By DR. BERNARDO M. VILLEGAS
It did not really matter if those of us who started Opus Dei in the Philippines in 1964 (less than a dozen) had very limited economic means. It was enough for us to be equipped with the teachings of St. Josemaria (and his very powerful prayers which he had started to offer for the Philippines as early as the 1930s). We only had to repeat again and again to our relatives, friends, and work colleagues that cry of the Founder of Opus Dei: “No! We cannot lead a double life. We cannot be like schizophrenics, if we want to be Christians. There is just one life, made of flesh and spirit. And it is this life which has to become, in both soul and body, holy and filled with God. We discover the invisible God in the most visible and material things.”
St. Josemaria assured us that if we used the human and supernatural means he taught us, we can dream of spreading this marvelous doctrine of the universal calling to sanctity throughout the Philippine Archipelago and all over the Asian region. True enough, over these last 60 years since those Harvard days, numerous families and individuals in key cities of the Philippines and Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Macau, and China have started to live the spirit of Opus Dei as a result of the personal apostolate of friendship and confidence begun by the handful of the faithful of the Prelature of Opus Dei, first at Harvard and then in Manila in May of 1964. The prophetic words of St. Josemaria are still ringing in my ears: “Dream and your dreams will fall short of reality.”
Another dream St. Josemaria encouraged me to have was about the vast apostolate with married people. I obtained my Ph.D. in economics from Harvard in June, 1963. Before returning to the Philippines, I was advised by St. Josemaria to spend a few months in Spain where the apostolic activities of Opus Dei had been most developed, especially to learn about the work with married couples. If one is to attain holiness through the ordinary circumstances of everyday life, the vast majority of human beings would have to find sanctity in marriage and family life since most of them are married. Since I lived in a student residence in Harvard, most of the activities I was exposed were for young unmarried people. Among Spanish cities, the work with married people was highly developed then in Barcelona, the leading industrial center of Spain. It was the venue of a business school started by some members and cooperators of Opus Dei in 1958 called the IESE Business School which has since become one of the top business schools in the world today, having been ranked by the Financial Times as Number One in Executive Education for four consecutive years. To cover my board and lodging in Barcelona, I worked as a research assistant to some of the business professors who were writing business cases for the fledgling MBA program at that time. Since I saw IESE in its gestation period, I can say that this leading business school (that has some 30 alumni in the Philippines) is another case of a dream having fallen short of reality. I could not imagine then in 1963 that one day IESE would be Number One in executive education in the world, even besting my own alma mater, Harvard University.
My main purpose in Barcelona, however, was to see for myself how the spirituality of Opus Dei helped married people attain sanctity through fulfilling the obligations of their family life. From the formation I receive while at Harvard, I became familiar with the teachings of St. Josemaria on this subject. As he wrote in a book entitled “Christ Is Passing By,” “Husband and wife are called to sanctify their married life and to sanctify themselves in it. It would be a serious mistake if they were to exclude family life from their spiritual development. The marriage union, the care and education of children, the effort to provide for the needs of the family as well as for its security and development, the relationships with other persons who make up the community — all these are among the ordinary human situations that Christian couples are called to sanctify.” Indeed, in my interaction with the married people who were in touch with the apostolic activities of Opus Dei in Barcelona then, I saw outstanding examples of individuals exerting every human and supernatural effort to attain sanctity by fulfilling their ordinary obligations as married couples and parents. They took very seriously the admonition of St. Josemaria to “sanctify family life, while creating at the same time a true family atmosphere.” They were bent on cultivating the many Christian virtues necessary in order to sanctify each day one’s married life. “First, the theological virtues, and then all the others — prudence, loyalty, sincerity, humility, industriousness, cheerfulness… But when we talk about marriage and married life, we must begin by speaking clearly about the mutual love of husband and wife.”
Here, I must mention the important role played by the first Filipino married member of Opus Dei, the late Placido Mapa, Jr., who also joined Opus Dei while obtaining his PhD in economics at Harvard. Upon his return to the Philippines, Placido (whose nickname was Cidito), became instrumental in leading other married couples in touch with the apostolate of Opus Dei to start certain initiatives that put into practice the teachings of St. Josemaria about the sanctification of married life. He and his wife Chona were exemplary in their generosity of having a large family. They had nine children whom they brought up within the warmth of a truly Christian home, a bright and cheerful one. To translate into action the dictum that parents are the first educators of their children, Cidito mobilized other parents living the spirit of Opus Dei to establish schools in which the parents are the first in importance, followed by the teachers, and only in the third place as a practical consequence the students themselves. Learning from equivalent institutions in Spain, they put up the Parents for Education Foundation (PAREF) which in the last 45 years have put up schools like Southridge, Woodrose, Northfield, and Rosehill in the Metro Manila area; Southcrest and Springdale in Metro Cebu; Westbridge in Iloilo; and a few other affiliated schools. These parents will not stop until they can comply with the wish expressed by St. Josemaria when he was alive: that the spirit of Opus Dei must be lived in all the major islands of the Philippines and from the Philippines, all over Asia.
(To be continued).