HomeDocumentationThe early years of Opus Dei1937-1939: Later stages of the Spanish Civil War
The early years of Opus Dei

1937-1939: Later stages of the Spanish Civil War

John Coverdale

Tags: Alvaro del Portillo, Sickness, Spanish Civil War, Poverty, Franco, Father, Penance, Burgos, Juan Jimenez Vargas, Pedro Casciaro, first members
Before describing their efforts to carry out Opus Dei in these later stages of the war, we will examine the social, economic, and political features of the world in which they worked.

- The War in the North (March to November 1937)
- Fusion of the Falange and the Carlists
- Growing on the Inside
- Zorzano
- Escrivá and Jiménez Vargas Leave the Legation
- The Negrín Government
- Escape through the Pyrenees (OCTOBER 1937–DECEMBER 1937)
- From Madrid to Valencia and Barcelona
- Endless Waiting in Barcelona
- Crossing the Mountains
- Christmas in Pamplona
- The War Grinds On
- Moving to Burgos
- Franco Forms a Regular Government
- Exile in Burgos (december 1937–september 1938)
- Poverty and Penance
- A Father to His Sons
- Lessons in Stone
- By Train and Letter
- In Madrid and Burgos
- Crossing the Front Lines
- Brief Reunion in Burgos
- The Final Months in Burgos
- The End of the War
- Preparations for the Return to Madrid

The War in the North (March to November 1937)
Forced to recognize that he could not take Madrid, Franco turned his attention to the Basque country and to the provinces of Santander and Asturias, which lay to its west along Spain’s Atlantic coast. The Nationalist northern offensive began on March 31, 1937, but advances in the mountainous Basque country were slow.
Franco’s forces resumed their northern offensive on September 1, 1937. Mountainous terrain favored the defense, but by October 21, 1937, the Nationalists had occupied all of Asturias and the northern front had ceased to exist.

In the Nationalist zone, all leftist and liberal political parties had been outlawed from the beginning of the war. The two principal political groups were the conservative monarchist Carlists (who were strong in Navarre) and the fascist-inspired Falange. In the environment created by the civil war, the nationalism, authoritarianism, and military tone of the Falange appealed to many middle-class Spaniards. Its national syndicalist social and economic program garnered some working-class support in areas controlled by the Nationalists. The party grew rapidly during the early months of the war, despite its lack of competent leaders.

Civilian politics, however, were overshadowed in the Nationalist zone by military dominance. Franco concentrated on military matters and on foreign relations, paying little attention to domestic politics in the months immediately following his appointment as generalísimo and head of state.

As the war dragged on, however, Franco became increasingly aware of the need for political organization to legitimize his rule and to justify the carnage of the war. For this task, he turned to his brother-in-law, Ramón Serrano Súñer, a lawyer and former deputy to the Cortes, who was sympathetic to the syndicalist goals of the Falange.

In April 1937, Franco announced the fusion of the Carlists and the Falange into a new unified political group called the Falange Española Tradicionalista y de las JONS (FET). The FET, headed by Franco, would be the official state party and the only political organization permitted in Nationalist Spain. A number of Falangist leaders attempted to resist the fusion, but they were quickly quashed. Within a few days, the Nationalist regime adopted a number of Falangist slogans and symbols, including the raised-arm fascist salute.

The decree of unification declared that the new party would provide an organized political basis for the new state “as in other countries of totalitarian regime.” When Franco referred to Nationalist Spain as a totalitarian regime, he seems to have had in mind a traditional unitary authoritarian state rather than the rigorous total institutional control found in the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. The statutes of the FET, which were not published until August 1937, reflected much of the syndicalist policy of the Falange but stressed the role of Franco who, as “supreme Caudillo of the Movement, personifies all its values.”

Growing on the Inside
Escrivá viewed the stay of the members of the Work in the legation not as a meaningless interlude, but as an opportunity to develop an interior life of prayer and sacrifice. Drawing an analogy with winter wheat, which is planted and sprouts in fall and then lies dormant under winter’s snow, he wrote later in The Way:

"The plants lay hidden under the snow. And the farmer, the owner of the land, remarked with satisfaction: “Now they are growing on the inside.” I thought of you, of your forced inactivity. . . . Tell me, are you too growing “on the inside”?"

To facilitate that growth, he established a schedule including Mass, mental prayer, spiritual reading, and rosary, as well as time for study, informal get-togethers with the members of the Work, and socializing with other refugees. Looking forward to the future expansion of the Work, he encouraged them to study foreign languages. Del Portillo, for example, began studying Japanese. A priest of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart who had also found asylum in the legation observed: “While the rest of us spent many hours playing cards, I never saw the Father’s companions doing so. One felt that the Father’s sights were set on the future, while living today to the full.”

Thanks to their lives of prayer and to having the days full, the members of the Work managed to maintain peace, serenity, and good humor. The consul’s daughter recalls that “they always helped one another and showed great sensitivity and refinement. For example, they were soon given an affectionate nickname, ‘the Whisperers,’ because of their refined, quiet conversation.”

Escrivá made a point of avoiding all manifestations of political partisanship. He refrained from criticizing the Republican authorities and from joining the celebrations of the other refugees when they received news of Nationalist victories. The consul’s son-in-law recalls: “He was gifted with incredible equanimity and enormous serenity. He was exquisitely polite and courteous. He didn’t give any indication of restlessness or depression, nor did he make negative comments about either the Communists or the Nationalists, not even about the bombings and the hardships. And this attitude, far from seeming stilted, struck us as quite normal and natural. Without fuss, he spread serenity and joy, transmitting his peaceful confidence to those around him.”

Practically every day Escrivá preached a meditation to his companions. Alastrue describes the scene:

"Seated on the cushions, in semi-darkness, ...we listened almost daily to the Father’s talks and meditations. His words, now serene, now energetic and charged with emotion, but always bearing light, poured over us and seemed to nestle within our souls. They all centered in one way or another on Christ: his person, life, words, and passion. Here he found inexhaustible material: contemplating Christ slowly and lovingly, savoring his words, following step by step his miracles, his teaching, his suffering".

Under these circumstances, even most people who had previously had a vigorous life of piety would probably have contented themselves with waiting out the storm while preserving some minimum level of prayer.

Escrivá urged the members of the Work not only to bear cheerfully the hunger, cold, isolation, and anxiety their situation entailed but to seek out opportunities to offer voluntary sacrifices throughout the day. In this, he led the way to a degree that is hard to understand. Rations in the consulate were so short that all the refugees were starving. Escrivá had lost so much weight that when his mother came to visit she did not recognize him until she heard his voice. Nonetheless, he repeatedly tried to take less than his share so that the others would have a little more and in order to have something more to offer to God with a spirit of reparation and penance. He also practiced other vigorous corporal mortifications, including use of the disciplines, moved by a desire to offer reparation to God for the many sacrileges and crimes the war brought with it.

Their intense prayer and spirit of sacrifice brought the members of the Work joy despite the harshness of their situation. Alastrue, looking back on the months spent in the legation, writes:

"It was as if our complete indigence, the bleak hardships of seclusion, the danger hovering over us, all engendered a hidden delight. We experienced a true blessing day by day. Not only did God give us the strength to endure the trial, but truly “the yoke was sweet and the burden light.” We traveled the path of God’s will with hearts brimming with joy. I recall José María González Barredo’s simple and sincere comment one day: “This can’t go on. It’s too much happiness."

Growing Communist Influence in the Republican Zone
The military crisis facing the Republic during the fall of 1936 had brought together Socialists, Anarchists, Communists, and Liberals in the Caballero government. Once the immediate threat passed, the strains in the Republican coalition promptly resurfaced.

Before the outbreak of the civil war, the Communist party had been a small splinter group with little influence on the Spanish Left. As the war progressed, however, it grew in size and influence because the Soviet Union was the chief source of arms for the Republic, and the Communist units were the best disciplined and most effective parts of the Republican army.

Moscow dictated the policies of the Communist party in Spain. Stalin was mortally afraid of Nazi Germany’s threat to Russia and desperately wanted to win the support of France and Great Britain. Communist propagandists both in Spain and in the rest of Europe, therefore, were instructed to present the Spanish Civil War as the defense of a liberal democratic regime against the onslaught of fascism. The Spanish Communists argued that the time had not come for proletarian revolution in Spain. Rather, the working class should temporarily abandon all dreams of revolution and join forces with liberals and democrats in defense of Republican legality.
Similarly, popular militia units would have to give way to disciplined army units, although this did not mean the army would become apolitical, since political commissars would continue to play an important role in it.

When Zorzano emerged from his family’s apartment in early fall 1936, after two months of hiding out there, he began to function as the principal link among the members of Opus Dei in Madrid. Loss of weight, a new haircut, and dark glasses provided some assurance that he would not be recognized by anyone who was looking for him but offered no protection against being stopped on the street by militia patrols and arrested for lack of documents attesting to his status as a loyal supporter of the Republic. To lessen that danger, he had only an armband with the flag of Argentina and a document from the embassy testifying to his birth in Argentina. With these inadequate protections, his activities required considerable trust in God and his guardian angel and a great deal of raw courage at a time when even people with foreign passports were far from secure in Madrid under siege.

Zorzano went regularly to the prisons to visit the members of the Work despite the real danger of being identified as an enemy of the people. While Hernández de Garnica was held in San Antón prison, Zorzano visited him almost every day, even when air raids forced most people off the streets. Hernández de Garnica recalls, “His charity toward me was exceptional. He came to see me during periods in which no man went to visit those in jail because of the danger it involved.”

The prisons were not the only dangerous places Zorzano frequented. Because of the large numbers of people who had found political asylum in embassies, militia units took careful note of the name of anyone entering one. Zorzano, nonetheless, regularly visited the Norwegian embassy because Rodríguez Casado, who had joined Opus Dei only three months before the outbreak of the war, had found refuge there.

Zorzano’s visits helped Rodríguez Casado keep up his spirits despite the isolation in which he found himself.
During the months in which Escrivá and the other members of the Work were shut up in the legation of Honduras, Zorzano was their contact with the outside world. He visited them practically every day, taking advantage of moments when the militiamen stationed outside were distracted to slip into the building. Even inside things did not always go smoothly. Some refugees were concerned that Zorzano’s frequent appearances might attract attention to them, and officials of the legation, including the consul, did everything they could to discourage his visits. Zorzano ignored their often rude protests so as to bring the members of the Work whatever he could find in the way of food, items like razor blades and shoe laces and, most important, news of the other members of the Work in Madrid and elsewhere.

He took with him from the legation detailed summaries of Escrivá’s meditations prepared by Alastrue. He used them when he made his own mental prayer and shared them regularly with other members of the Work in Madrid and with José María Albareda and Justo Martí, two of the people who had been receiving formation in DYA before the war. When increased vigilance at the Norwegian embassy made it dangerous to bring copies to Rodríguez Casado there, Zorzano decided to memorize the texts, although they averaged over a thousand words each, so that he could continue to share them with Casado.

Occasionally he included some of the ideas from the meditations in letters to the members of the Work in Valencia, using veiled language to avoid problems with government censors.
Throughout the war, Zorzano spent most of his time searching for food for members of the Work in hiding, for their families, and for his own family. Food was so strictly rationed that milk, fresh vegetables, and meat were considered medications, available only with a prescription from a doctor. The food available to those with ration cards was insufficient, and few of the members of the Work even had ration cards.

Zorzano developed an entire network of places where he could supplement the meager supplies he could get through normal channels. One day he would succeed in getting something at the store established by the embassy of Argentina for its citizens. The next he managed, through the good offices of a friend, to purchase products at the store run by the San Antón prison for the guards and their families. Occasionally the members of the Work in Valencia, where food was not so short, were able to send a package.
At other times, a family in the province of Ciudad Real sent beans, rice, potatoes, and even ham.

Early in the spring of 1937, it seemed that Zorzano’s efforts on behalf of the members of the Work might come to an end. He was offered an opportunity to be evacuated from Madrid via diplomatic channels.

Escrivá and Jiménez Vargas Leave the Legation
When Escrivá and the other members of the Work first took refuge in the legation, it seemed that soon the consul might be able to evacuate all the refugees in the legation. Time after time, however, those hopes were dashed. At the beginning of June, for instance, the consul traveled to Valencia, where the Republican government had established its offices when it seemed that Madrid might be taken by the Nationalists. Zorzano wrote in his diary, “Perhaps they will leave next week. This time, I believe, is the definitive one.” But soon the consul returned from Valencia with empty hands, as had happened several times before.

By mid-summer 1937, the prospects for an early end to the conflict seemed increasingly remote. Escrivá was anxious to leave the legation and find a situation that would offer him more scope for exercising his priestly ministry and for developing Opus Dei. The members of the Work urged him to leave Madrid and the Republican-controlled zone, where all religion was prohibited, and to cross over to the territory controlled by the Nationalists. Escrivá saw the reasons for trying to make his way to the Nationalist zone but was reluctant to leave his family and members of the Work behind in Madrid while he made his way to safety. In any case, at the moment, there seemed to be no real possibilities of crossing over to the Nationalist-controlled part of Spain, even if he wanted to.

The worst of the religious persecution in the Republican zone seemed to be over. All churches remained closed and celebration of Mass and other religious activities were still prohibited, but the Republican government had at least partially reined in the uncontrolled elements that had been responsible for most of the killings of priests in the early months of the war. He would not be able to engage in any public priestly activities, but with sufficient precautions it might be possible to minister secretly to some of the many Catholics of Madrid who had been deprived of the sacraments for a year.

During early summer 1937, Escrivá made occasional sorties to the streets dressed in grey overalls to have photographs taken for the counterfeit identification documents he would need if he left the legation, to investigate leads on ways of escaping from the Republican zone, and to exercise on a limited scale his priestly ministry. In the meantime, Zorzano arranged for Escrivá’s younger brother, Santiago, to rejoin his mother.

Toward the end of August, Escrivá obtained from the Honduran consul documents that described him as an employee of the legation. The consul also gave him a small Honduran flag to pin on the lapel of his suit coat. Armed with these documents, which he described as “falser than Judas,” he left the consulate on August 31, 1937, and moved into a boardinghouse. A few days later, acting on the advice of the Honduran consul, he obtained similar documents for Jiménez Vargas from the Panamanian consulate. On September 4, 1937, Jiménez Vargas joined him in the boardinghouse. Had they been arrested and interrogated, the documents would have been of little value, but they provided some protection in the case of a random stop and search on the streets.

Escrivá and Jiménez Vargas occasionally had dinner with Zorzano, followed by a long get-together. At times they were joined by others. Calvo Serer, for example, who had joined the Republican army during summer 1937 and had been assigned to the International Brigades, came to Madrid for a couple of days at the end of August and beginning of September. Hernández de Garnica, who had been released from prison in Valencia, also spent some time in Madrid before reporting for duty with the Republican army. Zorzano describes their conversation at one such get-together. “We began to dream about what things would be like in a few years time. We ran down the list of the world’s principal universities and let our imaginations fly a little.” They even laughed at how thin they had become. Isidoro was down to about 105 pounds and Escrivá and Jiménez Vargas were both about 125.

Escrivá moved about Madrid, usually wearing a suit and tie with the Honduran flag pinned conspicuously on his lapel. Often he heard confessions on the street, walking down the sidewalk arm in arm with the penitent. He said Mass in homes and preached meditations to small groups that gathered in the apartments of friends. He carried the Blessed Sacrament with him inside a cigarette case that he kept inside his coat pocket in a small bag with the flag and seal of the Honduran consulate. That made it possible for him to give Holy Communion to more people.

Although the worst of the persecution was over, administering the sacraments and carrying out priestly ministry in Madrid at that time continued to be dangerous. In addition, Escrivá provided spiritual assistance to members of religious orders who were hiding out in Madrid

The Negrín Government
The Communist party was becoming increasingly hostile to Largo Caballero’s leadership. It took advantage of the May events in Barcelona and its control of Soviet military aid from the Soviet Union to press for further centralization, police terror, reduction of Anarchist influence in the cabinet, and increased Russian influence in military decisions. When Caballero refused to go along with their demands, the Communist party engineered his fall and replaced him with a new prime minister, Juan Negrín. Negrín, who took office in May 1937, was a Socialist who had served as a deputy to the Cortes since 1931 and had been named finance minister by Caballero in September of 1936. He had proven to be a successful administrator, with no particular political following or power base, which made him acceptable to the disparate political groups that comprised the Republic.

As prime minister, Negrín was an opportunistic realist, willing to make any political sacrifice to win the war. His cabinet included Prieto as minister of war and one other Socialist from Prieto’s wing of the party, but no supporters of Largo Caballero. The Communists continued to hold two seats in the cabinet, which also included two Republicans, a Basque Nationalist and a Catalan.
Negrín asked the Anarchists to join his government, but they refused.

The fact that Prieto, who was becoming increasingly anticommunist, held the vital position of minister of war suggests that, in the short run, the Communists gained little from the change of government. Over time, however, the political moderation of the Communist party, its realism in the face of the war, and the Republic’s dependence on the USSR for arms all combined to make Negrín turn increasingly to the Communists for support. His economic program restricted the growth and activities of agrarian collectives, reduced worker control in industry, and extended central government control over the more important aspects of the economy.

In March 1938, the Communist party began an all-out attack on Prieto, whom it criticized for defeatism. As the Nationalist armies pushed their way into Aragon and toward the Catalan capital, Prieto grew more and more discouraged, and on April 5, 1938, the day on which Nationalist troops came within sight of the Mediterranean, he fell from the government. Negrín took over the post of minister of defense. This would be the last major change in the composition of the Republican government until the end of the war.

* * *
For Opus Dei, the two years between March 1937 and April 1939 were a period dominated by hidden sacrifice and prayer. There were moments of high drama and great danger. The significance of those years, however, lay not in the dramatic events but in the daily effort of the members of the Work to sanctify themselves and carry out the apostolate of Opus Dei under extremely unfavorable circumstances. At the end of two years, despite few external accomplishments, Opus Dei would emerge from the war strengthened by its members’ heroic efforts in the midst of privations.

* * *

The easing of religious persecution in the Republican zone represented an improvement over the desperate conditions of a year earlier, but it was still impossible to conduct any public religious ceremonies, and even personal apostolate still carried with it great risks. In the Nationalist zone, it would be much easier to carry on Opus Dei’s apostolate. Crossing from one zone to the other was a dangerous undertaking, but Escrivá and the other members of the Work were willing to run the risk if they could find a method that offered reasonable hope of success.

Albareda learned that his brother and sister-in-law had managed to get from Barcelona across the Pyrenees mountains into France aided by smugglers who in peacetime earned their living bringing contraband goods across the frontier and who now specialized in guiding refugees through the mountains. Once in France, the refugees had no difficulty in entering the Nationalist zone at the town of Irún, at the westernmost extreme of Spain’s border with France. Albareda passed on the information to Zorzano. Despite the repeated failure of his efforts to find a way to get Escrivá and some of the other members of the Work out of Madrid, Zorzano was enthusiastic about this new possibility. It opened a new chapter in Opus Dei’s history, one marked by perils and privations.

Escape through the Pyrenees (OCTOBER 1937–DECEMBER 1937)
Even with a guide, crossing the Pyrenees would be a difficult and dangerous undertaking. Fr. Ventosa García, a refugee in the legation of Honduras to whom Escrivá had gone to confession every week during his stay there, tried to dissuade him from attempting the crossing, but Escrivá could see no other way of openly carrying out his priestly ministry and working to build Opus Dei. Urged by Zorzano and the other members of Opus Dei, he decided to try, even though that meant leaving behind his mother, sister and brother, and some members of the Work.

From Madrid to Valencia and Barcelona
After much discussion and effort to raise the money necessary to pay their expenses, the members of the Work finally developed a workable plan. Escrivá, Albareda, and Jiménez Vargas, together with Sainz—in whose apartment Escrivá had stayed during the early days of the war—and Alvira—who had only recently come into contact with Opus Dei—would try to make their way to Valencia, where they hoped to meet up with Casciaro and Botella. From there, they would go to Barcelona, where they would try to find smugglers who could guide them across the mountains into southern France.

By October, they had put together some money from gifts and loans from friends and relatives and the remainder of the funds they had gathered earlier for the new residence. Even looking at things optimistically, the amount was barely sufficient to reach Barcelona and to pay guides to lead them through the mountains. Nonetheless, having done all they could to raise money, they put their trust in Providence that somehow they would be able to pay for the trip.

In addition to the money, they also needed to obtain personal identity documents, certificates showing that they were members in good standing of one of the Republican political parties, and safe-conduct passes for traveling within the Republican zone. By October, all the members of the party had some sort of personal identity documents.

Certificates showing affiliation to a Republican party were obtained primarily from officials of several Anarchist trade unions that were anxious to increase their membership in Madrid and, therefore, not particularly choosy about their members. In January 1937, the government had begun evacuating nonessential personnel from Madrid, because it was difficult to provide the city with food and fuel. Safe-conduct passes to leave Madrid were, therefore, relatively easy to obtain. Escrivá, Albareda, Sainz, and Alvira somehow managed to find a car and enough gasoline to get to Valencia.

That evening, Escrivá, Albareda, Jiménez Vargas, Alvira, and Sainz took the night train to Barcelona, telling Casciaro and Botella that they would let them know if they found a way that they too could cross over to the other zone. As the train pulled out, Escrivá smiled, put his hand inside his suit coat and silently gave his blessing to the two members of the Work who remained on the station platform.

In Barcelona, Albareda went to stay with his mother, while the other four members of the party found a room in a hotel. They established contact with a smuggler known as “Matthew the Milkman,” who agreed to arrange the crossing into the tiny principality of Andorra. From there, they could easily cross over into France and then make their way to the Nationalist zone of Spain.

A few days after arriving, they sent a telegram to Casciaro asking him to come the next day. They assumed he would find some excuse for requesting a leave. Casciaro, who thought he was being summoned to cross over to the Nationalist zone, was not about to waste time requesting leave. While in basic training, he had left his unit without permission simply to be able to take a shower at the nearby home of a relative; and now he decided not to tell anyone he was going to Barcelona. A few days earlier, when he was alone in the regimental offices, he had taken a number of blank leave passes and stamped them with the colonel’s stamp. He now filled one out to show that he had a few days leave and promptly deserted the regiment, taking the night train to Barcelona.

In Barcelona, Casciaro learned that he had been called there not to join the group in its attempted escape, but to learn how to contact a smuggler, so that he could organize the escape of another group at a later date. After a thorough briefing, he returned to Valencia. On the way back, he tried desperately to think of some plausible excuse for having been absent without leave for two days in the midst of a war, but found none. He entrusted himself to his guardian angel and returned to the regiment to face the consequences. Fortunately, the colonel liked the young soldier, who had a good record, and gave him an extraordinarily light sentence, sixteen days in military prison.

In Barcelona, things were going very slowly, and the group’s meager supply of cash was dwindling at an alarming rate. The original plan had called for spending only a few days in the city, but making arrangements with the smugglers took much longer than expected. When it finally seemed that everything was in place, heavy rains swelled the mountain streams and rivers where they would have to cross, imposing further delays.

Casciaro was still serving his sentence when, on October 25, 1937, Jiménez Vargas came to Valencia to tell him and Botella about a change in plans and to invite them to join the group in Barcelona in their attempt to cross the Pyrenees. While awaiting Casciaro’s release from prison, Jiménez Vargas traveled to the little town of Daimiel in La Mancha, where Miguel Fisac, another architecture student, had been hiding in the attic of his parents’ house since the war broke out. When Fisac learned of the escape plans, he decided to join the group.

On October 31, 1937, the day he was released from prison, Casciaro deserted again. Using the blank leave passes Casciaro had obtained earlier, Botella had prepared papers granting himself, Casciaro, and Fisac a few days leave to settle family matters in Barcelona.
With these papers, the three of them and Jiménez Vargas took the noon train to Barcelona. Because of flooding, they had to leave the train at the little town of Amposta, where they spent the night.
They crossed the Ebro river the next day, in a cart pulled by a donkey, and resumed their train trip on the other side, reaching Barcelona late in the evening on November 1, 1937.

Endless Waiting in Barcelona
Once the group from Valencia arrived, it seemed that their departure would be imminent, but the arrest and execution of the members of another party caught trying to cross into Andorra caused the smugglers to break off all contact for two weeks.

Food in Barcelona was very scarce, even for people with money and ration cards. A well-to-do family had an apartment in the same building where several members of the Work were staying; they were so hungry that their six-year-old son would stand in line for hours to buy cigarettes in order to exchange them with a soldier for a ration of the bad bread given to the troops. The dog of the family with whom Casciaro and others were staying was so famished that one day it ate Casciaro’s leather belt, a pair of socks Botella had left in the bathroom, and their only bar of soap.

The members of Escrivá’s group did not have ration cards, and it would have been dangerous to try to obtain them. They did not have money to buy enough food for the eight of them in a restaurant or on the black market. Most days’ breakfast consisted of a watery malt drink with two or three small salty biscuits. Normally they had only one other meal, and that was only slightly more substantial than their breakfast. Some days they ate at a reasonably clean restaurant where the meal consisted of donkey meat with stewed mushrooms, but the portions were very small. Most days they went to a small, dirty restaurant where the food was less refined but the portions slightly larger. Escrivá often saved his morning biscuits or part of his meager dinner to give it to the children of the family with whom they were staying.

As the days grew into weeks, it became difficult for the members of Escrivá’s group to avoid arousing suspicion. The Republican government had recently moved from Valencia to Barcelona, and the move had brought with it increased surveillance. To give the impression that they had been evacuated from their homes and had found employment in Barcelona, Escrivá and his companions left the apartments where they were staying each day as if they were going to work. They spent much of the day walking around the city. As they did so, they made their daily meditation and prayed the rosary. All churches had been closed by government order, but when they passed one, they made acts of abandonment in the hands of God and prayed spiritual communions. Their long walks through the city, in addition to being safer than staying holed up in an apartment, helped them train for the arduous mountainous journey that lay ahead, although the lack of food prevented them from building up much strength.

Hiding Out in Rialp Forest
Their smuggler, Matthew the Milkman, finally reestablished contact on November 16, 1937, and told them that everything was set for the 19th. They would take a bus to a point about eighty miles northwest of Barcelona. They would then attempt to cross over the mountains on foot, into the independent principality of Andorra, and make their way from there into France.

For the first leg, they split into three groups. Escrivá, Albareda, and Jiménez Vargas, who were old enough to arouse less suspicion, would leave on the 19th and take the bus all the way to Oliana, a hamlet located about twenty-five miles, as the crow flies, from Andorra. Casciaro, Botella, and Fisac, who were of military age and therefore more likely to be subject to close scrutiny, would take the same bus but would get off at Sanahuja, a little more than ten miles from Oliana. They would then head cross-country to avoid a military checkpoint at Basella, where documents would be rigorously inspected because of the proximity of Andorra. Alvira and Sainz would take the bus two days later to avoid having too many young men of military age traveling together.

Escrivá, Albareda, and Jiménez Vargas reached Oliana without incident. There they were met by Antonio Bach Pallares, a watchmaker who was also the town clerk, mailman, and sacristan of the local parish. He led them to the town of Peramola, about an hour’s walk away, where they were to spend the night in a barn owned by the mayor.

The plan called for Casciaro, Botella, and Fisac to join them a few hours later in the barn, but when Bach returned shortly before dawn with his fourteen-year-old son Paco, the three young men still had not come. Bach tried to reassure Escrivá that they would arrive soon but insisted that he and his companions leave before it got light. At dawn they still had not arrived, so Escrivá left an encouraging note in which he asked Casciaro to do a pencil sketch of Paco as a token of their gratitude. They set out for the town of Vilaró, about three miles away, where they were met by fifty-year-old Pere Sala, bearing a shotgun slung over his shoulder.
Escrivá immediately celebrated Mass, which Sala’s family attended.

As the hours dragged by, Escrivá, Albareda, and Jiménez Vargas became more and more concerned about the fate of Casciaro, Botella, and Fisac. Not until the next morning did they hear that the younger men had reached Peramola the night before and would join them that day. Escrivá continued fasting so he could say Mass for them as soon as they came.

When they arrived around noon on the 21st, they talked about their adventure. The plan had been for one of them to carry a newspaper and utter a prearranged password to their guide in Sanahuja.
Casciaro, who was supposed to say the password, was so nervous that he began to stutter and could not get it out. When he finally did, a red-haired young man walked past without looking at him and said under his breath, “Follow me.” After walking down the road a distance, he headed off into the brush, and they followed him. When they tried to speak to him, they discovered that he did not speak Spanish or Catalan, the languages spoken in the area.

They set out cross-country around 3 P.M. and should have reached Peramola by nightfall. At midnight, the town was nowhere in sight, and the guide was hopelessly lost. Botella tried to help him find his bearings, pointing out where the sun had set. After almost twenty-four hours of hiking through the woods, they finally reached the barn on the outskirts of Peramola, where they slept for a few hours before continuing on to Sala’s farmhouse in Vilaró.

Casciaro, Botella, and Fisac, together with Escrivá, Albareda, and Jiménez Vargas, spent the night of November 21, 1937, in what had been the rectory of the parish church of Pallerols, a hamlet located a mile or two from Vilaró. Both the church and the rectory had been sacked. Their guide led them to a small room on the upper floor whose only window had been boarded up and whose floor was covered with straw.

By the flickering light of a tallow candle, Casciaro saw an anxious, dejected expression on Escrivá’s face that he had never seen before. Escrivá was arguing passionately, but quietly, with Jiménez Vargas. Botella, who was closer and could hear part of their conversation, told Casciaro that Escrivá felt he should not abandon the members of the Work who were facing danger in Madrid and that he wanted to return to the capital.

Escrivá spent the night in prayer, sobbing quietly, torn between the need for freedom to carry out Opus Dei and exercise his priestly ministry and the sense that he should share the fate of the members of the Work and his family members who were still in Madrid. Amid extreme inner turmoil, he did something he had never done before—request an extraordinary sign to resolve his dilemma.
Moved by his devotion to the Blessed Virgin, who is invoked as the Mystical Rose, he asked her to give him a gilded rose if God wanted him to continue the attempt to cross over to the other zone of Spain.

When the others awakened the next morning and began to prepare for Mass, Escrivá remained deeply distressed. During the night, when Escrivá had protested that he did not have the strength to make it through the mountains, Jiménez Vargas had told him, “We are going to take you to the other side, dead or alive.” But this morning, neither Jiménez Vargas nor anyone else said anything. Escrivá left the room alone, probably to pray in the vandalized church. When he returned, his face was radiant with joy and peace. In his hand, he held a gilded wooden rose. In 1936, when the militia sacked the church, they had torn down the carved and gilded wooden altarpiece and carried it outside to burn. The rose, which had probably formed part of the frame of roses encircling the image of Our Lady of the Rosary, had survived. Escrivá saw it as the sign he had requested.

Escrivá rarely spoke of this event. When asked about the rose, he would usually change the subject or limit himself to commenting that our Lady is the mystical rose. Del Portillo, his closest collaborator and first successor, explained why Escrivá did not usually talk about this or the other extraordinary graces he received:

"First of all, out of humility, since he was the protagonist of these events, the one who received God’s special graces, his “caresses,” of which there have been many in the Work’s history. Second, he didn’t want even his children to know about these spiritual divine favors, so that we would all know and understand that we should do Opus Dei, not because of miracles, but because it is God’s will".

After Mass, Sala returned with Alvira and Sainz, who had left Barcelona two days after the others and had made the trip without incident. The group was now complete. Sala led them on a two- or three-mile hike into the heart of the dense Rialp forest. There they would hide out while their guides finished assembling the larger party, with whom they would attempt to cross the Pyrenees into Andorra. They arrived at a rustic shelter, partly dug into the ground and roofed with logs and branches. They dubbed it “St. Raphael’s cabin,” in honor of the archangel who is the patron of Opus Dei’s activities with young people. Life there was relatively secure. The forest was dense and housed many refugees, some of whom were armed, so militia patrols rarely dared enter.

What the forest lacked, though, was comfort. Food continued to be scarce, and at the end of November, the air was cold and damp. Sala provided one thin cotton blanket for every two refugees. The first night they lit a fire, but because they had to keep their whereabouts hidden, the hut soon filled with smoke. They preferred, instead, to face the cold. To make matters worse, they also discovered that previous inhabitants had left the place full of lice.

As he had done in the legation of Honduras and again in Barcelona, Escrivá drew up a complete schedule that included Mass, mental prayer, rosary, and other practices of piety; hikes to build up their strength; lectures given by the various refugees; informal get-togethers; and time for cleaning the hut. One person was in charge of gathering wood, another of keeping a diary, and a third of keeping the hut in order.

Casciaro writes that at the time he “didn’t fully understand why we spent so much time cleaning our cabin and surroundings, why we kept our few things in such meticulous order, and, in general, why we were so busy doing things that seemed to me unnecessary.” The principal reason lay in the spirit of Opus Dei, which urges its members to use their time well in God’s service and to attend to order and cleanliness out of love of God, as ways of growing in holiness. But Escrivá also insisted on these things to keep the members occupied, thereby avoiding the impatience, laziness, and discouragement that could easily penetrate their spirit as the days dragged by, with no clear idea of how long they would have to continue to hide out in the forest.

In their informal get-togethers, Escrivá talked not about the trek that lay ahead of them but of the future growth of the Work, its expansion to other cities in Spain and throughout the world, and the types of apostolic activities it would promote. “Dream,” he told them, “and your dreams will fall short.” The contrast between Escrivá’s grandiose vision of the future and their situation as fugitives in the midst of a forest could hardly have been more stark. Nonetheless, Jiménez Vargas later recalled that what Escrivá proposed came across to him not as dreams but as realistic plans for specific undertakings, no matter how bold and optimistic.

The group spent a week waiting in the forest. Winter was approaching, and each passing day made it more likely that they would encounter snow at the higher elevations. This was a serious concern. Snow would make them more visible and would make the trek far more difficult. None of them was physically prepared for the ordeal. Escrivá’s situation was especially problematic. He had lost a great deal of weight since the war began, and his general physical condition had deteriorated considerably. Cold weather might trigger another attack of the rheumatism that had crippled him for almost two weeks a year earlier, when he was hiding in Dr. Suil’s asylum.

None of them had adequate equipment for hiking in the mountains at any time, much less in winter. Jiménez Vargas had bought Escrivá a pair of rubber-soled boots that seemed appropriate for the mountains, but they soon broke down. The others wore cheap canvas shoes with hemp soles, more suitable for walking on the beach in summer than for climbing mountains in winter. The rest of their clothing was no better.

On the evening of November 27, 1937, Sala arrived, not with the squirrel stew they had come to expect for dinner but with orders to pack up and move out. The time had come to head out of the Rialp forest for the border with Andorra.

Crossing the Mountains
The group hiked a few miles and then stopped to wait for others who would be joining their party. As they sat in the darkness, Escrivá was again tormented by doubts. Finding the gilded rose in Pallerols had convinced him that he would not offend God by escaping to the Nationalist zone, but now he once again felt a powerful urge to return to Madrid to share the fate of those he had left behind.
Jiménez Vargas grasped him by the arm, prepared to force him to continue, if necessary. But, when the fugitives they were waiting for arrived and the word was given to move out, Escrivá went without protest.

A few hours later, in a large cave a mile or two north of Peramola, the party met “Antonio,” a twenty-three-year-old smuggler who would guide them to Andorra. Antonio, whose real name was Josep Cirera, addressed the men seated at his feet in the candlelit depths of the cave: “I give the orders here, and the rest of you just do as you are told. We’ll be walking single file. And keep your mouth shut. I don’t want any noise. When I have something to say, I’ll say it to the man behind me, and each person will pass it on to the man behind. Nobody is to stop or fall behind. If anyone gets sick and can’t continue, he’ll be left where he is. If anyone wants to stay with him, he’ll be left as well.”

More than one person shuddered, fearing what lay ahead. The thoughts of the members of the Work turned to Escrivá. They were confident that God would help them and convinced that their primary mission was to ensure that the founder reached Andorra safely.
After they left the cave and began scrambling uphill among pines and mountain oaks through dense fog, the line of refugees began to grow, its numbers swelling at every crossroad. Escrivá, who was right behind Cirera, soon managed to pierce the guide’s silence and make friends with him.

They reached Ribalera glen shortly after sunrise on Sunday, November 28, 1937, and spent the day there. By this time, the party had grown to more than twenty men. Despite the curses and blasphemies that had punctuated the previous night’s march, Escrivá announced, “I’m going to say Mass. Anyone who doesn’t want to be respectful shouldn’t attend.”

A stone placed atop another near the cliff wall served as an altar, but it was so low Escrivá had to kneel throughout the Mass. Antonio Dalmases, a Catalan student who had joined the party at some point during the previous night, recorded in his diary his impressions of the Mass.

"On a rock, kneeling down, almost prone to the ground, a priest with us is saying Mass. He doesn’t say it as other priests do in churches. He says the prayers out loud; he is almost weeping, as are we. Some of us are kneeling, some lying down, others half-sitting or standing, holding onto the rocks so as not to fall.
There is no sound except the priest’s voice. His clear and heartfelt words penetrate our souls. I have never attended a Mass like today’s. I don’t know if it is because of the circumstances or because the celebrant is a saint".

Around four in the afternoon, after only a few hours rest, Cirera gave the order to head out. Normally he preferred to travel at night to reduce the chance of being spotted by militia patrols, but the climb to the 5,000-foot peak of Mount Aubens lay immediately ahead. It was so steep and treacherous that he decided they should conquer it before the light failed.

Shortly into the hardest part of the ascent, Alvira collapsed. Cirera gave the order to leave him behind and keep moving to reach the summit before nightfall. Even if Alvira somehow managed to scale Aubens, the guide said, he clearly would not be able to withstand the long hikes and ascents that lay ahead. Escrivá took Cirera by the arm and moved off a few paces. Casciaro heard a few snatches of their conversation, carried by the wind:

"Keep in mind that he is a very courageous man who has done his country much good and still has a lot to do. You are a man with a heart. Be patient and let us help him to the summit. I guarantee he will recover during our next rest period. You will have the satisfaction, one day, of having saved the life of an exceptional person".

Cirera, who years later commented that Escrivá “was a very persuasive man,” gave in.

Alvira felt unable to continue, but Escrivá encouraged him, “Don’t worry. You’ll continue with us all, right to the end.” With help from others in the group, Alvira struggled to his feet. The party reached the peak of Aubens just as night was falling. After a short cold rest in the grass that covered the summit, they started down the mountain’s northern side. The path was steep and slippery, and they were often forced to grab hold of thorn bushes to keep from falling. At one point, Jiménez slipped off the path and started rolling down the slope toward a river that could be heard below.
One of the group scurried down to rescue him from the river but found him safe and unhurt.

They spent the rest of the night of November 28, 1937, hiking to Casa Fenollet, near the town of Montanisell, where they would pass the daylight hours. They covered ten miles, during which they climbed a total of about 4,000 feet, forded one river, and crossed another on a bridge—where they would have been completely exposed had a car come along.

In the barn at Casa Fenollet, the members of the group received Holy Communion from the hosts Escrivá had consecrated the previous day, ate a very meager meal, and tried to get some rest. In the middle of the morning, two militiamen stopped at the farmhouse asking the owners if they had seen anything suspicious. The farmer’s wife served them ham (a dish that is especially prized in the area), with several glasses of wine, and sent them away convinced that she was ready to help them capture any fugitives.

Escrivá slept little if at all, devoting the time to prayer and to encouraging the members of the party who seemed especially discouraged or tired. The Catalan student, Dalmases, described him in his diary: “He encourages everyone and bolsters all our spirits, almost as if God had given him a mandate to do so.” Casciaro reports that when he woke up and noticed that Escrivá was not asleep he became “cross inside. I thought to myself that if he did not make the most of those hours to rest, he would succumb later.”
Around two in the afternoon, their hosts served them abundant portions of beans with mutton, the one substantial meal they would have on the five-day journey to Andorra.

The members of Escrivá’s group had already discarded heavy items during the ascent of Aubens. Before setting out from Casa Fenollet, they decided to leave behind spare clothing and other objects that might prove useful later on but that weighed them down. After another nap, they set out again around six in the evening.

Their guide gave each person a hunk of bread and a round cheese, about five inches in diameter and one and a half inches thick, with the warning that they would be given no further rations until they reached Andorra two and a half days later. To everyone’s amazement, Sainz drew out of his pocket a small slide rule and began to calculate how large a portion they could have for each meal.
Escrivá played along, but Botella and Casciaro reacted by devouring the cheese and bread all at once, arguing that it made more sense to carry food in their stomachs than in their packs.

In sharp contrast to their meager rations, Dalmases had abundant provisions. Seeing his basket full of fried chicken legs, Escrivá joked that he must have discovered a new animal, a cross between a chicken and a centipede, the “chickenpede.” The other members of Escrivá’s group soon nicknamed Dalmases—whose name they learned only later—the “centipede kid.”

As they plodded forward, the party grew increasingly exhausted and weak from hunger. They lost track of time as they stumbled through the cold and darkness. Casciaro describes his experience:

"It was rather like making your first transoceanic flight, except that it lasted several days and was infinitely worse and more excruciating.... I had no notion of what day or what time it was. The night marches seemed endless, and exhaustion, sleepiness, and hunger made them feel even longer."

During the night of November 29, 1937, they covered another ten miles and climbed a total of almost 3,000 feet. After leaving Casa Fenollet, they ascended Mount Santa Fe, about 4,000 feet above sea level, and then headed steeply downhill over loose rocks to a valley where militia units, tipped off by the barking of dogs, had recently executed an entire expedition of refugees. Although Escrivá’s group heard dogs barking around them, they crossed the valley safely and started up to the peak of Mount Ares, at 4,500 feet above sea level. The climb was exhausting because they had to ascend more than 2,500 feet in a couple of miles. Escrivá’s heavy breathing and rapid pulse brought him close to collapse. The others in the group heard him repeating softly to himself Christ’s words in the Gospel, “I have not come to be served but to serve.” Despite his protests, Botella and Fisac at times carried him so that his feet were not touching the ground. When walking on his own, Escrivá had to hold on to thorn bushes to pull himself up the steep slope. Finally they reached the summit of Mount Ares, but after about a half-hour’s rest, Cirera gave the order to move out again.

A short time later, they stopped again, and Cirera disappeared. As time went by, the members of the party became anxious. Some feared that he might have deserted them. When he finally returned, he told them that he had noticed that someone was missing and had gone back to their last resting spot, where he had found him exhausted and unwilling to go on. Fearing an informer, he had taken out his pistol and forced him to continue.

Although the stop had not been long, the cold and damp of a November night high in the mountains, combined with anxiety over the whereabouts of their guide, had taken their toll. Shortly after they resumed the march, Albareda succumbed to fatigue. He stood motionless and silent, smiling vaguely. If someone led him by the hand, he resumed walking, but very slowly. As soon as they let go of his hand, he stopped and just stood there, appearing not to hear anything that was said to him. Fortunately, the path was mostly downhill and their destination was not far away, so with help from others, who were themselves on the verge of collapse, Albareda managed to reach the barn at Baridá, where they spent the daylight hours of November 30.

The group set out again as soon as the sun set on November 30, 1937. They did not have to scale any mountains that night, but during the twelve-mile hike to Campmajor, they frequently had to wade through icy streams, and their clothes were soon soaking wet. A Christmas carol ran through Casciaro’s head incessantly. When he tried to say the rosary silently, he often lost count and ended up saying mysteries of twenty or thirty Hail Marys. Other members of the party had similar experiences due to physical and mental exhaustion.

In the midst of their own sufferings, they worried about Escrivá. Casciaro reports:

"In my own state of mental confusion, I often thought, “If I feel this bad, how must the Father feel?” I had begun the adventure of Barcelona and the Pyrenees crossing in relatively good physical shape. In Torrevieja, Albacete, and Valencia, I hadn’t suffered the hunger the Father had for over a year in Madrid. I was thirteen years younger than he was and in good health, while he had suffered bouts of high fever with a prolonged attack of acute rheumatism.

These thoughts helped me to pray for him. But certain things I noticed bothered me. The Father refused to protect himself from the cold by putting newspapers underneath his sweater like everyone else. He tried to eat less so we could all have more. When we rested for a few hours in barns or caves, I noticed he hardly slept; I supposed it was to pray more. All this edified me, but I did not fully understand it; and my love for him made me wish I could change it."

The party halted at dawn on December 1, 1937, in a high field where boulders and bushes provided cover. At one point, they heard snatches of bugles and drums, probably from a nearby militia camp. Knowing they were close to militia units made the fugitives even more nervous, although Casciaro says, “At that stage I, for one, was more concerned about the cold than about being caught. It was frightfully cold. A merciless, bitter kind of cold that went through to my bones.” According to Jiménez Vargas, “In the midst of all of this,” Escrivá “[k]ept his peace and joy . . . even when he had to repeat countless times the short prayer ‘Fiat’ [Let it be done].”

They spent the whole day lying or sitting on steep, slippery ground, exposed to the wind that swept down from the mountains. At times the sun came out, but as the day advanced the clouds thickened, and by early afternoon a light snow began to fall. Any significant amount of snow during this last and most dangerous part of the journey could have proved fatal, but fortunately the snow held off until they were safely in Andorra.

Before resuming their journey, shortly after sundown on December 1, Escrivá’s group prayed to our Lady and to their guardian angels. They ate their last remaining rations. The march that night traversed heavily patrolled areas near the border, where militia units had orders to shoot without warning at anyone who seemed suspicious. After climbing about 1,300 feet, the party slowly and painfully descended amid loose rocks that easily rolled downhill, creating enough noise to attract the attention of any nearby militiamen. As they approached a stream, the guide warned them to keep absolutely silent, because he had heard a patrol passing nearby. He then began to search the area.

The party huddled near the stream at below freezing temperatures, immobile in their wet clothes. Escrivá seemed on the verge of total collapse. He shivered uncontrollably, and his limbs became rigid. Jiménez Vargas had run out of the sugared wine that he had administered as a stimulant to members of the group at critical moments. All he could do was to rub Escrivá’s limbs and cover him with more wet clothes. Escrivá did not respond, and Jiménez Vargas feared that when the guide finally returned, he would be unable to move.

When Cirera came back, after about two hours, Escrivá could barely get to his feet; but once the party started to move, he gradually recovered enough strength to keep up the pace. On the assumption that the guards were not likely to come back along the same route for quite a while, Cirera told the refugees to watch for a patrol to pass by on the opposite side of the river. Eventually they heard voices and footsteps moving down the trail. After giving the militia enough time to get out of earshot, Cirera gave orders to ford the stream and cross the trail that paralleled its bank. After a steep uphill climb to the Cabra Morta pass, they began a descent so dangerous that most of them would not even have attempted it in daylight.

Soon they stopped again and hid for half an hour until Cirera decided that it was safe to begin the last leg into Andorra. They had walked for about fifteen minutes when suddenly they heard rifle shots coming from behind them. By that time, however, they were out of range and in Andorra. Cirera waited until they were a safe distance from the border, which militia units had been known to cross, before telling them that they had arrived. The refugees greeted the news with shouts of joy. Escrivá began to say the Hail Holy Queen in thanksgiving to the Blessed Virgin. It was just before dawn on December 2, 1937.

* * *
Success in crossing the Pyrenees and reaching the Nationalist zone of Spain meant that Escrivá and the members of the Work who accompanied him would be able to carry out their apostolate without fear of religious persecution. Wartime conditions, however, meant that they would still face great obstacles, especially because they were penniless. In the meantime, del Portillo and others remained trapped in Madrid.

Christmas in Pamplona
When Escrivá and the other members of the group reentered Spain on December 11, 1937, none of them had any idea of how long it would be before they could return to Madrid, but they were hopeful that the end of the war was near. In fact, it would drag on for another fifteen months. During that time, they struggled to renew their contacts with the residents and students of DYA, whom the war had scattered far and wide, to rebuild Opus Dei’s apostolates, and to prepare to reopen the residence and begin Opus Dei’s expansion to other cities and countries.

Escrivá’s group spent the night of December 11 in a little town near the border. The next day, they went to San Sebastian and rented a room in a cheap hotel. Some Theresian nuns provided Escrivá with a few items of clothing. With the help of friends who were staying in the city, the other members of the expedition acquired some secondhand clothes and replaced their worn-out canvas shoes with used street shoes.

Soon members of the group had to go their separate ways. Albareda stayed in Saint Jean-de-Luz. Alvira headed for Zaragoza. Jiménez Vargas reported for military duty as a doctor. Casciaro and Botella were taken under armed guard to Pamplona to report for military duty. On December 17, Escrivá also left for Pamplona, where a friend, Bishop Marcelino Olaechea, offered him hospitality in the bishop’s palace and bought him a cassock.

Escrivá went on a retreat upon arriving in Pamplona. Although physically weak from the rigors of the trek through the Pyrenees and the privations of the previous eighteen months, he resolved to sleep less so as to have more time for prayer and to atone for all the offenses against God the civil war had brought with it. He resolved to spend every Thursday night entirely in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and to sleep only five hours a night during the rest of the week.

On December 24, Escrivá visited Botella and Casciaro at their barracks. At midnight, he returned with Albareda, who had come to Pamplona for Christmas. Although Botella and Casciaro were on guard duty, Escrivá and Albareda managed to convince the officer in charge to let them spend a few minutes together. They celebrated Christmas Eve in the barracks, talking about their plans for contacting people they had known at DYA. Albareda had managed to scrape together enough money to buy turrón, a typical Spanish Christmas candy. Botella recalls that he was “deeply moved by such tokens of affection and family life amid our extraordinary circumstances. I was very happy and felt the joy of my dedication to God.” On Christmas day, after Botella and Casciaro finished their tour of guard duty, the four of them had lunch in a restaurant. They then went back to Escrivá’s room at the bishop’s residence for a long informal get-together and wrote letters and postcards to members of the Work and friends all over Spain.

The army did not have enough space for all the soldiers who were crowded into Pamplona, so anyone who could afford to live outside the barracks could easily get permission to do so. The schedule of the barracks made it impossible to attend daily Mass, so Escrivá advised Botella and Casciaro to look for a room in town without worrying too much about how they would pay for it.

During the Christmas season, Escrivá remained in Pamplona, spending as much time as possible with Botella and Casciaro. Bishop Olaechea urged him to stay with him in the bishop’s residence until he was able to return to Madrid, but Escrivá was anxious to visit the members of the Work who were scattered around the country and to reestablish contact with the people they had known prior to the war. Moving to the nearby city of Burgos would facilitate such encounters. Because it was the Nationalists’ headquarters, members of the Work and their friends were far more likely to be stationed in Burgos or to have reason to come there. Burgos also had better rail and bus service, so it would be easier to go to see those who could not come. In addition, Albareda was in Burgos, working on a plan for reorganizing secondary education, and Jiménez Vargas was there temporarily while awaiting an assignment to the front. The army had assigned Casciaro and Botella to support services, so there was a chance that one or both of them would end up in one of the many administrative offices in Burgos.

The War Grinds On
After a lull of several months during which both sides rebuilt and repositioned their forces, on December 15, 1937, the Republic launched a new offensive at Teruel, a provincial capital with about twenty thousand inhabitants, located 80 miles northwest of Valencia and 140 miles east of Madrid. By the end of the first day’s fighting, the Republicans had surrounded Teruel, and by Christmas day they had captured part of the town. On December 29, the Nationalists began a counteroffensive, which soon petered out in below-zero temperatures and a blizzard that deposited four feet of snow on the roads.

Moving to Burgos
On January 7, 1938, Escrivá left Pamplona after urging Botella and Casciaro to do whatever they could to get themselves assigned to Burgos. The next day, he arrived in Burgos after a brief visit to Vitoria. Burgos represented a new stage of Opus Dei’s life. After a year and a half of forced inactivity, it was essential to rebuild the apostolate and to lay the foundations for a new expansion.
Escrivá’s first task was to write a long letter to the members of the Work to offer them “lights and encouragement and the means not only to persevere in our spirit, but to sanctify yourselves in the exercise of the discreet, effective, and manly apostolate that we live in the same way as the first Christians did.”

“Nothing,” he told them at the beginning of the letter dated January 9, 1938, “is impossible: omnia possum . . . [I can do all things (Phil 4: 13)]. Can you forget our ten years of consoling experience? Well then! God and Daring!” He invited them to focus on their interior life through prayer, mortification, and presence of God and to meditate frequently on the reality of being sons of God who were not alone but rather “links in a chain.”

The sense of communion with each other and with Escrivá is a recurring theme of the letter. Their love for the Work should manifest itself, he told them, in concern for the Father and their brothers in the Work. He urged them to “live each day with particular interest, a special communion of the saints” with the other members of the Work. He suggested that they resolve to pray for the Father, to sacrifice themselves for him, and to unite themselves to him. At the same time, he asked them to put into practice with each other St. Paul’s advice to the Galatians, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6: 2). Concretely, he insisted that they write frequently to those in Burgos “although you have nothing to say,” and to all their brothers, “even if they don’t answer you.” “If you need me,” he said, “call me. You have the right and the duty to call me. And I have the duty to come by the fastest possible means of locomotion.”

In Burgos, Escrivá developed a persistent fever, cough, and hoarseness that led him to fear he might have tuberculosis, especially since he had ministered for years to many tuberculosis patients in the hospitals of Madrid. He had never worried about his own health, but the contagiousness of tuberculosis would make it impossible to continue close personal contact with young people.
Eventually Vallespín and Botella convinced him to consult a lung specialist, despite his reluctance to spend money on himself. The doctor told him that, although he did not have TB, he had a serious respiratory problem and should consult a nose and throat specialist. That doctor could not determine the source of his persistent cough and fevers and concluded that whatever was wrong with him was “in no-man’s-land.”

On January 8, 1938, the last of the Nationalist defenders within the city surrendered.
The capture of Teruel would have little long-term military effect, but it was a significant propaganda victory for the Republic. Teruel was the first and only important town captured by the Republic during the war—a welcome victory following a long series of defeats. Franco was unwilling to leave the Republicans in control of Teruel, and the Republican troops within the city walls soon became the besieged. Fighting in the area of Teruel continued until late February, when the Republicans were finally forced to withdraw.

Teruel thus eventually became another defeat for the Republic—10,000 Republican soldiers were killed, and 14,000 were taken prisoner. It showed once again that although the Republican army could catch the Nationalists off guard and even hold its own for a time in heavy fighting, in sustained combat it would eventually succumb.

The reference in Escrivá’s January 9, 1938, letter to receiving friends as soon as possible in “our house of St. Michael in Burgos” reflected his desire to find an apartment or small house that would provide the minimum of privacy and independence necessary to receive visitors. That desire, however, would remain unfulfilled.
Burgos was overflowing with more than twice its peacetime population. It would have been difficult to find anything, even with money. Albareda had managed to put his hands on a small sum, but they had decided to spend most of it on a chalice and tabernacle for the next center of the Work, wherever that might be, so he and Escrivá had to settle for a room in a modest boardinghouse.

Escrivá wanted to set out immediately to see members of the Work, former residents and students at DYA, and the bishops of the cities through which he passed. First, however, he needed to obtain a safe conduct pass, which would enable him to move about freely. In 1931, Escrivá had met General Luis Orgaz, a neighbor of the family to whose home he had moved the Blessed Sacrament during the burning of convents in Madrid. He had visited him later, while Orgaz was imprisoned for his participation in the rebellion against the Republican government organized by General Sanjurjo in 1932. Orgaz was now stationed in Burgos as the head of recruiting and instruction. Escrivá also had some contact with General Martin Moreno through one of his daughters. These contacts, and the facilities normally granted to priests in the Nationalist zone, enabled him to get the pass he needed. During January and February, he visited Valladolid, Avila, Bilbao, Leon, Zaragoza, and Pamplona.

On March 9, 1938, the Nationalists opened a new offensive in Aragon, along a broad front that stretched for about sixty miles. Despite increased assistance from France and the Soviet Union, the Republican army was unable to resist the advance of the Nationalists, who enjoyed superiority in artillery and air power as a result of aid from Germany and Italy.

On April 15, 1938, Nationalist units reached the Mediterranean, slicing the Republican zone in two and separating Barcelona and the rest of Catalonia from Valencia. Within a few days, the wedge the Nationalists had driven between the Republican armies had grown to fifty miles wide. For a moment, it seemed that the Republic was on the verge of collapse and that the war would soon be over.

After a month’s respite, Franco resumed the offensive in Catalonia. Republican defenses, severely depleted by the Ebro campaign, crumpled in the face of the new attack. On January 26, 1939, Nationalist troops captured Barcelona, and the remaining units of the Republican army in Catalonia collapsed. Between February 5 and February 10, 1939, approximately 250,000 Republican soldiers fled across the border into France, as did Negrín and most of the members of his government. By February 10, 1939, the Nationalists occupied all of Catalonia.

Franco Forms a Regular Government
Franco would probably have preferred to wait until the end of the war to form a regular government and appoint a council of ministers, but as the war dragged on with no end in sight, the pressure to regularize the government increased. On January 30, 1938, he announced a new law setting up a regular governmental structure. The new law officially sanctioned Franco’s dictatorial powers: “The chief of state possesses the supreme power to dictate legal norms of general character.”

On January 31, 1938, Franco appointed his first ministers. The cabinet, which replaced the Junta técnica, represented a balance of the principal political forces within Nationalist Spain. The vice-president of the cabinet and foreign minister was General Gómez Jordana, a moderate monarchist and Anglophile, whose appointment angered many Falangists. Two other positions were awarded to senior generals who had collaborated with Primo de Rivera. Two seats in the cabinet went to monarchists; one to a Carlist; two to technicians with no particular political connections; and three to Falangists, only one of whom had belonged to the party prior to the war. The only areas in which the FET had real power were propaganda and censorship.

Exile in Burgos (december 1937–september 1938)
The Sabadell Hotel
By March, the need for privacy was becoming pressing. More visitors were coming to see Escrivá, including people living in Burgos and a growing stream of young officers on leave. In addition, the number of members of the Work in Burgos was increasing. First, Botella moved to Burgos. Escrivá suggested to General Orgaz that Botella, who was close to completing degrees in mathematics and architecture, might be a useful addition to his staff in Burgos.
The general had him assigned to the code section he headed, and on January 23, 1938, Botella joined Escrivá and Albareda in the boardinghouse where they were staying.

Renewed efforts to find a small house or apartment proved futile, so, at the end of March, they decided to rent a 300-square-foot room on the second floor of the Sabadell Hotel. To give the bare, unattractive room of this third-class hotel a more inviting and homelike atmosphere, they decorated the walls with maps of various regions of Spain and hung banners made out of scraps of felt with the words DYA and Rialp emblazoned on them. Casciaro designed the banners in the style of the flags used by Spanish university sporting clubs, and some girls whom Escrivá had met through Rodríguez Casado’s mother sewed them. Albareda obtained a crucifix and an icon of the Blessed Mother painted on wood from cousins who operated an art gallery. In 1948, the icon accompanied the first members of Opus Dei who came to the United States, and today it hangs in the living room of a center of Opus Dei in Chicago.

The main part of the room, which would be the base of Opus Dei’s activities for the next nine months, measured about thirteen by fifteen feet. It had three creaky metal beds, where Albareda, Botella, and Casciaro slept, a small wardrobe, a diminutive table, and two chairs. Near the door was a windowless alcove that contained Escrivá’s bed, a bedside table, and a wash basin with running water. This area was separated from the rest of the room by a thin, translucent white curtain. Overlooking the street was a small glassed-in balcony where Escrivá often talked with visitors. To obtain some privacy, he would close the shutters, plunging the room into darkness and forcing those in the main part to turn on the light even in the middle of the day. When that happened, Botella would jokingly whisper to Casciaro, “Good night.”

Poverty and Penance
The cheerfulness Escrivá and the other members of the Work displayed, because of their deep faith in God’s loving providence, disguised the months of suffering they all endured in Burgos. They were cut off from the members of their families. Escrivá had left his mother, sister, and brother in Madrid, and the other members of the group all had close relatives in difficult situations. In most cases, they had no way of knowing what was happening to their families.

The group was desperately short of money. Casciaro and Botella got their meals in the soldiers’ mess, but they were paid only two pesetas a day at a time when dinner in a modest restaurant in Burgos cost at least eight pesetas, and the room they rented in the Sabadell Hotel cost sixteen pesetas a night for the four of them. Albareda made a bit more, but he was far from well paid. Members of the Work in other parts of Spain and friends from DYA sent them what they could to help support the apostolate, but most of them could not contribute much.

Inspired by the advice of the Psalms to “cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you” (Ps 54: 22), Escrivá decided not to take any stipends for saying Mass or preaching. In a letter to the vicar general of the diocese of Madrid, he wrote: “I have seriously resolved not to accept any more Mass stipends, my only possible source of income at this moment. If this is madness, then so be it! But in this way, I can offer the Mass frequently for my bishop and my vicar general, for my beloved sons . . . and for myself, a sinful priest.”

The state of their wardrobe gives some idea of their financial condition. The army provided little or no clothing to soldiers, who had to fend for themselves. They had one woolen undershirt, which had been given to them by some nuns on their way through San Sebastian. It was very long and elaborately embroidered with the initials of its former owner. One day, wearing army pants and boots and with the undershirt hanging almost to his knees, Casciaro decided that he looked like a medieval soldier and began to ape Siegfried in Wagner’s Ring cycle, much to the amusement of Albareda and Botella. From then on they called the undershirt “Siegfried’s shirt.” They also gave names to each of the five pairs of pajamas they had among the four of them. They took turns changing as the spare pair was washed.

Escrivá had a clerical overcoat, one light-weight cassock given to him by Bishop Olaechea, and one of the bishop’s old black felt hats. Despite the bitter cold of winter, he refused to purchase a sweater or scarf or to replace the hat and cassock, both of which were badly worn. Eventually Botella and Casciaro cut the hat up into small pieces, which they sent to the other members of the Work and their friends as a reminder to pray for Escrivá. This left him no choice but to buy a new one.

Their efforts to force him to buy a new cassock were less successful. One day in August 1938, before going to the barracks, they tore his old cassock into pieces and threw it away. When they returned, however, they found him bent over the cassock, patiently sewing it back together. The mending was so poor that, whenever he went out, he was forced to wear his overcoat to cover up the ragged cassock, even in the middle of summer. Nonetheless, a long time went by before they could convince him to have a new cassock made.

Despite their penury, they helped others. In his January 9, 1938, letter to members of the Work, Escrivá offered to send them money, books with which to study a foreign language, and crucifixes and any other religious goods they might need. The newsletter sent in March 1938 to former residents and students of DYA and other friends offered financial aid to those who needed it. “Don’t hesitate to ask us for books, clothing, money. We’ll gladly send them to you right away. Feel free to ask. Many of you are sending us money for our undertaking. We are truly glad to use your contributions to our meager common fund on behalf of those experiencing financial straits.”

As he had done in Madrid, Escrivá continued to practice a rigorous spirit of mortification and penance, over and above the discomforts and limitations imposed by poverty and by living crowded together in a small hotel room with three other people. Many nights he slept on the floor, using his breviary as a pillow. When Albareda was in town, he normally ate with him, while Botella and Casciaro ate in the mess, but on the frequent occasions when Albareda was out of town, he skipped meals altogether or ate only a tiny amount in an extremely cheap restaurant. He would often buy a few cents worth of peanuts so that when Casciaro asked him whether he had eaten he could answer yes. In the evenings, he sometimes agreed to have a one-peseta omelet in the canteen of the railroad station, but at other times, when Casciaro and Botella tried to get him to go out for a bite to eat, he would decline, insisting that he was not hungry.

Many days, he even refrained from drinking water. Once, Casciaro, who thought he was overdoing his penance, handed him a glass of water and commanded him, “Drink it!” When Escrivá refused, saying that he was getting out of line, Casciaro responded that if he didn’t drink the water, he would drop it. Seeing that Escrivá was not going to give in, he let the glass fall and shatter on the floor. Mimicking his tone of voice, Escrivá said patiently, “Temper!” A few hours later, when they were preparing to go to bed, he said affectionately, “Be careful not to walk around barefoot, there might be some splinters of glass on the floor.”

Despite Escrivá’s rebuffs, Casciaro and Botella persistently tried to try to force him to take better care of himself and to moderate his penance.
Escrivá encouraged the members of the Work and the other people to whom he gave spiritual direction to practice a spirit of penance and mortification, especially in the little things of everyday life. He did not suggest they undertake the rigorous fasts and other penances he practiced. On the contrary, he was concerned to see that they got enough to eat. In a letter to his sons in Burgos, written in August 1938, while he was staying briefly in Avila, he told Botella, “When you write back, let me know if you’re having a snack every day. It’s a shame that those jars of preserves are still in the cupboard! Have them buy you some small jars of marmalade. One of those jars with a roll could solve your ‘problem of obedience’ some afternoons.” Turning to Casciaro, he added, “Take care of this please, and also buy him some cheese. You yourself are becoming skin and bones, but very elegantly. The two of you need to encourage each other not to skip the snack for even one day. Is that clear? I won’t say anything to José María [Albareda] about this, because I don’t think it is necessary. In this, he is not a three-year-old like the rest of you.”

A Father to His Sons
Both the tone and the substance of the letter reflect Escrivá’s affection for his sons in the Work, an affection that shows up constantly in his letters. During another trip he wrote: “Who can fathom the human heart? Would you believe that right up to the last moment I kept looking to see if you’d come before the train pulled out? Now I feel remorse for not having been more generous with my Lord Jesus. After all, I had told you not to come to say goodbye.
After doing that, which being . . . bad was a good thing, there I was with desires to see you, and talk with you for a few minutes, and give you an embrace.”

Lessons in Stone
Escrivá frequently took friends and former residents and students of DYA for long walks along the banks of the Arlazón River. In the course of their conversations, he advised them never to cease being men of God and to try to turn everything they did into God’s work. To illustrate the point, he often took them to visit the towers of Burgos’s Gothic cathedral. High above the street, where it could hardly be noticed, was a “veritable lacework of stone that must have been the result of very patient and laborious craftsmanship.”

As they admired the beautifully executed ornamentation, Escrivá reminded his visitors that “none of the beauty of this work could be seen from below.” He would say: “This is God’s work, this is working for God! To finish your work perfectly, with all the beauty and exquisite refinement of this tracery stonework.” He pointed out that “all we had seen was a prayer, a loving dialogue with God.
Those who had spent their energies there were quite aware that no one at street level could appreciate their efforts. Their work was for God alone.”

Adapting the lesson to the visitors’ specific circumstance, he urged them to “make good use of their time by doing something worthwhile, and not to look upon the war as a sort of ‘closed parenthesis’ in their lives.” He advised them “not to give in to laziness, but to do all they could to prevent their trenches and sentry posts from becoming like the waiting rooms of the period, where people killed time waiting for trains that never seemed to arrive.”

By Train and Letter
Escrivá did not sit in Burgos waiting for people to visit. Frequently he traveled to see members of the Work and others whom he felt especially needed his help. Only a few weeks after reaching Burgos, he received word that Carlos Aresti, a former Ferraz resident, had been seriously wounded and was in a hospital in Bilbao. He arrived just in time to comfort him spiritually, remaining with him until his death.

In April, he went to Cordoba, in the far south of Spain, to visit a young member of the Work who had been out of touch since the outbreak of the civil war. When he went to buy a ticket for the return trip, the ticket clerk told him that only second-class tickets were currently available and that it was very unlikely that there would be any third-class tickets. But Escrivá didn’t have enough money for second-class seating all the way back to Burgos.
Unless he could buy a third-class ticket, he would be able to get only as far as Salamanca, about sixty miles short of Burgos. When he returned to the ticket window several hours later, after praying fervently to his guardian angel, the astonished ticket clerk told him that more than a dozen third-class tickets had become available. Thirty-six hours later he arrived back in Burgos, after spending two nights sitting up on the wooden benches of a packed, fetid third-class car, filled with the smoke and soot of the engine, which often came through the windows.

He set off on May 9, 1938, to visit Jiménez Vargas, who was stationed on the Teruel front. Although he left Burgos by train in the morning, he did not reach Zaragoza—which was about 150 miles away—until after midnight, and he was still about 100 miles away from Vargas. Five days would pass before he reached him. The trip back was equally slow and included several stops along the way to visit people. By the time he made it back to Burgos, it was May 25.

From Burgos, Escrivá and the other members of the Work corresponded with many people. In March 1938, they resumed publishing the elementary newsletter Noticias that they had sent out to the residents and friends of DYA during the summer before the war. At first, the newsletters were reproduced in León by a priest friend who had access to a primitive duplicating machine. In October 1938, however, the machine broke down, and thereafter they had to generate the newsletter by repeatedly typing an original and two carbon copies on an old typewriter.

The bulk of each issue was made up of news of the whereabouts and activities of the friends from whom they had heard. Each issue also contained spiritual comments and encouragement. In the March issue, for instance, Escrivá wrote:

"The red revolution hasn’t interrupted our work. We continue working—as is both natural and supernatural—with the same effort as always. Ten years of work! In the eleventh, soon to begin, Jesus and I expect a great deal from you. Right now from your barracks, trenches, and ramparts, from your forced stay in hospitals, how much you can help our Work, with your prayers and clean living, your setbacks and successes! Let’s live a special communion of the saints, and each of you, at the hour of interior struggle, just as at the hour of combat, will feel the joy and strength of not being alone."

During May, the month that the Church dedicates to the Blessed Virgin, he encouraged devotion to her:

"This issue of Noticias is coming out well into May, Mary’s month. You must be tired of hearing me say that crusades are never launched without first offering special prayers to our Lady. This month may be particularly hard for some of you: nights on the firing line in the trenches, long marches, weariness. . . . Whether or not you face such hardships, all of you will surely meet some difficulties. We’ll offer all this as something that will please her even more than the flowers that always decorated the statue of the Blessed Mother in our oratory on Ferraz Street. Spes Nostra, Sedes Sapientiae [Our hope, Seat of wisdom]. May she watch over you".

In addition to sending out the newsletter every month, Escrivá, Casciaro, and Botella sent many personal letters to former residents and friends, especially those who found themselves in difficult situations. In June 1938, Escrivá wrote to Alejandro de la Sota, who had fallen sick:

"I can’t explain your silence. I suppose it’s because you are still ill. But that’s no excuse. Since you know how much we love you, you could unburden yourself in long letters, knowing you’d be understood. And we would write you long letters in return. So, Alejandro, I hope to hear from you soon! If you can’t come here, just let me know if you want me to visit you, and I’ll soon be there in that blessed land of Galicia. It’s up to you. Remember the “principle” I explained to you fellows in Madrid, and put it into practice. Say it quietly: “Blessed be pain. Loved be pain. Sanctified be pain. Glorified be pain!”"

* * *

By late summer of 1938, the end of the war was still not in sight, although an eventual Nationalist victory seemed certain, absent major international intervention for the Republic. At this time, the group in Burgos grew, thanks to the arrival of del Portillo and other members of the Work who finally succeeded in escaping from Madrid and crossing the lines between the opposing armies. We turn now to their story.

In Madrid and Burgos
When Escrivá left Madrid at the beginning of October 1937, he put Zorzano in charge of Opus Dei in Madrid and the rest of the Republican zone. Del Portillo, Barredo, and Alastrue remained virtual prisoners in the legation of Honduras, and Rodríguez Casado continued holed up in the Norwegian embassy.

Hernández de Garnica, who had been drafted into the Republican army shortly after he was released from jail in July 1937, was stationed far away in the province of Granada. Zorzano wrote to him regularly and urged the other members of the Work to do so; but at times, months went by without a reply. On the rare occasions when Hernández de Garnica came to Madrid, Zorzano went to great lengths to support him and to make sure that he had an opportunity to receive the sacraments. Years later, Hernández de Garnica recalled that Zorzano “faced the difficulties of the moment with such naturalness that at times I wondered if he was so foolhardy that he was unaware of the dangers surrounding us on all sides.”

Another source of concern was Rodríguez Casado, who was suffering from both hunger and emotional isolation in the Norwegian embassy. Zorzano tried repeatedly to arrange his transfer to the legation of Honduras, but without success.

By June of 1938, Rodríguez Casado had lost sixty-five pounds. He was not permitted to receive visits. But once a week, when a friend was in charge of the door, Zorzano was able to spend an hour with him and bring him food.

Zorzano himself was reduced to skin and bones and so weak that he often had to stop to rest on a park bench during the short walk to the embassy. Rodríguez Casado protested that Zorzano should stop bringing him food and eat more himself, but Zorzano gave no importance to his own weakness and insisted that he did not need the food he brought.

In addition to food, Zorzano brought Rodríguez Casado Holy Communion, spiritual encouragement, and news about the other members of the Work. A letter he wrote sums up part of the content of their conversations:
During this time, when Emmanuel [the term he used to refer to Jesus because of postal censorship] grants us the favor of allowing us to share his load, we have to take good advantage of the opportunity, considering that each passing moment has eternal repercussions. We have to carry the load generously—as Grandfather [the term he used for Escrivá] always tells us—with a joy and a peace that reflect the spirit that moves us and our special “family air.” In this way, although apparently our work can’t be seen, Emmanuel, who sees in secret, will value it more highly than if we were fighting on the front lines.

Crossing the Front Lines
Del Portillo, Barredo, and Alastrue were anxious to leave the legation of Honduras in an attempt to reach the Nationalist zone, where they could work with Escrivá and the others on rebuilding the apostolates of Opus Dei. Even before Escrivá’s group left Barcelona, they asked Isidoro to let them try to escape, but he felt the risk was too great. As the months dragged on, they repeatedly made their request, but each time Zorzano found some reason why they should stay in the legation. At times, he thought the Nationalists were on the verge of taking Madrid and ending the war. At other times, he thought he could arrange an escape through diplomatic channels. Although every plan eventually fizzled, he continued to advise patience.

By June 1938, del Portillo had little hope that Zorzano would ever change his mind, but he wrote to him once again asking permission to leave the legation, enlist in the Republican army, and try to cross the lines. A few days later, he received a note from Zorzano: “With the help of Emmanuel, I have thought carefully about your proposal. . . . I think that you can do what you propose and that Emmanuel and Mary will fulfill your wishes, which we share.”

At the time, Zorzano explained only that he had changed his mind after thinking about matters in the presence of God. On his deathbed, he revealed that praying before a small crucifix in his room, God had made him see not only that the attempt would succeed but that the crossing would take place on October 12, 1938, the feast of Our Lady of the Pillar. In Burgos, Escrivá simultaneously received the same assurance, which he shared with del Portillo’s mother, who was living in Burgos.

At the time, neither del Portillo nor the others knew anything about these occurrences. They knew only that they had finally obtained permission to try to cross the lines. Alastrue left the legation on June 27, 1938, and presented himself in a recruiting center. To avoid problems from not having enlisted when his age group was summoned, he claimed to be twenty-eight years old, six years older than his actual age. Del Portillo and González Barredo left the legation and went to the recruiting center a few days later. Del Portillo enlisted under the name of his brother, who was seven years younger than he was. The recruiting officers were suspicious but eventually accepted his enlistment and told him to report four days later for induction. Because of his age, González Barredo was immediately given a desk job in Madrid, and Zorzano decided it would be better for him to stay there and not attempt to cross into the Nationalist zone.

Del Portillo and González Barredo found temporary lodging in a boardinghouse. A friend took in Alastrue. In the afternoons, they gathered at Alastrue’s room or at the boardinghouse to pray together. The three of them ate their meals at a barracks, where Zorzano and Escrivá’s brother, Santiago, often joined them. Zorzano left a description of those meals: “After a long wait in line to get our food, we would look for a place to sit on the ground and some bricks to put our plates on. We didn’t have enough silverware—or better, spoons, since that was all there was—so we would wait for one person to finish so the next could use the spoon. We had a great time.” He spoke of the feasts of our Lady, when “we celebrated in style. Following the Father’s custom of giving something to the poor on her feasts, we gave the food we received to the poor.”

On July 21, Zorzano decided that Rodríguez Casado should join del Portillo and Alastrue in their attempt to cross the lines. The next day, Rodríguez Casado enlisted in the army. By the end of the month, the three had received their assignments, but the units to which they were assigned offered little possibility of being able to cross the lines.

On August 24, 1938, del Portillo and Rodríguez Casado were ordered onto trucks and shipped out to an unknown destination, leaving Alastrue behind. After spending a few days in training near a tiny town in the province of Guadalajara, del Portillo was assigned to join a group of two hundred soldiers headed for another small town about fifteen miles closer to the front. Rodríguez Casado volunteered to join the group and was accepted. Both were appointed corporals in the same platoon and transferred to the town of Fontanar, about six miles outside of Guadalajara.

A month had gone since they had last seen Alastrue, and they had no news of his whereabouts. Then, unexpectedly, on September 19, 1938, he arrived as part of a detachment of soldiers that had come to complete the battalion. Initially he was assigned to a different company from the one in which del Portillo and Rodríguez Casado were serving, but a few days later, at his request, he was transferred to their company.

Del Portillo obtained a pass to spend October 2, 1938, the tenth anniversary of the foundation of Opus Dei, in Madrid. He, Zorzano, González Barredo, and Santiago Escrivá waited in a long line at an army barracks for a little bread, some watery rice, and a sardine. They sat down on the sidewalk for their anniversary dinner. Afterward, Zorzano gave del Portillo some consecrated hosts to take back with him to his army unit.

Del Portillo told Zorzano that within three or four days they expected to be sent to the front and that they planned to cross over as soon as possible. Zorzano responded that he had already written to Escrivá saying that they would arrive around October 12, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Del Portillo later commented:

"Naturally I was more than a little surprised by his reply. Until I told him, he didn’t even know that we would soon be going to the front. Furthermore, only God knew whether or not we would succeed in crossing no-man’s-land. And even if we did, when would it happen? I thought all of this, but I didn’t say anything. The ease with which he assured me that he had already written about this to the Father, and the security he exhibited, left me completely disconcerted".

On October 9, 1938, the battalion to which del Portillo, Rodríguez Casado, and Alastrue were assigned began a long march that brought it, early the next morning, to positions atop a hill near a village close to the front lines. Del Portillo learned from one of the officers of the unit they were replacing that Nationalist troops held the village of Majaelrayo, a few miles to the north.

The next day, del Portillo and Alastrue were ordered to get supplies from a nearby town that lay between their position and Majaelrayo. Rodríguez Casado received permission to go to the same town to buy medicine. At 6:00 the next morning, after receiving Holy Communion, the three of them set out in the midst of a rainstorm that grew heavier as the day progressed. During the day, they climbed several 5,000-foot mountains, avoiding main paths so as to remain out of sight.

After spending the night in a cave, they resumed their journey early on the morning of October 12, 1938, the feast of Our Lady of the Pillar. By 8:30 in the morning, they were high up in a pine forest looking down on a nearby town, trying to discern whether it was in the hands of the Republican or Nationalist army. Just then, they heard church bells beckoning the faithful to Mass, an unequivocal sign that the town lay in the Nationalist zone. They walked openly down the road, taking no precautions. When they arrived in the town—which proved to be not Majaelrayo but Cantalojas—they learned that they had been spotted earlier.
Thinking that they were advance units of a Republican attack, the commander of the Nationalist troops stationed in the town had given orders to open fire with a machine gun the moment they spread out or took other evasive action.

After attending Mass and getting something to eat, they called Rodríguez Casado’s father, who was a colonel in the Nationalist army. Thanks to his influence, they were not detained in the camp for refugees and prisoners but allowed to continue on to Burgos. On the morning of the 12th, as Botella and Casciaro left for the office, Escrivá promised to “call you when they arrive.” The 12th came and went without any news, but Escrivá remained “serene, sure, joyful. Every time the phone rang,” Botella reports, “he thought it would be the news he was awaiting. The 13th was the same, with the Father festive and joking all day long. He told us to be on the alert. On the 14th, he said to me, ‘I’ll call you at the barracks when they arrive.’ ” At 8 P.M. he called to say that they had arrived.

Brief Reunion in Burgos
Although there is no account of the first meeting of del Portillo, Rodríguez Casado, and Alastrue with the members of the Work in Burgos, it must have been emotional. Casciaro and Botella had not seen the three recent arrivals for two and a half years, and Escrivá had last seen them more than a year ago.

They were not destined to remain together in Burgos for long. Even before the three recent refugees arrived, Albareda had moved to Vitoria, where he had obtained a job as a high school teacher. A few days after arriving in Burgos, del Portillo was assigned to the Academy of Army Engineering Officers. It was only a few miles from Burgos, but he was required to live on the base. In November, Rodríguez Casado was assigned to the Academy of Army Engineer Sergeants in Zaragoza. At the beginning of December, Casciaro was posted to army headquarters in Calatyud, about one hundred miles southeast of Burgos. After completing his course, del Portillo was sent to the small town of Cigales, near Valladolid, where Rodríguez Casado had also been assigned after finishing his initial training course.

By mid-December, only Escrivá and Botella remained in Burgos. They would have liked to rent a small apartment, but that remained out of the question. They were anxious to leave the Sabadell Hotel, where they could not afford to pay for the four beds in the room and were, therefore, forced to share their space with strangers assigned to the room by the desk clerk. One day, Escrivá wrote in his diary: “This can’t go on. We can’t work, carry on correspondence, have visitors, or leave our papers around. And not a minute of blessed solitude, so necessary for maintaining interior life. Beside all this, new people every day. Impossible! I asked our Lord for a solution at Mass.”

Shortly before Christmas, they found a room in a boardinghouse, where they would remain until the end of the war. The building had no heat, and the furniture was mostly makeshift, including a chest mounted on columns of empty spools of thread glued together. But the cost was only five pesetas a day for the two of them, and at least they would have some privacy.

Del Portillo
Like the other members of the Work scattered around the Nationalist zone of Spain, del Portillo tried to bring his fellow soldiers closer to Christ through his words and deeds. As soon as he reached the Academy, he asked the colonel in charge for permission to attend Mass each morning at a nearby monastery, promising to be back before reveille. The colonel granted his permission, but he told him that if the Military Police or anyone else stopped him, “I don’t know anything about it.” Naturally others in the barracks noticed del Portillo getting up early and asked him what he was doing. By the time their training course ended, thirty officers had begun going to daily Mass.

By the beginning of 1939, Escrivá had begun to rely particularly on del Portillo, who would become his closest cooperator and his first successor as the head of Opus Dei.

The Final Months in Burgos
By the fall of 1938, a total Nationalist victory in the near future seemed increasingly likely. In April 1938, Franco’s forces had cut the Republican zone in two, separating Catalonia from Madrid and Valencia. Only massive intervention by foreign powers in favor of the Republic could prevent the Nationalists from occupying Madrid, thereby winning the war. It had never been likely that the Western democracies would decisively intervene in Spain, and their acquiescence to the German occupation of the Sudetenland at Munich in September 1938 demonstrated their lack of resolve for the action required to save the Republic.

Escrivá was frequently out of town during the final months of the war, visiting members of the Work and other young men with whom he had been in contact in Madrid. When he was in Burgos, he often walked to the nearby monastery of Las Huelgas to research his doctoral dissertation in law, since he assumed that the material he had accumulated in Madrid before the outbreak of the war had all been lost. He also worked on expanding the book of points for meditation that he had published in 1934 under the title Spiritual Considerations. The new version would bear the title The Way and would be published shortly after the end of the civil war in September 1939.

Escrivá frequently wrote to the members and friends of the Work about the growth of the apostolate that the next year would bring, if they were faithful to what God was asking of them. On December 10, 1938, he wrote, “If we all joyfully carry out our duty, there are only reasons for optimism, looking at things with complete objectivity.” A few days later, he said, “Prayer! Don’t give it up for any reason. We have no other weapon.” In a letter to Vallespín written the day before Christmas, he opened his heart: “Today I am writing to the whole family. Just a few letters, since we are still only a few. It grieves me to think this is my own fault. What good example I wish to give always! Help me to ask our Lord’s forgiveness for all my bad example up to now.” The day before he had written to Vallespín.

The End of the War
After the collapse of Catalonia, Negrín and other members of his cabinet returned by air to Spain to negotiate peace terms, but Franco reiterated that he would accept only an unconditional surrender. The capitulation of France and Great Britain to Germany at Munich in the fall of 1938 had seriously undermined the Republic’s hopes for a favorable change in the international climate. Nonetheless, responding to the influence of his Communist supporters, Négrin preferred continued resistance to unconditional surrender.

A group of officers in Madrid, led by Colonel Casado, revolted against Negrín’s government, precipitating armed conflict in the city between Communist-dominated units of the army and those that supported Casado. By mid-March, Casado was firmly in control in Madrid. On March 19, 1939, he opened formal negotiations with Franco, which soon broke down because of Franco’s refusal to accept any meaningful conditions. The remaining units of the Republican army began to dissolve, and Nationalist troops entered Madrid unopposed. On April 1, 1939, Franco officially announced the end of the war.

Preparations for the Return to Madrid
As the war drew to a close, the members of the Work intensified their preparation for returning to Madrid. The first order of business was to obtain the things they would need for an oratory. They had ordered a chalice and a tabernacle almost as soon as they got to Burgos. Escrivá now enlisted the help of several young women to make vestments. Suitable cloth was hard to find, so he gladly accepted a gift of a silk bedspread that could be transformed into a chasuble.

Another priority was collecting books to stock the library of the residence they hoped to reestablish in Madrid and for the centers they envisioned in other cities. With Albareda’s help, Escrivá had arranged for a number of well-known academics to sign a letter requesting books from Spanish and foreign organizations. In a letter written in June 1938, he had rejoiced that “books are beginning to come in across the border for our library.” The following month he wrote, “Books keep arriving. Hopefully, if we behave, this business will be successful, like so many others we have undertaken with our sights set on God.”

The house at Ferraz 16, which they had purchased for the residence just before the outbreak of the war, had suffered heavy damage. Escrivá observed its condition through army field binoculars while visiting Vallespín in a hospital on the Madrid front in July 1938.
Money would be needed for major repairs or, in the worst case, to replace the residence. At a time when Escrivá and Botella could not afford to continue paying twenty pesetas a day for a room in the Sabadell Hotel, the estimated cost of one million pesetas to reestablish the Work’s activities in Madrid was overwhelming.

In addition to praying ardently for the needed funds, Escrivá and the others approached relatives, friends, and acquaintances to request their help. Don Emiliano, the father of one of the boys who had come to DYA, suggested that a wealthy friend of his, Don Pedro, might make a substantial contribution. Escrivá responded:

"I hope that he will! It would be a great joy if he were to crown his life of hidden charity so magnificently. Believe me, I see no objective human solution for the financial straits we will soon be in, but I am serene. We are working for him and in his affairs. We have given him our possessions, few or many, our intellectual activity, which is the greatest gift a man has, our heart, . . . even our good name! So I think we can confidently trust that the million pesetas we need will come when needed, perhaps soon. Don Pedro? He could be the one. Let us ask our Lord. I will be very glad for Don Pedro’s sake if he does it".

Nothing came of this appeal; however, Escrivá continued to be optimistic.

A year after arriving in Burgos, he sent a long letter to all the members of the Work summing up the experience of the past year and looking forward to the future. He stressed three themes: optimism; reliance on prayer, sacrifice, and interior life; and unity among the members of the Work. At the beginning of the letter, he said:

"I would like to sum up in one word the conclusions of my own thoughts, after carefully considering matters in God’s presence. The word that should characterize your efforts to rebuild the ordinary activities of our apostolate is optimism.
It is true that the communist revolution destroyed our home and scattered to the winds the things we had gathered with so much effort. It is also true that during these war years our supernatural undertaking has apparently suffered a sort of paralysis, and that the war has brought with it the loss of some of your brothers...
This Work of God moves and is alive, active and fruitful, like the winter wheat that was sown and germinates beneath the frozen ground..."

Foreseeing that the war was drawing to a close, he described “the immediate task” as reopening the residence/academy in Madrid and then “the world!” The means would be “interior life: him and us.”

"We will have the necessary means and there will be no obstacles if each one really, efficaciously, and operatively offers himself to God in the Work. We offer ourselves to him when we live the Norms; when we cultivate a hardy piety and daily mortification and penance; when we try not to lose the habit of professional work and study; when we hunger to know more deeply the spirit of our apostolate; when discretion, which is neither mysterious nor secretive, accompanies our work . . . and above all, when we continually feel united by a special communion of the saints to all those who form part of our supernatural family".

On March 26, 1939, the Nationalist troops began their final assault on Madrid. It met no significant resistance. Escrivá had obtained a pass to enter Madrid from a friend who was undersecretary of the interior. On March 28, 1939, he somehow managed to find a place on one of the first trucks that entered the capital with supplies for the civilian population. A few days later, the war officially ended, and Opus Dei entered a new period of its history.

* * *

The years of the civil war were a painful trial. Ten years after its foundation, Opus Dei had no center and virtually no resources. Two of its members had died in combat. Three other young men, who perhaps had not fully grasped their vocation to Opus Dei before the fighting began, did not persevere through the prolonged period of tension and isolation. None of the young women who belonged to Opus Dei at the beginning of the war, but who were completely isolated during the entire war, was able to continue in the Work. Albareda was the only man and Fisac the only woman to join Opus Dei during the almost three years of the war. When peace finally returned to Spain, only fifteen men and one woman belonged to Opus Dei. Among them, however, were solid, tested people who possessed a deep interior life of prayer and sacrifice and were firmly committed to living their vocation.

The early years of Opus Dei: Historical, political and social situation in Spain. Condensed from the book written by the history expert John Coverdale, Uncommon Faith, chapters 1 and 3-18