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An Italian song that St Josemaria loved

Tags: Joy, Death, Get-together
Aprite le finestre - 'Open the Windows', an Italian song that St Josemaria wanted people to sing to him as he was dying. The following is the account of this episode as given by Pilar Urbano in her biography of St Josemaria, 'El Hombre de Villa Tevere'.

You will sing it for me, without tears. It was early in the afternoon one day in March 1957. There was a group of ten or twelve young men having coffee and chatting in the Galleria del Fumo with Monsignor Escrivá. They had just had lunch and were having a brief get-together before starting work again, talking about anything and everything. Someone had drawn one of the blue canvas curtains to shade the room a little from the brilliant sunlight which came streaming in through the windows, and someone else, or perhaps the same person, had put on a record of Nilla Pizzi with a song which had won the San Remo Festival. It was a lively, catchy, amusing pop number with some clever twists to the melody. They were all fairly familiar with it, and Monsignor Escrivá loved it. It had caught his attention the first time he heard it:

Aprite le finestre al nuovo sole:
è primavera, è primavera,
Lasciate entrare un poco d'aria pura ...
Open the windows to the new sun:

Spring is here! Spring is here!
Let in a little fresh air,
with the fragrance of gardens and meadows in flower.
Spring is here, it's the feast of Love!

Then Monsignor Escrivá surprised them all by saying, "I'd like to hear that song when I'm dying." Monsignor Escrivá seldom used the verb "to die". When he spoke of his own death, he did not appear to imagine it as something quick that would take him by surprise, but as a long-drawn-out process, a difficult ordeal to be gone through. He seemed to foresee tearing himself painfully away. Maybe this was why he did not now say "When I die", but "When I'm dying". He imagined death as a violent tearing apart of body and soul in a struggle which would entail overcoming resistance; a final combat for which he was always prepared, because as he said, "It's all about winning the last battle".

Sitting in an armchair with his back to the sliding window of the gallery, he listened to the song and now and again joined in, singing in Italian:

"The first red rose has bloomed.
Spring is here, spring is here!
The first swallow has returned
And glides through the clear sky,
Bringing good weather.
Boys and girls in love,
Open the windows to the new sun,
To hope and joy
Spring is here, it's the feast of love!"

He scanned the faces of the people there in the Galleria del Fumo: Don Alvaro, Father Javier Echevarria, Father Joaquin Alonso, Father Julian Herranz, Giuseppe Molteni, Juan Cox, Dick Rieman, Bernardo Fernandez, Father Severino Monzo ... and there he stopped. Father Severino was a tall, robust young man, a priest with a doctorate in economics and Canon Law, and also a very good singer. Monsignor Escrivá gave him a mischievous smile and, like someone making an appointment for a future date, said, "You'll sing it for me without tears."

Not so much as a black tie. "Without tears" was in line with something he had told his sons in Opus Dei more than once: that after his death he did not want "so much as a black tie" around. He liked Pizzi's springtime tune because it suggested the joy of young people walking to keep a date with love: "la luna già ha fissato appuntamento - the moon has made a date". That fitted in with his idea of death: the impassioned meeting of two people in love. He once said, "Recently, while I was saying good-bye to a young married couple, some words came to my lips: 'Pray for me to be a good son of God and to be cheerful until death ... though dying, for us, is like getting married.' (...)

We ought not to wish for death, but when we are told 'ecce sponsus venit, exite obviam ei! Come on out, the Bridegroom's here for you!' we will ask our Lady to intercede for us at that very difficult time when the body is separated from the soul which is extremely painful, because the soul was made to be united to the body and we'll go out joyfully to meet him who has been the love of our life!"

Monsignor Escrivá clearly had a nuptial idea of death, so that the Gospel words about a wedding-feast came to his mind: "The bridegroom is coming! Go out to meet him!" This was shown again by the Nilla Pizzi song. Monsignor Escrivá was very fond of singing "human love-songs with a divine meaning", and he must have prayed more than once taking these lines as his starting-point. They were admittedly trite, but they were astonishingly similar to the greatest love-song that has ever been written, the Canticle of Canticles.

The Italian song described the coming of good weather, the meadows in flower, silver nights, the new, radiant sun, the fragrance of gardens, the flight of spring doves heralding good weather; and it constantly renewed the invitation "Aprite le finestre! Open the windows, to let love in!" The Canticle of Canticles says: "The voice of my beloved! Behold he comes, leaping upon the mountains, skipping over the hills; my beloved is like a roe, a young hart. Behold, he stands behind our wall, looking through the windows ... Behold, my beloved speaks to me: Arise, make haste, my love, my dove, my beautiful one, and come! For winter is now past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers have appeared in our land, the time of singing is come: the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. Arise, my love, my beautiful one and come ... show me your face, let your voice sound in my ears ."