Documentation

August 31, 1937

Tags: Spanish Civil War
Bishop Javier Echevarría recalled this date in St Josemaría’s life, in the context of his apostolic zeal even in times of religious persecution and great hardship.

Josemaría Escrivá in August 1937
Josemaría Escrivá in August 1937
“The Master told us: euntes docete omnes gentes (Mt 28:19)—go throughout the whole world, teaching the Gospel to every creature. And he did not leave us alone: I am with you always, to the close of the age (Mt 28:20).

One can understand why, for St. Josemaría, the world seemed small. I recall (I heard him recount it) something that happened in April 1936. He had gone to Valencia to prepare the ground for the first apostolic expansion of Opus Dei outside of Madrid. While there he spoke to a university student about the possibility of joining the Work. As they were walking along, they reached the shore of the Mediterranean. The young man remarked: ‘Father, how big the sea is!’ St. Josemaría immediately replied: ‘But to me it seems small.’ He was thinking of other seas and other lands, where his daughters and sons were to go as soon as possible, carrying with them the spirit received from God. And his heart was filled with zeal for souls right to the last moment.

In those years, due to the hazards of the Spanish Civil War, the desired apostolic expansion could not be carried out. He was not discouraged, not even when in August 1936 he was forced to leave the house where he lived with his mother and brother and sister, fleeing from the religious persecution that had been unleashed.

Several very difficult months followed, during which our Founder found himself at least twice on the verge of martyrdom. In those circumstances, as you know, he took refuge in various places that offered a modicum of safety. Nevertheless, he continued exercising his priestly ministry to the extent possible and provided spiritual care to the first members of the Work. When on August 31, 1937—seventy years ago now—he was able to leave the precarious refuge where he had remained for several months, he dedicated himself with renewed intensity to his spiritual work (which he had also carried out in the Honduran Consulate), even risking his life. The fruit of that sowing was not lost. Apart from the fact that it was plentiful even then, it was gathered abundantly later on.”

Like many priests at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, the founder of Opus Dei had to take refuge in different family homes in Madrid, only able to stay in each for a few hours at a time, because sheltering a priest in those circumstances meant signing your own death warrant.

In the end, in March 1937 he found a relatively long-term refuge in the Honduran Legation, where he stayed several months. His younger brother Santiago Escrivá, who was there with him, remembers: “There was very little to eat. Josemaría had even less than the rest of us, because on some days he ate nothing or almost nothing, as a mortification to offer to God. He was so thin that when our mother came to see us she only recognized him by his voice.”

In August 1937 St Josemaría finally obtained some identity papers that enabled him to go out in Madrid in relative freedom and continue his apostolic labors, until he left that zone of Spain.