Abolishing the myths about Opus Dei
Wlodzimierz Redzioch talks to Manuel Sánchez, in charge of relations with the international press, the Opus Dei's press office.
Wlodzimierz Redzioch: - Millions who read 'The Da Vinci Code' or saw the film based on the book are convinced that Opus Dei is a criminal organisation, which consists of thieves and murderers. Looking at it from the perspective of time, what have Dan's lies left?
Manuel Sánchez: - In his book Dan Brown deliberately mixed reality and fiction and thus he misled people. Unfortunately, many people are convinced that what he wrote is the truth. First of all, the sad thing is that he tells lies about Jesus and the Church. Umberto Eco, the secular intellectualist, non-Catholic, mercilessly criticised 'The Da Vinci Code' and called it a meaningless book. Since the very beginning we have emphasized that the important thing is not the book (nor the film), which presents historical facts. Its publication was a pretext and an occasion for us to explain many issues. Most of all, we have focused on some kind of catechesis about Jesus. We have presented what the Catholic Church is about and we have showed the real picture of Opus Dei. When Brown's book was published we were in focus of the media worldwide. That's why, we decided to use this occasion and to give a positive answer to the slandering attack. So we have told people about our activities, our lives and initiatives. Numerous journalists and ordinary people have visited the American headquarters of Opus Dei, where according to Brown the main prelature is located. We even had to organize guided tours to show people our centre and present our activities!
- You have become famous at the cost of slanderers...
- That's right. I remember that when John Paul II beautified Josemaria Escriva in 1992 the papers in the U.S.A. published short notes, 'Today John Paul II beatified a Spanish priest'. However, just after the publication of Brown's book reporters from various television stations queued in front of our headquarters to ask for interviews and to talk about Opus Dei.
- We can see that evil could yield good. But attacks against Opus Dei are continued and the attackers are often your former members. Why do these people who know you well always find some pretext to criticise Opus Dei?
- Numerous books on Opus Dei have been published but people speak only about those ones that criticise us. Critical attitudes have been a part of Christian life since the very beginning. We should not forget that almost all apostles and saints living in the first centuries of Christianity were martyrs. Today the cross is also a part of the institutions of the Church and of all Christians. Many people look at Opus Dei with sympathy and love, others are disappointed, and it can happen that they hate our organization. The prelate many a time asked those who feel hurt for forgiveness. We try to be close to those people and we pray for them. This reflects frequent situations in families and institutions. I recollect the lyrics of a song, 'I hate you because I loved you.'
- Speaking about 'the black legend' of Opus Dei I would like to mention Vittorio Messori who claims that the legend originated in Spain in the 1930s with the involvement of some Jesuits. According to Messori the Jesuits saw the new organisation founded by Josemaria as a competition. What do your archives say?
- It is true that at the beginning of its existence Opus Dei had problems with some Jesuits and the organization could not develop in various Spanish cities. But one should realize that in the 1930s people looked at the man who talked about sanctification of laymen in their daily lives with great suspicion. And that was what Escrivá proclaimed. For many centuries the idea of sanctity was strictly connected with religious or priestly life. Thus the message of Josemaria seemed to be too revolutionary and almost treated as a heresy. However, I would like to add that the spiritual father of our founder was a Jesuit.
- One of the platitudes says that Opus Dei is 'Catholic free masonry', i.e. secret influential organization having suspicious aims. How can you refute these accusations?
- It seems to me that no ecclesiastical organisation is more transparent than Opus Dei. People know everything about our organization. The names of new regional directors and delegations are regularly published. The directors of the centres in every city are publicly known. Our web site is in 25 languages and one can find a lot of information about the prelature and its members, including their phone numbers.
- Is it true that you have opened your archives?
- We have founded the Historical Institute that will publish a historical periodical to make the documents collected in our archives, from the foundation till the present, accessible to wide public.
- And what about the accusation that the prelature is 'all-powerful'?
- Most our members are simple people. Naturally, Opus Dei also consists of businessmen, politicians and freelance but the majority comes from lower social classes. Especially, our members in Latin America are simple people, often housewives and the natives. But nobody is interested in a housewife who belongs to Opus Dei - the media write only about outstanding personalities.
- Some point out your skyscraper in New York...
- Skyscraper?! It is true that we have a big and impressive building in Manhattan but this is a norm in this district, and I would say our building seems small there.
- Recently journalists have said that you want to produce a film about the life of Saint Josemaria as a response to 'The Da Vinci Code.' Some say about the actors who could play the role of the founder of Opus Dei - De Niro, Banderas, Cage...
- It is true that there are American and Italian film companies, including the known 'Lux Vitae', which are interested in this kind of production. They have already contacted us asking for historical consultation because they want to present the truth about the life of Josemaria. However, I would like to stress that this is a private enterprise. Our role is limited to consultation. As far as the actors are concerned these names are rather wishes of the producers.
- Let us hope that in 2008 - the 80th anniversary of Opus Dei - the international public will be able to watch the authentic story of the life of Josemaria Escriva de Balaguera.