Congress at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome

An international Congress held in Rome under the title «The Greatness of Ordinary Life,» from January 8 to 12, was organized by the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in honor of the centennial of the birth of Blessed Josemaría. The lectures and discussions dealt with a number of central themes in the teachings of the founder of Opus Dei.

The ordinary sessions

The academic sessions took place in two places in the center of Rome: the Complesso Monumentale di Santo Spirito in Sassia and the Palazzo dell’Apollinare, seat of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.

In the first meetings of the organizing committee for the Congress, which took place in the 1999-2000 academic year, the general outline of the assembly was traced out. Its aim was to go more deeply into the teachings and example of Blessed Josemaría, showing the influence of his message throughout the world.

On Tuesday the 8th, the Prelate of Opus Dei gave the inaugural lecture: A human and intellectual sketch of Blessed Josemaría Escrivá. The audience included many notable civil and ecclesiastical figures. That same morning there was a presentation on the historical context of the life of Blessed Josemaría, by Professor Georgia Rumi, of the University of Milan, and another by Dr. Maria José Cantista, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oporto, on some features of the founder of Opus Dei’s personality.

Wednesday, the 9th, was reserved for the celebration of the feast of the centennial of Blessed Josemaría. A Mass in honor of Blessed Josemaría, attended by the participants in the Congress, was held in the Basilica of Saint Eugene. The principal celebrant was Cardinal Camillo Ruini.

Cardinal Ruini also presided on Thursday, the 10th, at the session in which Msgr. Fernando Ocáriz, Vicar General of the Opus Dei Prelature, gave an address on «The Universality of the Church.» He was followed by Archbishop George Pell of Sydney speaking on «The Christian as a Child of God,» and by Janne Haaland Matlary, Professor of International Politics at the University of Oslo, on «Work, a Path to Sanctity.»

Present at this second study session was the Patriarch of Jerusalem. The Rector of the University, Msgr. Lluis Clavell, welcomed him and assured him of the prayers of all present for peace in the Holy Land.

The speakers on the final day of conference, Friday the 11th, were Professor Antonio Aranda of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Professor Mireille Heers of the Institute of Political Studies in Strassbourg, and Pierpaolo Donati, Professor of Sociology at the University of Bologna. They spoke, respectively, on the subjects of «Christian Identity and Configuration to the World,» «The Freedom of the Children of God,» and «The Meaning and Value of Ordinary Life.»

The afternoons were reserved for short papers and for workshop panels, most of which were held at the Palazzo dell’Apollinare. Each paper lasted a half hour, grouped by topics related to one of the morning conferences. The topics discussed ranged from the influence of the thought of Josemaría Escrivá on the inculturation of the faith in Africa (the theme of Charles Nyamiti, a Kenyan priest and theologian), to the meaning of work (by Grand Rabbi Angel Kreiman, President of the Judaeo-Christian Confraternity of Chile).

The workshops revolved around one of the following areas: education and research, the family, youth, solidarity, the priesthood, culture and communication, society. Each panel was made up of about ten specialists with a lively public participation.

Approximately 1200 people of 57 nationalities took part in the Congress.

Non-academic activities

An exhibition of posters representing different stages of Blessed Josemaría’s life was set up on the first floor of the Palazzo dell’Apollinare. There were also presentations of recent books, pamphlets and audiovisual materials. The Aletheia Foundation of the Philippines presented an interactive CD-ROM with abundant written, graphic and audio material. Included were a short biography, photos, complete English texts of the published works of Blessed Josemaría, and statements by various authorities on the influence of his teachings. In the IESE (Instituto de Estudios Superiores de la Empresa [Graduate Business School]) of Barcelona, two other discs of this type were produced, under the titles Family and Profession and Business and the Common Good.

A hall at the Apollinare was used for the projection of documentaries, while in Santo Spirito an exposition was held of works of art related to the theme of the Congress.

On Monday, the 7th, the eve of the inauguration of the Congress, there was a showing of the documentary The Greatness of Ordinary Life, produced by Alberto Michelini. This brief film presents the message of Blessed Josemaría and its reception by people from many different countries and cultures.

On the evening of Tuesday, the 8th, the Italian Minister for Communications, Maurizio Gaspari, made a presentation at the University of the Holy Cross introducing the stamp commemorating the centennial of the birth of the founder of Opus Dei. The stamp was officially released the following day.

In the late afternoon, the Blessed Sacrament chapel of the Basilica of Saint Apollinare was filled with people praying. The organization had included among the material provided to all the participants, a pamphlet with a homily of Blessed Josemaría Escrivá, «The Greatness of Ordinary Life,» printed in four languages. At the end of the Congress, participants were given a special Italian edition of The Way of the Cross by Blessed Josemaría, with illustrations by the painter Paola Grossi Gondi.

The program on Thursday included a symphonic choral concert in the Auditorium of the National Academy of Saint Cecilia. The chorus of the Roman Philharmonic Academy was accompanied by the Amici Dell’Armonia orchestra, under the direction of Msgr. Pablo Colino. Before the beginning of the concert, Leon Thilolo, director of the Monkole Medical Center of Kinshasa, thanked those present for their generous contributions. The price of admission was donated to this Congolese hospital promoted by faithful of Opus Dei, Cooperators and friends. Monkole, which in addition to its hospital and nursing school, operates a number of clinics in various parts of the Congolese capital, offers medical attention and programs of hygiene, nutrition, family health, child care, literacy and household management to some thirty thousand people.

In the same auditorium, on Saturday the 12th, the participants had an evening get-together with the Prelate of Opus Dei, which gave rise to many anecdotes and questions connected with the sanctification of ordinary life.

Audience with the Holy Father

Earlier that day, the last of the Congress, the participants had taken part in an audience with the Pope, which gave them an opportunity to express their affection for St. Peter’s successor.

At the beginning of the audience, while going down the central aisle of the Hall amid a sea of applause, the Pope embraced and blessed the many small children held up to him by their mothers.

When the Holy Father reached the stage, the Prelate of Opus Dei, Bishop Javier Echevarría addressed the following words to him.

«Most Holy Father:

«With a heart filled with gratitude and joy, I present to Your Holiness the homage of this Congress organized in honor of the centennial of the birth of Blessed Josemaría Escrivá. During these three days of intense work, the participants have been able to reflect from different perspectives upon one of the focal points of the message of the founder of Opus Dei: the human and Christian value of ordinary life when lived as a framework of sanctification and a meeting place with Christ.

«From the first moment, the authorities of the Pontifical University committee organizing the Congress had a clear goal: the Congress should not be a simple celebration, but rather an apostolic reunion providing impetus for the future. It is not a matter of exalting the memory of Blessed Josemaría Escrivá, recognizing his importance for contemporary Church history. Rather the purpose is to penetrate more deeply into his message, convinced that, as the Pontifical Decree on his heroic virtues says, he constitutes «an inexhaustible source of spiritual light» for a society which will grasp its human meaning only if it rediscovers the presence of God in all events.

«The presentations during these days have considered many facets of this message and the mark it has left in the lives of thousands of men and women of very distinct countries and cultures. It has been an eloquent testimony of the richness and universal efficacy of the Gospel when one accepts the living teaching that is found in each of its pages. Christ’s incarnation reveals that all noble human realities enclose a divine dimension.

«The Congress was not only a source of intellectual enrichment, but even more a moment of personal reflection on the need for a more profound spiritual commitment.

«Blessed Josemaría’s biography spans almost the whole of the 20th century. He was a witness to its social and cultural changes, the crises and conflicts which made that period one of history’s most traumatic centuries. And he always reminded us that only in Christ can man find the light and the strength to confront individual and collective problems in a spirit of hope.

«The centennial of his birth places us at the dawn of this third millennium. As your Holiness recalled in your message for the World Day of Peace, the great shadows that have recently arisen must not stifle the splendor of hope in the hearts of believers. Iesus Christus heri et hodie, ipse et in saecula! (Heb 13:8). Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday and today and for all ages!

«The work of the Congress has stressed the deep concern for the Church that infused the life and teachings of Blessed Josemaría. He was at every moment a priest in love with Jesus and an exemplary son of the Church. Omnes cum Petro ad Iesum per Mariam! was one of his favorite aspirations. With those same words, I would now like to express, in the name of all the participants in the Congress, our filial adhesion to the Pope and ask for his apostolic blessing.»

This was followed by an address by the Holy Father. His words went to the heart of the reflections of the Congress. Before leaving, he imparted his apostolic blessing to everyone there, encouraging the participants, on returning to their own countries, to enthusiastically take up the task of helping those around them discover the greatness of ordinary life.

Romana, n. 34, January-June 2002, p. 108-113.

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