- The Washington Times - Friday, October 4, 2002

Thousands of American members of the conservative Catholic movement Opus Dei are flying to Rome this week for the Sunday canonization to sainthood of the group's Spanish founder, the Rev. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer.
The event, which could draw 230,000 people, will galvanize a strong following in Europe. It also is likely to have an impact in the United States as well.
"The spirituality of Opus Dei is the ethic of work, not so much for success, but for a job well done," said Alvaro de Vicente, headmaster of the Heights School, founded by the group in Potomac.
"Opus Dei is a [religious] vocation," he said of the 3,000 members in the United States, most of them laity. "It's not for everybody."
Under the name "work of God," the group was founded in Spain in 1928. Twenty years ago, Pope John Paul II gave Opus Dei the special status of a non-geographic diocese of laity and clergy with a superior, the Rev. Javier Echevarria, who is based in Rome a rare arrangement for lay Catholics.
Though its growth has been modest, with 84,000 members worldwide with nearly a third in Latin America it has become much larger than other Catholic religious orders. Its conservative agenda may grow even more influential with a saint at its helm.
"The fact that they enjoyed so many years of Vatican approval ensured their influence would grow in the United States," said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit and associate editor at the journal America, who has researched the group extensively.
"I don't think the canonization will change things that much," said Father Martin, who is critical of the group's apparent need for secrecy and what he calls aggressive recruitment. "But it will give them added legitimacy."
The group has just opened a $43 million, 17-story headquarters in Manhattan.
While Opus Dei is run by a minority of priests, who are chaplains and confessors, married couples make up most of the membership.
Another 25,000 single men and women have made "commitments" of celibacy and devotion, sharing a common life in houses for men and women.
The group also is fascinating because its members range from the doctor who is the spokesman for the Vatican to Robert P. Hanssen, the FBI agent who in early 2001 was arrested as a Russian spy. The group distanced itself from Hanssen's treason, and disclosed the small donations he gave.
Opus Dei was brought to Washington in the 1950s by a priest. Today, it is best known in the District through the all-boys Heights School, with 460 students, the Tenley Study Center in Northwest and the work of the Rev. C. John McClosky at the Catholic Information Center located downtown.
"The founder of Opus Dei taught that everyone is called to holiness, not just priests or nuns," said Philip McGovern, a Bethesda businessman whose 15-year-old son, Phil "P.J." McGovern, is en route to St. Peter's Square with a Heights School group.
"It was his decision to go," said Mr. McGovern, who with his wife and three children began his affiliation with the group in 1995. "He'll be part of the energy that comes with any great event with John Paul II."
In an era when John Paul II has canonized a record number of saints, Father Escriva, who died in 1975, is among the most rapid to achieve that status. Sainthood requires tests of moral rectitude and proof of a miraculous intervention.

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