May 30, 2007

The start of Opus Dei - Recreating a moment

(Writing a scene in history through narrative nonfiction)

When Father Josemaria Escrivá de Balaguer arrived in Italy on June 22, 1946, he was hungry.

It was 11.30 p.m. and the last he had eaten was coffee and a few cookies thirty-two hours before when he left Barcelona. Most of those hours were spent crossing the Gulf of Lyon during a violent storm on the J.J. Sister, a thousand-ton postal steamship, which lurched and plunged as waves swept the deck. Everyone on board was seasick, but Josemaria stayed in good humor, eagerly anticipating his first visit to Rome, which would become his home. His reason for relocating to the holy city was specific: To urge Pope Pius XII to bestow pontifical approval on the organization Josemaria had founded, Opus Dei.

On the wharf in Genoa, Josemaria, a 44-year-old man with a small build, round glasses and hair combed over from an extreme left-side part, broke into a smile at the sight of his friend, Alvaro de Portilla.

"Here you have me, you rascal! You got your way," Josemaria said in a lisping Spanish, teasing Alvaro, who had pleaded with him for months to come to Rome and talk to the Pope directly even though Josemaria had been struggling with diabetes. By the time they arrived at their hotel at about midnight that night, the kitchen had long closed. The only food Alvaro could offer Josemaria was a chunk of Parmesan cheese he had saved from his dinner.

At 7:30 a.m. the next morning, Sunday June 23, Josemaria and Alvaro said Mass at a nearby Church before setting off for Rome in a rented old-model car that had a strong rancid odor. They arrived on a clear evening as the sun was setting.

Their destination was an attic apartment in the Piazza della Citta Leonina, immediately outside of the brick wall surrounding the Vatican. After climbing the five flights of stairs to the sparely furnished apartment, Josemaria stepped out onto the roofed terrace to behold the dome of Saint Peter's Basilica in the fading twilight. Taking in the long-anticipated view, Josemaria spotted the lighted window of the Pope's private library. His heart swelled and the exhaustion from the long journey melted away. He knelt and prayed, holding vigil on the balcony all night.


Here's a great writing exercise. Choose a random day before you were born and find an event that happened on that day. Collect all the details (using newspapers, diaries, etc.) related to that event and write a 400-word narrative scene based on the event.

If you try this, please share it with me by posting it here. Thanks!

I based my writing/recreating of this moment in history on the following sources, which featured details cited of Josemaria's personal dairies and letters as well as audio of his speeches and photographs Josemaria and of the important moments in his journey to Rome.

Web sites:
Josemaria Escriva in English
Josemaria Escriva in Spanish

The Founder of Opus Dei: The life of Josemaría Escrivá, Volume 2: God and Daring
by Vázquez de Prada, Andrés

1 comment:

John said...

Great post, Katie. I love the concept behind this. This exact exercise is precisely what I'm doing for my book. I'm conducting research on the historical events of my howetown and writing narrative nonfiction scenes based on my research.

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