Visits to the Poor & Catechesis
Josemaría would say that Opus Dei was born among the hospitals and slums of Madrid. Even before receiving the charism of Opus Dei on October 2, Fr. Josemaría already spent hours and hours every week accompanying the sick and abandoned in hospitals, bringing them a smiling face, a consoling word, and if they were Catholics, the Sacraments. Hospitals in Madrid in the 1930s weren't exactly what they are today. And the ones in the poor neighborhoods that Josemaría preferred were more like places you went to die than places you went to be cured.

Josemaría recognized Jesus in the sick and suffering and he would ask them to pray for his special intention, that whatever-it-was that God was asking of him.

Fr. Josemaría was also a well-known figure in the slums on the outskirts of Madrid, where he would go to accompany struggling families and teach catechism to street children, whose simplicity made him laugh and whose ignorance made his heart ache.

These experiences with human misery marked Josemaría deeply and he invited his young friends to leave their college campuses and touch the suffering flesh of Christ:

"Children. The Sick. As you write these words, don't you feel tempted to use capitals? The reason is that in children and the sick a soul in love sees Him."
St. Josemaría at 20 during his time in the Seminary of San Carlos, Spain, 1922
St. Josemaría at 20 during his time in the Seminary of San Carlos, Spain, 1922. (Quote: The Way, no. 419)
The First St. Raphael Circle

But all this activity (get togethers in “El Sotanillo,” spiritual accompaniment, attending to the needy…) was a bit sporadic until January 21, 1933. St. Josemaría considered this day the official beginning of the St. Raphael work. So what happened? Fr. Josemaría wanted to help young people form Christ in their minds, hearts, and wills, to know their stuff (“to have the doctrine of theologians…”) and to live it out (“and the piety of little children”). So he made a double proposal to his college friends: start teaching catechism in one of the slum parishes, and at the same time, commit to a short weekly class, which he called a “circle,” that would help them grow in their own interior life. Josemaría invited dozens of students he knew and one of them, a medical student named Juan, who had especially connected with Fr. Josemaría’s crazy ideas, did the same. In the end, only Juan and two of his friends showed up for that first circle, but numbers weren't the important thing.

In the circle, Fr. Josemaría explained that the catechesis, which would start the next day, Sunday, depended on their relationship with God: “First, we have to fill ourselves up with the grace of God, to be able to give it to others. We want to be like shells, that hold water and pour it out, not like canals, that don’t keep any of the water that passes through” (DYA, pg. 86). The key thing would be to pray about whatever topic was presented in the circle, to see the importance for one's own life. 

If we don't help the St. Raphael boys and girls become souls of prayer, we're wasting our time.
St. Josemaría

After the class, they had Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament. As Fr. Josemaría raised the Monstrance and blessed the three students kneeling in the pew, he saw “three hundred, three hundred thousand, thirty million, three billion… white, black, yellow, all the colors, all the combinations that human love can create.”

The catechesis the following day went according to plan. Instead of sleeping in, Juan and his friends met at the metro station to head out to Tetuan, a peripheral neighborhood they’d probably never been to before. Dedicating their Sunday mornings to giving catechesis wasn’t just an act of generosity; it also required a bit of courage, since the atmosphere in that part of town wasn’t exactly friendly to practicing Catholics. Over the course of the next few months, they would have to dodge more than a few well-aimed stones. But they were learning to see beyond prejudices… Both their own and the ones they found on the streets.

As Josemaría would remind them, “We’re called to be sowers of peace and joy. In the St. Raphael Work, you’ll learn to live a very specific characteristic of the spirit of Opus Dei: understand everyone, forgive, live together. We’ll help create a climate of mutual understanding, that drowns all hate and resentment in charity: without class warfare, without nationalisms, without discrimination. Dream and your dreams will fall short of the reality that awaits us” (Letter no. 7).