St Josemaría arrived in Rome for the first time on June 23, 1946
On June 23, 1946 the founder of Opus Dei arrived in Rome to expedite pontifical approval of Opus Dei. This approval would enable Opus Dei, which was universal from the very start, to spread its apostolate to different countries. Pilar Urbano wrote an account of the journey after interviewing the people concerned.
A record in photographs of St Josemaría’s journey to Italy
On the port side of the J. J. Sister, Father Josemaria Escriva and a very young Law professor, José Orlandis, a member of Opus Dei, were leaning on the rails breathing in the sea air. They looked at each other and smiled. One of the passengers nearby commented, “After the storm comes the calm.” The platitude described the situation perfectly. They had just been through twenty hours of terrible storm; the little mail steamship had been buffeted by a violent gale which blew from the Gulf of Lyon. The J. J. Sister, notorious for pitching and tossing, kept its course despite wind and tide, although the dining-room china and glassware were shattered, the waves swept the deck, and the furniture slid up and down. All the passengers and the crew, from the captain to the cabin boy were seasick. At the height of the storm Father Escriva quipped, “Do you know what? If we go down and get eaten by fish… Perico Casciaro will never eat fish again as long as he lives!” 1 .
It was 5 p.m. on a warm day, Saturday 22nd June 1946. The sun beat down, but the breeze on the high seas made being on deck very pleasant. The J. J. Sister was sailing eastwards from Barcelona to Genoa.
Three years earlier Alvaro del Portillo, another young member of Opus Dei, had travelled the same route, but by air, while the war was still raging. Del Portillo was unperturbed. “I was quite sure nothing would happen. I was carrying all the papers.” 2. He had with him all the documents which he was to present to the Holy See to obtain the nihil obstat, the green light for setting up Opus Dei, or the Work, in different dioceses. At the time Opus Dei had just one limited approval: a kind of pass granted by Monsignor Eijo y Garay, Bishop of Madrid-Alcalá, to allow it to develop within the limits of a “Pious Union”. From every point of view this was insufficient for the universal scope which its nature demanded.
Later on Father Escriva would write: “Both to the world and to the Church the Work seemed a great novelty. The canonical solution that I was seeking seemed impossible to attain. But, my daughters and sons, I could not wait for things to be possible. A high-ranking member of the Roman Curia told us, ‘You have come a century too soon’. Nevertheless we had to attempt the impossible. I was urged on by the thought of the thousands of souls who had dedicated themselves to God in the Work, with full commitment, in order to do apostolate in the middle of the world” 3.
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