he recalled this stop in Miami. He said that as the plane was getting ready to land late in the evening and they saw the lights of the city of Miami, Saint Josemaría “started to pray in a more intense way for America, and concretely for this area of America, but for all America.”

Rev. Raphael Caamaño, who was the Vicar of Opus Dei in the U.S. for many years and close to St. Josemaría, reports that he said, “The only thing I saw of the United States was a small waiting room with a broken Coca-Cola machine.” And he was at a meeting with Blessed Álvaro in 1977, when he talked about the stop. He related how the passengers were crowded into in a small waiting room. The room was hot and humid because there was no air-conditioning, and so, along with their prayer, they offered up this discomfort as a sacrifice ‘for America.’

Msgr. Echevarría attested that the Founder filled those two hours with earnest prayer for the United States. In Madrid in 2011 Msgr. Echevarría spoke about the event in a meeting with thousands of young people. While replying to a question from a young Cuban student, he said: “The first time he [St. Josemaría] went to America in 1970, we had to stop in Miami, because it was a transit airport. There, while they took care of us and gave us some Coca-Cola to help us overcome a little the lack of sleep, St. Josemaría talked to a Cuban man, and spoke specifically of his desire to go and visit (Cuba).” 

Saint Josemaría was always looking for opportunities to bring souls closer to God. The Cuban he spoke to in that small waiting room was an exile. In their conversation he must have told Saint Josemaría about the many difficulties and pain he had suffered in Cuba and as an immigrant. Saint Josemaría advised him: “Do not hold a grudge against anyone; work, pray; forget the evil they have done to you; and when you return to your country, do not mistreat anyone, because that is not Christian.”

As soon as he arrived to Mexico he made clear the reason for his trip: “I have come to see Our Lady of Guadalupe and, on the way, to see you.” He wanted to go to the Shrine to see Our Lady right away, but he was told that was impossible since the shrine was closed during the night! 

These were hard years for the Catholic Church and for Opus Dei. Saint Josemaría had been seeking Our Lady’s intercession by going to many of her Shrines in different countries. He visited the shrine of Guadalupe for nine days in a row, praying for hours. The first day he spent an hour and a half on his knees, with his eyes glued to the miraculous image of our Lady. “I have no virtues to bring you, my Lady,” he said. “If your Son had found a dirtier rag than me, I would not be the founder of Opus Dei.” He appealed to his status as a son of a merciful Mother, a son who had no better credentials.

St. Josemaría was insistently praying for two important intentions: for the Church, undergoing the growth crisis following the Second Vatican Council. And also for the “special intention” that Opus Dei’s canonical framework would conform to its theological reality, something he would never see alive, since he offered his life to God for the Church. As on many other occasions, he went back to Rome physically convinced that our Lady had heard his plea and resolved the serious problems he was praying for.

Saint Josemaría wanted to visit Mexico to pray to Our Lady of Guadalupe and also to visit his children who lived there. When he had finished the novena he spent forty days in Mexico, and many members of Opus Dei came from all parts of the Western Hemisphere to see him. “My children,” he said, “I’ve come to Mexico not to teach, but to learn.”

During a stay outside of Boston in 1995, Bishop Echevarría (at the time Opus Dei’s Prelate) related that while he was in Mexico, Saint Josemaría received many men and women from the United States, and told them about his great affection for them and asked them to pray that they might come to love Our Lady. “For devotion to the Mother of God,” he insisted, “is what will enable Opus Dei to spread throughout the United States, to reach the many persons who need to hear and respond to its message if they are to help repair the culture.”

Opus Dei has around 90,000 members, both men and women. About 2% are priests and the rest are laypeople, most of whom are married. Opus Dei has operated centers in Florida since 1986 in Delray Beach and in Miami since 2000.

Author: Fr. Jay Alvarez

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