Magnanimity, faith, and “madness”
For nine centuries Torreciudad has been a meeting-point for devotion to the Virgin Mary. St. Josemaria joined in with this story: his love for our Blessed Lady led him to initiate the building of a shrine. At the time, carrying out this project seemed like madness.
Javier Mora-Figueroa, Rector of the Shrine
Javier Mora-Figueroa first met St. Josemaria in 1967, when he was an officer in the Navy. Fr Javier is now the rector of the Shrine of Torreciudad, a major attraction in the district of Huesca, Spain. Thousands of pilgrims come here from around the world. For example, on the occasion of World Youth Day over 7,000 young people from 40 different countries visited the shrine.
How does this story begin?
Barbastro, 1904. A toddler is on the verge of death from an acute illness. The doctor warns the parents that unfortunately the child will not survive the night. But the next day when the doctor calls and asks what time the child died, he’s taken to the bedroom where the child is happily jumping up and down in his crib, fully recovered.
As is well known, this child was Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, and his recovery was attributed to the fact that his mother, Dońa Dolores, had appealed to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, promising to go on pilgrimage to the statue that was venerated in the chapel of Torreciudad if her baby were cured.
Years went by, and St. Josemaria nurtured in his soul the desire to make a shrine to the Blessed Virgin, to increase devotion to her and make available to Christians another house of Our Lady where they could go to ask for graces, to be comforted or to give thanks for benefits received from her hand.
St. Josemaria said that the miracles he wanted in this shrine were conversion and peace for many souls. What kind of miracles are these?
I think that St. Josemaria was referring mainly to two types of miracles: people who go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, even after many years without it, and non-Catholics who choose to embrace the fullness of life in the Church. Many people who come for sight-seeing, wonder at the end of their visit, “How come I ended up being reconciled to God?” Most will answer: “The Virgin Mary gave me a push.”
From St. Josemaria’s first visit to Torreciudad as a child, until he could realize his dream of raising the shrine to the Virgin Mary, sixty-six years passed. It’s never too late... Have there been people who have decided to change their lives years after visiting Torreciudad?
This summer, over 7,000 young people from around the world visited Torreciudad
I’ll answer with a story. One day, a girl from a Northern country, who was translating for her fellow pilgrims, got so moved she burst into tears. When I asked her why she was crying, she told me that years before she had been camping near Torreciudad, but the camp monitors had not allowed her to go in because, they said, “it’s all Catholic superstitions.”
She said she knew that Mary was the Mother of Jesus. In addition, as a Christian she believed that Jesus Christ was God, so Mary was also the Mother of God. Then, from afar, she said to our Lady: “Show me the path to the truth.” On returning to her country she studied Catholic teaching and converted to Catholicism. She ended by saying: “And now, at last, I have come to Torreciudad to thank our Lady. Don’t you think that’s something to get emotional about?”
The architects knew what St Josemaria wanted: not to make a small, narrow building, because Torreciudad would have to receive very many people. This request could be read as an expression of magnanimity, or as “madness” ... Or both? They are words of faith and love. On May 23, 1975, St. Josemaria came back to Torreciudad. He could see that the shrine was almost completed, and could not hide his satisfaction: “out of humble earthly material, you have made divine material.” Soon after that, in his humility, he was heard to say: “It seems like a dream; and that’s because I am a man of little faith.” When he saw the altarpiece, almost finished, his face lit up with a smile and he said excitedly, “It's an absolute masterpiece... Good! Only madmen (...) do things like this, and we are quite happy to be crazy ... It’s very good!”
As recalled by his successor, Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, “In a way, the last stone of his devotion to Mary was the shrine of Torreciudad (...). I want to emphasize that the very idea of building this shrine at the end of the nineteen-sixties was a truly remarkable proof of his faith: because of the effort required to raise the money, because these were obviously years of crisis in popular piety; because of its location, far from the usual tourist routes or from any big city; and finally, because they made a large crypt full of confessionals, in a period when the practice of confession was declining.”
The shrine is located where it stood 100 years ago. Is it still a far-off place?
It is not an isolated site. We have highways from the main Spanish cities, three airports nearby, a high-speed railway line coming through Huesca, etc. In fact on the occasion of the World Youth Day, Torreciudad was visited by more than 7,000 young people from 40 countries: Russia, Singapore, all the countries in America and Europe, Hong Kong, Macao and the island of Guam, Syria, etc.
Even so, do you feel that every effort is too little?
On April 7, 1970, Saint Josemaria went to Torreciudad. He was returning there for the first time since his parents had brought him to thank the Virgin Mary for his cure. He said he was really sorry he had not come back before, and he decided to make a pilgrimage, walking barefoot from a kilometer before the old chapel.
On the left, the shrine today. On the right, St. Josemaria on pilgrimage to Our Lady of Torreciudad.
When, after praying two parts of the rosary, people urged him to put on his shoes, he replied: “After sixty-six years, it’s not much that I'm doing for our Lady. There are many shepherds who go barefoot every day in these mountains. I’m not doing anything extraordinary.”
It was a time when St. Josemaria felt specially the urge to go to God through our Lady, with vibrant, trusting prayer, begging her to apply the remedy to so many needs of the Church. The previous year, he had visited five shrines of the Virgin Mary in Europe. After Torreciudad, he traveled to Fatima, and the following month, he crossed the Atlantic to kneel at the feet of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Watch a VIDEO of The Shrine of Torreciudad