Interview: “Saint Josemaria, Our Lady, and the Streets of Madrid”
In the fall of 2012, a group of pilgrims travelled to France and Spain on a special pilgrimage—“Saint Josemaria, Our Lady, and the Streets of Madrid” organized by Mater Dei Tours and St. Mary of the Angels Church, Chicago.
The pilgrimage included visits to the Shrine of Our Lady in Lourdes, France, and to the key places in Spain that shaped the life of St Josemaria Escriva—from his birthplace in Barbastro to Madrid where he founded Opus Dei and to the Shrine of Our Lady of Torreciudad.
Megan Gaughan, a young professional from Chicago, was among the pilgrims. Megan is a native of Chicago where she currently works in the finance department for a nonprofit organization. Being very close to her family and friends, she saw this pilgrimage as an opportunity to get to know more the life and spirituality of St Josemaria but also to grow and enrich her friendship with Christ and with all those around her.
The St Josemaria Institute is very happy to share our recent interview with Megan about her “amazing” and inspirational pilgrimage experience:
Q: What is the first thing you tell people when they ask you about your recent pilgrimage “Saint Josemaria, Our Lady, and the Streets of Madrid” to France and Spain?
A: “Wow, it was amazing!” I have trouble summing it up in a few words—though my friends and family tell me that I am never at a loss for words. I usually will tell people that I was amazed that these people lived in such recent history and are SAINTS – a strong reminder that we are all called to live in the current day and hope to become saints as well.
Q: What made you decide to go on the pilgrimage? Was this your first pilgrimage?
A: I saw a flier for this pilgrimage after Mass one day and texted a picture of this to two of my best friends saying, “Maybe this is our chance to go to Spain?!?!?” And “voilà”, a few weeks later, two of us decided to commit. I had been on a one day pilgrimage to Fatima when travelling during college, but this was my first pilgrimage to Spain.
Q: When did you first learn about St Josemaria Escriva? Was there something about his life and/or spirituality that really “clicked” for you?
A: I first learned about St. Josemaria Escriva after graduating from college – a priest from the University of Illinois recommended that I connect with the priests at St. Mary of the Angels (Chicago). Following his recommendation, I introduced myself to one of the priests of Opus Dei and became involved with the spiritual formation offered through the Work in Chicago.
St. Josemaria’s focus on living an ordinary life in an extraordinary way really hit home for me over the years. While studying for my CPA and during my first years as a professional, I became more and more aware of the beauty of doing my work well for our Lord. It helped me to realize that I didn’t need to do anything super radical, from a natural perspective, in order to grow closer to God, but rather that I could live every ordinary day with a supernatural perspective. This radical idea was something I had heard before, but St. Josemaria’s life/spirituality really made this “click” for me.
Q: You had the opportunity to visit many special places, among them the Shrines of Our Lady in Lourdes, France and Torreciudad, Spain. What most impressed you about the shrines dedicated to the Virgin Mary?
A: I was so impressed by the story of how St. Josemaria’s mother brought him on a pilgrimage to Torreciudad when he was only 2 years old – to give thanks to Our Lady for her intercession after St. Josemaria’s bout with an illness at that time. It seems that his mother’s example must have really laid the foundation for his devotion to Our Lady – so much so, that the Shrine was built at Torreciudad.
My favorite part of this visit was viewing the different statues of Our Lady that pilgrims from around the world left at the Shrine – even one from Metro Achievement Center here in Chicago! The unique statues of Mary from around the world reminded me of the universality of our Faith, which is something that always brings me great hope and sense of awe.
Q: From Torreciudad, you visited the town of Bilbao, the birthplace of St Josemaria, and then travelled to Logrono and Zaragoza where he and his family lived during his teenage and seminary years. What did this “intimate” look into his early life teach you?
A: The intimate look into St. Josemaria’s early years really made me think about the importance of family life. Many of the stories we heard involved the parents of St. Josemaria – how his father always listened attentively to him, took time for strolls in the park with him, how his father was an upright man in business no matter what the cost, how his mother supported him in his priestly vocation, how his sister and mother supported the Work – all of the love shared by his family and the very ordinary family interactions formed a modern day saint. This also gives me great hope and desire to serve my future husband and children in a loving way – to remember that the small things of everyday family life truly can change this world for the better.
Q: Many important things happened in the life of St Josemaria in Madrid. Tell us about what you saw and did in Madrid.
A: We did see so many things in Madrid – both via walking tours and taking the bus to a few different locations.
We saw the Cathedral of the Almudena, which was re-dedicated by Blessed John Paul II in the 90s. This was a newer cathedral and had statues and other art depicting the lives of Spanish saints from recent history, including St. Josemaria.
We also visited the Basilica of St. Michael where St. Josemaria served as an assistant priest when he first moved to Madrid. It was here that he said his first Mass in Madrid. We were able to attend Mass at this beautiful basilica on the Feast of the Guardian Angels as well as on our last morning in Madrid.
We visited the Convent of Santa Isabel where St. Josemaria served as a chaplain in his early years as a priest. It is there that he prayed before a statue of the baby Jesus – a statue that the nuns so kindly had on display for us as well. We were able to pray before the same statue! Here we also met a Spanish man who is a member of the Work and he too gave us a warm welcome to Spain and seemed so happy to meet others interested in the life of St. Josemaria.
Some other key points of interest we visited included one of the first centers of Opus Dei, the DYA Academy, and also the first women’s center of Opus Dei, where we received a warm welcome from the women and had Benediction in their chapel.
In addition to visiting all of the churches and key spots in the life of St. Josemaria, we were able to visit other Madrid attractions. We spent an afternoon at the Museo del Prado with a knowledgeable tour guide taking us through exhibits. We enjoyed an outdoor lunch at Plaza Mayor and a little too much shopping at some of the cutest shops in Madrid.
Q: It is true that in Madrid you were able to be in many of the places where St Josemaria lived and worked, and to see many relics. Among the latter, is there any experience that is most special or memorable to you?
A: The most memorable time for me was to be in Madrid on the Feast of the Guardian Angels, the day that Opus Dei was founded. It was a remarkable experience to be in the places where St. Josemaria had been on this instrumental day. The feelings of awe and gratitude were overwhelming, to think that a real saint had walked these same streets and visited these same churches and saw all the things that we were seeing – and less than 100 years ago. It was another great reminder that I am too called to be a saint and St. Josemaria’s life is proof that this is a realistic and necessary goal.
Q: After Madrid, you travelled to Avila and Segovia noted for their connections with two other great saints of the Church: St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross. As a young Catholic, how has visiting all of these places helped you in your faith and in your daily life?
A: Visiting all of these places made the lives of the Saints more personal to me and has given me more concrete real life examples to model. I have heard and read the stories of the Saints throughout my life, but seeing these places again reminded me that these were real people – real people who dedicated their lives to loving our Lord. This personal experience has helped me immensely in my daily life by reminding me that holiness truly is happiness and that I must always work to make holiness my aim here on earth.
Q: Would you recommend the experience to friends? What tips would you give them?
A: I would most definitely recommend this trip to friends. I would recommend that they bring comfortable walking shoes because we sure did cover a lot of ground! Also, I would recommend going on this trip with a friend as it was really nice to share the actual experience as well as recount stories afterwards. And, I would recommend taking this trip through Mater Dei Tours because our tour guide, Juan Landa, put so much effort into making this a pilgrimage a fruitful one.
Q: Would you do it again? If yes, where to?
A: I would do it again in a heartbeat! I would like to do another pilgrimage to a place like Poland or Italy – to visit the places important in the lives of other modern day Saints (or Blesseds) like Chiara Luce Badano, Padre Pio, or John Paul II.
This article is intended for the free use of readers, and may not be copied or reproduced without permission from the St. Josemaria Institute (firstname.lastname@example.org). Photos provided courtesy of © Megan Gaughan.