The impulse to believe the absurd when presented with the unknowable is called religion. Whether this is wise or unwise is the domain of doctrine. Once you understand someone's doctrine, you understand their rationale for believing the absurd. At that point, it may no longer seem absurd. You can get to both sides of this conondrum from here.


Postby admin » Thu Oct 22, 2015 9:14 am

by Robert Hutchison
© 1997 by Robert Hutchison




For Lucia, Dawne and Ian

Table of Contents:

• Inside Cover
• Acknowledgments
• Introduction: The Pope's Secret Warriors
• Part One: Vision
o Chapter 1: Causes of Saints
o Chapter 2: Barbastro
o Chapter 3: Enemies of the Cross
o Chapter 4: Bankruptcy
o Chapter 5: 'Do That I See'
o Chapter 6: Dios y Audacia
• Part Two: Adversity
o Chapter 7: Sabres and Chasubles
o Chapter 8: Pious Union
o Chapter 9: Villa Tevere
o Chapter 10: Cold Warriors
• Part Three: Pilleria
o Chapter 11: Spanish Engineering
o Chapter 12: The Matesa Scandal
o Chapter 13: Vatican II
o Chapter 14: Puffs of Pride
o Chapter 15: Octopus Dei
• Part Four: Governance
o Chapter 16: The Inner World of Opus Dei
o Chapter 17: Kremlin on the Tiber
o Chapter 18: Dictators and Jesuits
o Chapter 19: Death of the Founder
• Part Five: Hidden Agendas
o Chapter 20: Rumasa
o Chapter 21: United Trading
o Chapter 22: Vatican Coup d'Etat
o Chapter 23: Banco Occidental
o Chapter 24: Blackfriars
• Part Six: Corps Mobile
o Chapter 25: 'With Very Great Hope'
o Chapter 26: Paraparal
o Chapter 27: Bishop of Rusado
o Chapter 28: Moneybags Theology
• Part Seven: Just War
o Chapter 29: The Polish Operation
o Chapter 30: The Moral Debate
o Chapter 31: Consolidation
o Chapter 32: The 'Cloak and Crucifix' Brigade
o Chapter 33: Africa's Burning
o Chapter 34: The Croatian War Machine
o Chapter 35: Hopeless Dialogue
• Epilogue
• Bibliography
• Index

Escriva once remarked to [Vladimir] Felzmann that Hitler had been 'badly treated' by world opinion because 'he could never have killed 6 million Jews. It could only have been 4 million at the most'....He also alleged that business deals involving what the Founder called pilleria (dirty tricks) were justified on the grounds that 'our life is a warfare of love, and for Opus Dei all is fair in love and war'....

[Dr. John] Roche said Escriva frequently commented to those close to him that he 'no longer believed in Popes or Bishops, only in the Lord Jesus Christ,' and that 'the Devil was very high up in the Church'.


After the fall of Acre in 1291, the Templars moved to Cyprus. There they devoted themselves to finance, becoming the West's chief money-lenders. As bankers, the Templars were scrupulously honest. They understood the value of capital gains and were shrewd evaluators of risk. As with Opus Dei seven centuries later, they became a major financial corporation within a remarkably short time, amassing more wealth and influence than many states and any other Christian enterprise of its day. However, Philip IV of France plotted to bring the Templars under his control and to confiscate their assets. He waited until the Grand Master Jacques de Molay came to France on an official visit. During the night of 13 October 1307 he had de Molay and sixty of his knights arrested on trumped-up charges of treason, sexual perversion and devil worship. Pope Clement V acceded to French pressure and dissolved the Order. Philip had the Grand Master burnt at the stake, the traditional punishment for heretics. As the flames rose around him, de Molay damned King and Pope for betraying God's trust and he called upon them to meet him within the year before God to answer for their crime. Clement V died within the month. Philip followed seven months later. His disbanding of the Knights Templar proved another serious blow to Christendom's defences. In little more than a decade the Turks made their first appearance in Europe, while Jerusalem became totally closed to pilgrim traffic.

-- Their Kingdom Come: Inside the Secret World of Opus Dei, by Robert Hutchison
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Postby admin » Thu Oct 22, 2015 9:15 am


Inside the Secret World of Opus Dei

If the average person has never heard of Opus Dei (God's Work), it is not surprising, for it really does operate like a shadow government behind the Vatican. Those involved in the organization assert that their aims are purely spiritual, yet they aid the Pope in furthering his political agenda. And while they are masters of technology, Opus Dei's roots are most assuredly medieval. Its members include the Pope's personal secretary, his spokesman, and certain of his ministers. Behind them stand the ranks of political and moral strategists at the Opus Dei headquarters in Rome, and behind them, eighty thousand members worldwide, including university lecturers, international bankers, cardinals, and newspaper editors.

"A highly detailed account ... a fluid read [that] blows away the mist." -- National Catholic Reporter

"Robert Hutchison provides a thorough, highly entertaining guide to this ... self-important organization." -- Dominic Swords, Focus Magazine.


Robert A. Hutchison was born in Canada and studied at McGill University in Montreal. He was a correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph and the Daily Telegraph, and his articles for the Toronto Financial Post won him four National Business Writing Awards. He is the author of several investigative nonfiction books covering a range of subjects. For the past thirty years he has lived in Switzerland.

Jacket design by David Berry

Jacket photograph © Louis Grandadam / Tony Stone

St. Martin's Press


An explosive expose of one of the most powerful and secretive sects operating within the Roman Catholic Church -- Opus Dei

This book reveals that Opus Dei:

• has become the Catholic Church's paramount financial power
• influences its members through a combination of secret rites and insistence on absolute obedience
• uses a strategy of discretion to cloud its real intentions
• aims to prepare Christendom for the next crusade against Islam.
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Postby admin » Thu Oct 22, 2015 9:15 am


THE SENSITIVITIES SURROUNDING OPUS DEI AND THE SHYNESS OF people who have been victims of religious sects mean that many whose experiences and comments helped structure this expose of power and deceit within the Catholic Church have no wish to be named. Though not a Catholic myself, I was deeply touched by their faith and openness when talking with me, and without their testimony this book would never have come to life in the form it has taken. I am, therefore, grateful to all of them.

Among those to whom I owe special thanks, and who can be named, are my agent, Gillon Aitken, and my editor at Doubleday, Joanna Goldsworthy. Thanks also to Arthur Radley in London, who organized the UK research, and my daughter Tamara in Geneva, whose knowledge of languages I often put to good use.

With background documentation in five languages, the translation assistance of Didier Favre, Petra and Jose Sanchez and Hugo Valencia was especially appreciated. Also my thanks to Charles Raw, author of The Moneychangers, a model work of analysis and research on the Banco Ambrosiano affair, Carlo Calvi, who placed the Calvi family archives at my disposal, Godfrey Hodgson, whose file on the Pinay Group gave needed insight, Jeff Katz of Kroll Associates, Andrew Soane of Opus Dei in London, Fergal Bowers in Dublin, Professor Oldrich Fryc, head of the Department of Legal Medicine in Geneva, Marjorie Garvey of Our Lady and St Joseph in Search of the Lost Child in New York, Father Gabriel Campo Villegas, historian of the Barbastro martyrs, and London solicitor Paul Terzeon, whose submission on the Calvi murder proved an excellent guide. Alberto Moncada, Javier Sainz Moreno, Pilar Navarro-Rubio and Francisco Jose de Saralegui in Madrid provided valuable counsel, and the kindness of Maria del Carmen Tapia of Santa Barbara, California, John Prewett in Fairbanks, Randy Engel and Suzanne Rini in Pittsburgh, Father Vladimir Felzmann of the Archdiocese of Westminster and Dr. John Roche of Oxford also will not be forgotten.

Michael Walsh, author of The Secret World of Opus Dei, allowed me access to the library at Heythrop College, and Jose Luis, the librarian of La Vanguardia, provided assistance at his newspaper's offices in Barcelona.

In a special category come Thomson von Stein, of Washington D.C., Michael Bennett and Jacques Wittmer of Geneva. They know why, and no more need be said. Dan Urlich of Leysin mounted the computer systems used for data-basing and back-ups, and helped design the maps and graphs.

September 1996
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Postby admin » Thu Oct 22, 2015 9:16 am

It is easy to get to know Opus Dei. It works in broad daylight in all countries, with the full juridical recognition of the civil and ecclesiastical authorities. The names of its directors are well known. Anyone who wants information can obtain it without difficulty.

-- Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, 7 January 1966



Christians, even as they strive to resist and prevent every form of warfare ... have a right and even a duty to protect their existence and freedom by proportionate means against an unjust aggressor.
-- Pope John Paul II

A Muslim is not allowed to start violence, but he is allowed to answer back with violence if someone else starts.
-- Dr. Hassan al-Turabi

IN FEBRUARY 1993, POPE JOHN PAUL II PAID A NINE-HOUR VISIT TO Khartoum, capital of Sudan, Africa's largest country, of which almost 80 per cent of the population -- some 26 million souls -- follow the Islamic faith. The Pope was on the last lap of his tenth African tour. After stooping to kiss the ground, he delivered a message to his Arab hosts that was starkly void of diplomacy: they must stop 'the terrible harvest of suffering' caused through their persecution of the Christian minority, and end the ten-year-old civil war that was turning the south of the country into a wasteland. Later, outside Khartoum Cathedral, where he celebrated Mass, he compared the plight of the Sudanese Christians to that of Jesus on the Cross: 'in this part of Africa, I see clearly a particular reproduction of Calvary in the lives of the majority of the Christian people." [1]

His admonishments were directed at the Sudanese president, General Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who had seized power in a military coup almost four years before, and Dr. Hassan al-Turabi, the regime's chief ideologist and real power behind the military council. As the secretary general of the National Islamic Front, Dr. Turabi was one of the architects of a modern alliance between extremist Sunni and Shiite forces that had not been seen since the first centuries of Islam, when the followers of the Prophet conquered an empire that stretched from the Pamirs to the Pyrenees.

But who had counselled the Pope to make such a bold move, or, as some would call it, a 'no-win encounter'?

John Paul II's closest advisers were the men of Opus Dei -- God's Work -- a spiritual organization, which, through his help, had become the Church's only Personal Prelature, that is to say, a privileged bishopric without a territory. The confrontation between John Paul II and the leaders of radical Islam was part of Opus Dei's latest step in its twentieth-century Crusade. It was a double-handed strategy that was both cunning and simple: offer an olive branch, and strike with the rod. In other words, have dialogue with the more open face of Islam -- an Islam that the West can live with and respect -- while meeting radical Islam's militancy with an appropriate measure of Christian militancy, because to do otherwise would be to condemn Christendom to a sorry fate. It was a flexible strategy, and by the same measure more aggressive than any other branch of the Catholic Church was prepared to recommend. And it was high-risk.

If no modus vivendi was possible, Opus Dei wanted the West to be morally prepared for a showdown with Islam. Now we are not talking about Opus Dei as some fringe group, but a powerful organization that, since the mid-1980s, has been at the heart of the Vatican power structure -- an organization every bit as fundamentalist on the Christian side of the Spiritual Curtain as Turabi and his followers are on the Islamic side. Its members include the Pope's personal secretary, his spokesman and certain of his ministers. Behind them stand the ranks of political and moral strategists at the Opus Dei headquarters in Rome, and behind them stand 80,000 members worldwide, all but 2 per cent of them successful, specially indoctrinated lay people.

If the casual pedestrian in the secular city has never heard of Opus Dei it is not surprising, for it really does operate like a religious Fifth Column. Its members are everywhere, and yet nowhere. They are a contradiction in terms and methodology. They assert that their aims are purely spiritual but they labour with the Pope in elaborating his political agenda. And while they are masters of modern technology, Opus Dei's roots are most assuredly medieval.

I first heard of Opus Dei in the 1960s when a Swiss banker friend informed me that it was one of the major players in the Eurodollar market. A religious association speculating in overnight francs and next week's dollars? That did not sound right at all. Since then a number of books have been written about the organization, most of them from the inside. None, however, disclose that Opus Dei has established itself as the praetorian guard of traditional Catholic doctrines and that today it is the strongest pressure group within the Roman Curia, which runs the Catholic Church. Although Opus Dei's precise goals remain hidden, this book will suggest that the movement has been deeply concerned not only with 'providing spiritual assistance to its faithful' but also with infiltrating into the political, financial and educational infrastructures of numerous countries, with gaining control of the Vatican's own finances and in turn of its policies, with crusading against Liberation Theology in Latin America, against Marxism in Europe and reshaping the post-Perestroika world, and, of late, focusing its main concern on countering the emergence of an 'eastern axis' -- more precisely a central Islamic axis -- that includes North Africa, the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the six Islamic republics of the ex-Soviet Union. [2] Turkey, whether it likes it or not, being the hinge of this axis.

Father Vladimir Felzmann, a close aide to Cardinal Basil Hume, the Archbishop of Westminster, maintains that Opus Dei is the closest the Roman Catholic Church has come to recreating the Military Orders of the Middle Ages. Indeed, in terms of accumulated wealth and power, Opus Dei is the most successful Catholic association since the Knights Templar. By the thirteenth century, the Templars had become the leading bankers of Europe. But the worldly resources of the Knights Templar sparked the envy of European princes until finally the Templars were crushed. Having studied and even imitated the Templars, Opus Dei would be careful to avoid a similar fate.

In spite of its current prominence inside the Church, the origins of Opus Dei are recent and modest. In a corporate sense, it is younger than General Motors, though its assets are said to be much larger. Its wealth, derived from its secular activities, has given rise to jealousies and its traditionalist practices make it hotly contested by the progressives within the Roman Curia. But Opus Dei's dedication and determination in carrying out its apostolic activities has also brought it strong allies.

Opus Dei professes bewilderment when accused of running a vast earthly empire with tentacles extending in many countries to the highest level of government. It claims its sole mission is 'to remind all people that they are called to holiness, especially through work and ordinary life'.

One is left to conclude that Opus Dei does not want the world to know what it is really up to. On the other hand, it does maintain certain showcase projects -- the so-called collective works -- which it publicly vaunts. These are mainly related to education and social assistance. It operates, for example, eight universities and eight institutes of higher learning worldwide and controls an interlocking complex of broadcast networks and publishing houses that makes it a media giant on a par with Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.

Of course the notion that Opus Dei might singlehandedly take on a newly emerging Islamic alliance is on the face of it ludicrous. But the fact remains that Opus Dei does not read like an open book. Its leadership prefers to remain in the shadows. Members are possessed of great spiritual singlemindedness. And they adhere to the word of the Scriptures and of their Founder with the same unbending orthodoxy that Islamic fundamentalists reserve for the Koran.

Getting to know Opus Dei has not been easy. It covers its activities with a mantle of religious arrogance which, one might think, is opposed to the earliest precepts of Christian faith. But it should also be noted that many fine and impressive people belong to the Prelature. Nonetheless, they are programmed not to question the intentions of the internal hierarchy, and to obey their superiors rigorously. To the non-initiated, this might seem unsettling. But Opus Dei seeks to reassure doubters by stressing, 'We have no aims outside the pastoral or doctrinal sphere. Specifically, we have no political or economic agenda, or any means of carrying one out.' [3]

In all objectivity I intend to demonstrate that this is not an accurate affirmation. But first let us trace the development of Opus Dei from its founding in 1928 to the present and seek to place the organization in a historical and social context, formulated without bias and free of the hagiography and admiring subjectivity of the 'official' documentation promoted by the Prelature.

One of the things that surprised me while researching this book was the fear expressed by some ex-members and their families when talking about 'the Work'. I was warned that by pushing my own enquiries too far I might place myself in jeopardy. Never, however, was I conscious of being menaced, and my relations with the Prelature remained courteous though distant. Nevertheless, I found myself wandering through a world of deceit and dissimulation, crowded with holy manipulators and regulated by unscrupulous interests. As the story unravelled, I found it punctuated by a score of sudden, untimely and often violent deaths: a Spanish Nationalist official who wanted to bring a charge of treason against one of the Founder's first disciples, a Swiss priest who threatened to expose the Vatican's financial misdealings, a former Spanish foreign minister, six bankers, a shadowy London antiques dealer, a Russian metropolitan suspected of being a KGB agent, a cardinal who opposed Opus Dei's transformation into a Personal Prelature and a pope who favoured artificial birth control. Some were apparently explainable, others not at all.

Now I am not a public prosecutor, and there are limits to which private citizens can pursue complex investigations. But I have heard the stories of families torn apart by the Prelature's recruiting practices and of former members who were harassed after leaving the organization and who suffered severe 'withdrawal' problems. The organization's attempts to explain away these cases were frankly unconvincing and frequently lacked compassion. The evidence and affidavits made available to me have left me with an uneasy feeling that Opus Dei, because it operates with lack of oversight and engages in activities not commonly associated with religious organizations, constitutes a danger to the Church. People driven by fundamentalism have never been 'led by responsibility, by responsible love', but by strong, deeply felt emotions and a singleminded belief that they possess all the answers.



1. Alan Cowell, 'The Pope's Plea to Sudan', New York Times Service, International Herald Tribune, 11 February 1993.

2. They are Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Tadjikistan, Turkmenia and Uzbekistan.

3. Andrew Soane, Director, Opus Dei Information Office UK, 24 March 1995.
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Postby admin » Thu Oct 22, 2015 9:16 am

1. Causes of Saints

Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

-- Matthew 10:16

ROME HAD RARELY SEEN ANYTHING LIKE THE MID-MAY 1992 INFLUX of pilgrims for a gala beatification that paralysed traffic for days, causing greater mayhem than usual in a city that often knows little else. All hotel rooms had been booked for months in advance. Charter flights landed at Fiumicino airport every few minutes carrying Catholics from sixty countries. More than 200 flights came from Spain alone. Meanwhile 2,500 buses from every corner of Europe converged on Via della Conciliazione, leading from Castel Sant' Angelo to St. Peter's Square. And a pair of cruise ships had anchored off Ostia with a full complement of South American pilgrims who during one week were bussed up to Rome daily.

The size of the turnout for raising to the altars one of the Church's most dedicated servants had surprised even the experts, and for the Vatican's right wing it offered heartening evidence that conservative Catholicism was alive, indeed thriving, and certainly thronging. No gathering quite so large had been seen in front of St. Peter's since June 1944, when Rome celebrated with delirium its liberation from Hitler's legions. The current celebration was not for the defensor urbis et salvator civitatis, Pius XII, who died in 1958 and still had not been beatified, but for one of his lesser domestic prelates. His name was Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, the founder of Opus Dei. Escriva had begun his lifetime of service to the Church as an ordinary Spanish priest. He died in 1975, when seventy-three, in his office at the Villa Tevere, across the Tiber in Viale Bruno Buozzi, less than five kilometres from the Vatican, and though not even a bishop he held more power than most cardinals.

On the third Sunday in May 1992, John Paul II would confer the rank of Blessed upon him, a distinction that placed the Spanish prelate in the waiting room of saints. Such a spiritual honour was cause for great rejoicing among Opus Dei's 80,000 members and the thousands of others -- according to Opus Dei, they could be counted in the millions -- from every walk of life who, thanks to the Founder, had encountered Christ. During his own lifetime, Escriva had encouraged his followers to call him 'Father'. Now he was their Father in Heaven where, assured Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, Escriva's successor as head of Opus Dei, 'he' continues to concern himself with all his children'. [1]

Several ecclesiastic authorities have stated that this mystical and even thaumaturgical priest had done more to restore and strengthen the Catholic faith than any other since St. Ignatius of Loyola. For these same authorities, it was a matter of grace that Josemaria Escriva should be beatified in near record time -- not quite seventeen years after his death -- as even in death he continued through miracles to recast the aura of mystery enveloping the Catholic Church. Furthermore John Paul II was said to be determined to push through Escriva's canonization during what remained of his pontificate. But why such haste? The record for speedy canonizations is held by Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury who was murdered in 1170 and made a saint twenty-six months later. 'But that was a political job if ever there was,' commented Professor Terence Morris of Winchester, a student of fast sainthoods. The same could be said of the Escriva affair. It was another 'political job'.

John Paul II believed without exaggeration that the Church of Rome was confronted with its most serious crisis since the Protestant Reformation. Papal authority was under attack. He blamed much of the dissension on the Second Vatican Council. Ever since, there had been insubordination and rebellion among the clergy. Leftist-inspired Liberation Theology and notions of a Cosmic Christ were threatening the established orthodoxy. The Pope's authority to appoint the bishops he wanted was roundly contested in many of the more influential dioceses. The role of women was being re-examined against his will, the use of condoms openly recommended by some bishops, and the obligation of celibacy challenged. While dissension reigned within, from without he saw a threat in the worldwide reawakening of Islam.

Under these circumstances, Opus Dei was a valued ally. And so, John Paul II accepted the thesis that Escriva had founded his Obra with divine assistance, the result of the Aragonese priest's ability to commune with God. The 'divine inspiration' had come, in 1928, at a time when the social structure of Spain was facing dislocation. Ideologically, the inspiration was authoritarian. Opus Dei had thrived under Franco. Opus Dei's leadership, one is left to conclude, was only too aware that even the most guileful of strategies is of itself useless unless backed by power and authority to implement it. Opus Dei knows how to create an illusion and it has amassed considerable power. Beatification of the Founder -- and hopefully his later canonization -- was part of that illusion, for it demonstrated papal approbation and proved it was at the centre of power within the Church. It was understandable, therefore, that as preparations for the Sunday ceremony progressed towards their culmination, the mood at the Opus Dei headquarters in Viale Bruno Buozzi bordered on ecstasy. Only one worrisome hitch existed. The Italian police had been told that the military arm of ETA, the Basque separatist organization, was planning to kidnap the remains of Father Escriva and hold them to ransom. ETA was the most experienced terrorist organization in Europe. But it was said to be short of funds and so Opus Dei, which it accused of flagrant ostentation, seemed a natural target. [2]

The Italian police took the threat seriously. Although the list of ETA atrocities was long, its most spectacular act had been to place a bomb in the centre of Madrid, a few days before Christmas 1973, which blasted Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, the Spanish premier, along with his car, clear over a five-storey building onto the balcony of another building in the next street, killing him, his chauffeur and his bodyguard. Carrero Blanco had been Opus Dei's protector, appointing ten of its members to his last cabinet, while another five of his nineteen ministers were known Opus Dei supporters. His assassination had curtailed -- though not for long -- Opus Dei's political influence, and this only months before General Franco was due to hand over the reins of state to the future king, Juan Carlos de Borbon.

Notwithstanding the new ETA threat, on the Thursday before the beatification ceremony the remains of the Founder were removed from the prelatic church in the Villa Tevere and transported to the imposing Basilica of Sant' Eugenio, at the western end of Viale Bruno Buozzi. The simple hardwood coffin, covered by a red mantle and surrounded by thickets of freshly cut roses, was placed on a catafalque in front of the altar where it was to remain on public view during the entire week of celebrations and afterwards returned in public procession to the Villa Tevere for its encasement inside a reliquary under the altar of the prelatic church. The ETA threat never materialized.

From dawn on the appointed Sunday, under a ceramic blue sky, the air scented with pinewood from the Vatican gardens, St. Peter's Square began to fill with pilgrims. L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, estimated their number at 300,000. Raised six steps above the paving stones, the papal dais was covered by a golden canopy to provide shade for the frail Pope. No less than forty-six cardinals were on hand to assist him and more than 300 bishops. Among the pilgrims were Santiago Escriva, the Founder's younger brother, Giulio Andreotti, the Italian senator-for-life who had been seven times premier, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The two-and-a-half hour ceremony was transmitted live by Italian television to networks in thirty countries, mainly in Latin America.

Beatified alongside Father Escriva was a former slave woman, Josephine Bakhita, whose heroic virtues had been hitherto unknown to the world. She was a Dinka from southern Sudan, born in 1869. At the age of ten she had been carried off by slave traders who sold her into a lifetime of misery. The last of her four masters, a Turkish army officer, had offered her as a gift to the Italian consul in Istanbul. The consul brought her to Venice where she became a nun, living in a convent until her death in 1947. At the very moment the Pope conferred the title of Blessed on them giant tapestries fixed to the facade of St. Peter's were unfurled to reveal their larger-than-life portraits. A roar of applause broke out and spontaneously the crowd started singing Christus vincit.

Behind the pomp and ritual was an extremely serious message. Wherever the Church of Rome turned in search of new souls she was confronted by a rising Islam, whose leadership, though divided, was relatively rich and resolute. With 1,200 million adherents compared to 965 million Catholics, Islam was growing fast. It had become the second largest religion in France, Italy and Spain. Immigration and proselytizing was adding daily to its numbers throughout Europe and the Americas. More than 5 million Muslims lived in the United States, 5 million in France, 3.5 million in Germany, 2 million in Britain, 1 million in Italy. These figures, however, represented little more than informed guesswork as the flood of illegal aliens made it impossible for legislators to count accurately the number of Muslims moving into the heartlands of Europe and America.

The significance of the Vatican's message was in the identity of the two people chosen for beatification. Sister Josephine Bakhita had been converted by force to Islam and then, freedom restored, had chosen Christianity. Christians in southern Sudan, the Dinkas in particular, were being persecuted by Islamic fundamentalists from the north. News of her beatification was banned by Khartoum. Nevertheless, she became a symbol of hope for oppressed Christians and a warning to Khartoum that the 'harvest of suffering' in the south could turn against it. Nine months later, the Pope would make his visit to Khartoum.

As for Blessed Josemaria, after Communism he would have viewed Islam as the most serious threat to the Church. Coming from Upper Aragon, concern for the Moor was part of his heritage. Escriva's successor, Alvaro del Portillo, had seen the outbreak of sectarian war in the Balkans as a sign that Islam was again surging westwards, edging Europe closer to the abyss.

Seen from another angle, hurrying the Founder down the road to sainthood fitted perfectly into John Paul II's preparations for the Great Jubilee he planned at the end of the second millennium. He believed that canonizations showed the vitality of the Church in modern times. Making Escriva a saint was like presenting Christ with a trophy, proof that 2,000 years after His ascension there were still believers who followed His footsteps to the point of perfection. This was esoteric logic of a sort that not everyone could accept or comprehend. Indeed, to many outside the faith the custom of elevating departed servants to heavenly councils might seem a little strange, not to say unreal, and irrelevant to the worship of God. But inside the Vatican the making of saints is a serious business. Those raised to the honours of the altars -- Vatican-speak for beatification -- become icons of faith. At a time when the Church is losing priests icons of faith are sorely needed. During the previous twenty-four years, since 1969 in fact, more than 100,000 men had left the priesthood, with the result that by the early 1990s, 43 per cent of all Catholic parishes had no-one to administer the sacraments. [3]

In the earliest days, a saint was someone who died for his faith. The first was Stephen, a Greek-speaking Jew chosen by the apostles to care for poor widows in the church at Jerusalem. Stephen was arrested for heresy and brought before the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish council of the time. At the end of a brave but perhaps unwise speech in his own defence he accused the Jewish leaders of killing God's son. For this blasphemy he was stoned to death.

With Emperor Constantine's Edict of Milan (323), unrestricted Christian worship was authorized throughout the empire and the harvest of martyrs significantly decreased, and so saint-making criteria underwent a first important change. Thereafter, saints were mainly recruited from among the leading patriarchs. The first thirty-six popes were made saints, along with a number of outstanding monks and even the occasional hermit. Later, in the Middle Ages, it became fashionable to raise the founders of religious orders to sainthood. But it was only in the fourteenth century that the procedure known as 'canonization' -- the inscribing of a name on the canon, or list, of saints -- was finally conceived. Concurrently appeared the distinction between beati -- those venerated locally or within a religious order -- and sancti -- those canonized by the Pope as figures worthy of universal veneration.

The saint-making procedures underwent further refinement in 1588, when Sixtus V, the so-called 'Iron Pope' and architect of the modern Curia, remodelled the Roman Church's central government, creating fifteen Congregations -- the Vatican's equivalent to government ministries. Each Congregation was henceforth headed by a cardinal. Six of the newly created Congregations oversaw the Church's secular administration, and the rest supervised spiritual affairs. Among them was the Congregation of Rituals, which was made responsible for canonizations. By the reign of Urban VIII (1623-44) the power of the Pope had become so strong that veneration which failed to receive his nihil obstat -- literally, no opposition -- was forbidden. Not until 1917, however, were the procedures for canonization formally incorporated into canon law -- the law of the Church. New canonizations remained quite rare and were subject to a painstaking investigative process. For 500 years, no more than 300 new saints were placed on the canon, and the procedures changed little until 1983, when John Paul II completely overhauled them.

The person John Paul II chose to implement his reforms was Cardinal Pietro Palazzini, an ultra-conservative and staunch ally of Opus Dei. He had worked with Father Escriva and was a frequent dinner guest of the Founder's successor. Knowing that Escriva's cause for sainthood was high on Opus Dei's agenda, John Paul II's choice of Palazzini as Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints was therefore unusual. As a hardened professional of the Curia, Palazzini had been around the Vatican for what seemed like forever. He had joined the Curia under Pius XII, been promoted archbishop by John XXIII, and continued to rise in the hierarchy until receiving his cardinal's hat from Paul VI. The aims of the 1983 overhaul which John Paul II asked him to implement were threefold: to make canonization less costly, more rapid and more productive for the Church.

The rules governing the saint-making process when Father Escriva died required a five-year pause from the date of death before a candidate's cause could be introduced. Every candidate for sainthood must have a sponsor, whose first step is to petition the local bishop, referred to in ecclesiastical language as the Ordinary. If the Ordinary accepts that the cause has merit, he initiates what is known as a 'Process Ordinary'. It is designed to furnish the Congregation for the Causes of Saints with all the necessary material to make a final decision. In addition to a biography and list of witnesses, the petition has to be accompanied by a number of letters from religious and civil authorities praising the candidate's attributes. Normally, a postulator (literally, one who demands or nominates for election) is appointed for the Roman phase of the proceedings -- that is, after the Ordinary has submitted his Positio. But Opus Dei was in a hurry.

Escriva's remains had hardly been laid to rest in the prelatic church when Alvaro del Portillo called in one of Opus Dei's most effective media experts, Father Flavio Capucci, and asked him to become postulator general -- in other words, the project coordinator. With its all-encompassing foresight, Opus Dei had added Capucci's name sometime before to the Congregation's list of acceptable postulators. Father Capucci had known the Founder personally and as a former editor of Studi Cattolici, a religious magazine published by Opus Dei in Milan, he had interviewed Karol Wojtyla when he was still Archbishop of Cracow. Portillo gave Capucci two years to prepare a postulation file that would be presented to the Ordinary once the cause was officially launched. Opus Dei hoped to have Escriva's beatification wrapped up by 1990, and his canonization in the bag before the end of the millennium.

Shortly after Capucci's appointment, Opus Dei priests began visiting episcopal sees around the world, asking bishops and cardinals for letters supporting Escriva's cause. While this was being done, a decision was taken on which Ordinary to petition. Normally a sponsor should petition the Ordinary of the candidate's 'home diocese', in Escriva's case Saragossa, where he had been ordained. But, except for a few weeks, he had hardly undertaken any pastoral duties there. The first twenty years of his pastoral mission were spent in Madrid. In 1947, however, Opus Dei had moved its headquarters to Rome, so Opus Dei's hierarchy opted in favour of the Ordinary of Rome. The choice was made with good reason. The Ordinary of Rome is the Pope, and he was well disposed to Opus Dei. The, Ordinary of Rome operates in diocesan affairs through his vicar. At the time, the vicar of Rome was Cardinal Ugo Poletti, a long-time friend of Father Escriva. And so, on 14 February 1980 -- five months short of the minimal five-year waiting period -- Don Alvaro del Portillo formally requested Cardinal Poletti to open the beatification proceedings. The petition was accompanied by the file compiled by Father Capucci. The file contained the seven books and collections of homilies written by the Founder during his lifetime, and 6,000 laudatory letters from religious and civil authorities throughout the world. These included 69 cardinals, 241 archbishops and 987 bishops -- one-third of the world episcopacy -- while among the civil authorities who praised Escriva's saintliness was Italy's pre-eminent post-war statesman Giulio Andreotti.

Cardinal Poletti officially accepted to launch Escriva's candidature for sainthood one year later. Since most Opus Dei members lived in Spain, the bulk of the investigative work would have to be undertaken from Madrid. The vicar of Rome, therefore, requested that the Process Ordinary be opened simultaneously in the two capitals. This was done in May 1981. Opus Dei provided a list of witnesses who had personally known the Founder and who could address the question of his saintliness 'from birth until death'. The postulator general also turned over a list of people considered 'manifestly hostile to the cause' and therefore not objective witnesses. The Rome and Madrid diocesan tribunals held a total of 980 sessions and took evidence from 92 witnesses, half of them Opus Dei members. The transcripts ran to 11,000 pages.

To be eligible for sainthood a candidate must have caused the posthumous occurrence of at least two miracles. Authentication by the Congregation of a first miracle permits the candidate to be beatified. Only after authentication of a second miracle can sainthood be accorded. In more recent years, the task of authenticating miracles has been the mandate of the Consulta Medica, a group of sixty medical experts. All men, all Italians living in Rome, half are practising specialists and half are department heads of a medical faculty. On average they examine forty cases a year. They approve less than half. They are sworn to secrecy and each of them receives a fee of $500 per expertise.

In Escriva's case, a group of Spanish medical experts first sifted through Opus Dei's records of several thousand purported miracles kept at the regional vicariat in Madrid. One was selected. It had taken place in 1976, one year after the Founder's death. The fateful event that provided the key for the Founder's beatification was the 'sudden, perfect and permanent healing' of a Carmelite nun, Sister Concepcion Boullon Rubio. The Opus Dei file related that she was on the threshold of death, afflicted by multiple, painful and spreading tumours, one of which had attained the size of an orange. Then seventy years old, the patient was resigned to death, but her fellow sisters began praying daily to Escriva for help. Defying scientific explanation, she was cured in a single night, once again being able to lead a normal life without requiring special medical attention. She was examined by the experts in 1982. She died on 22 November 1988 at eighty-two of an unconnected cause. The Consulta Medica accepted the Madrid panel's findings without question.

The investigative phase concluded, the Congregation's scribes then had the task of drafting the Positio super vita et virtutibus, a 6,000-page document that took three years to complete. One-third of the document concerned the testimony of witnesses. Almost half of the evidence presented came from Portillo and Javier Echevarria, Opus Dei's vicar general who had been a member since his mid-teens. Only two pages were given to Escriva's critics. In spite of this on 9 April 1990 the Congregation for the Causes of Saints announced its recognition of Father Escriva's heroic virtues, an important step on the way to sainthood. The decree was signed by the Congregation's new prefect, Cardinal Angelo Felici, as Cardinal, Palazzini -- who was about to turn eighty -- had retired. The Holy See announced that the findings of the Positio super vita permitted it to proceed with the beatification 'in all serenity'.

Not everyone shared this view. A few weeks later the Vatican press corps learned by an indiscretion that two of the nine judges on the Congregation's beatification panel had requested a suspension of the proceedings. This revelation was confirmed by L'Osservatore Romano one week before the beatification ceremony. It added, however, that when the relator general examined their reasons, and after consulting an 'ample and exhaustive' complement of information, he rejected the motions.

The leak to the press had left Father Capucci fuming. Speaking before the beatification, he emphasized that the ten-year investigation conducted by the saint-making Congregation had provided 'absolute proof of heroic exercise of virtue', [4] and dismissed allegations that the Prelature had set out to purchase Escriva's beatification, noting that this could hardly have been the case as the cost of the proceedings had not exceeded $300,000. [5]

Capucci was above all angered by a Newsweek article written by Kenneth L. Woodward. [6] Woodward charged that Opus Dei had broken the rules by pushing through the Founder's cause so quickly, and inferred that the Founder himself was hardly the sort of person to whom you would entrust your soul. Questions concerning the wisdom of proceeding with such a controversial beatification were not easily brushed aside. They came from cardinals and archbishops, and respected theologians. Most significant among them was the Archbishop Emeritus of Madrid, Cardinal Vicente Enrique y Tarancon, as much of the groundwork for the Positio ordinario had been completed during his archiepiscopacy. But Tarancon had shown at best lukewarm enthusiasm for the cause. In 1983 John Paul II transferred his archiepiscopal functions to a newly appointed cardinal, Angel Suguia Goicoechea, an unabashed Opus Dei supporter.

Tarancon said he failed to see the need for 'such unseemly haste', particularly when the beatification of John XXIII, whom he judged a more charismatic and providential figure, was progressing nowhere near as fast. By referring to Papa Roncalli, Tarancon went straight to the heart of the matter. Regarded by many Catholics as an extremely human pope, Roncalli was the initiator of the Second Vatican Council and it was well known that Escriva had harboured serious misgivings about the council. Escriva's quick elevation to sainthood, therefore, would be seen as a boost for pre-Vatican II orthodoxy, at the same time heralding a further move away from the reforms of the kindly Roncalli and his successor Paul VI.

Cardinal Tarancon's remarks widened an already open wound within the Church upon which Professor Juan Martin Velasco, one of Spain's leading theologians, was quick to throw salt. The beatification of Escriva was a 'scandal' that would 'weaken the credibility of the Church', he warned. [7]

'We cannot portray as a model of Christian living someone who has served the power of the state and who used that power to launch his Opus, which he ran with obscure criteria -- like a Mafia shrouded in white -- not accepting the papal magisterium when it failed to coincide with his way of thinking. Although Opus Dei's present leaders portray themselves as paladins of papal authority, it wasn't like that under Paul VI, at the time of the Council. Beatifying the "Father" means sanctifying the Father's Opus, including all its negative aspects: its tactics, dogmas, recruiting methods and manner of placing Christ in the midst of the political and economic arenas,' he said.

Velasco also cast doubt upon the credibility of Sister Concepcion Boullon Rubio's miracle, pointing out that the Rubio family was closely linked to Opus Dei. (Sister Concepcion's cousin, Mariano Navarro-Rubio, a minister of finance and governor of the Banco de Espana under Franco, was an Opus Dei supernumerary.) Adding more salt, Velasco disclosed that 'the team of medical experts formed to authenticate the miracle were from the University of Navarra, which belongs to Opus Dei.' [8]

Opus Dei claimed that the professor's remarks defamed not only Opus Dei but also the Pope. 'All phases foreseen under the applicable canons of law were scrupulously, respected [and] anyone who wished to be heard had only to send a written application to the [beatification] tribunal,' an Opus Dei statement maintained. To suggest that the medical panel belonged to Opus Dei was going too far. 'No medical expert from the University of Navarra was a member of the authentication board, which is part of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Two specialists from the University of Navarra did contribute to the medical file [that was supplied to the Consulta Medica] but their work was limited to purely technical aspects and absolutely separate from the judgement as to the inexplicable nature of the cure,' the statement said. [9]

This response amounted to an artful selection of reality. It neglected to mention, for example, that the president of the Consulta Medica was Raffaello Cortesini, a Roman member of Opus Dei. Professor of experimental surgery at the University of Rome, Dr Cortesini was, moreover, heading a project to open an Opus Dei teaching hospital in the Italian capital. In 1975 he had felt so moved by Father Escriva's death that he had written an obituary for the Italian newspaper Il Popola, describing the Founder as 'a man who loved freedom'. [10]

The revelations contained in Newsweek were almost too weird to be believed. Woodward had interviewed Father Vladimir Felzmann, a former Opus Dei priest. A British national of Czech origin, Felzmann had known Escriva while studying in Rome. He had lived at the Villa Tevere and worked on the translation into Czech of The Way, a collection of spiritual maxims written by the Founder when a young priest. Felzmann, who had devoted twenty-two years of his life to Opus Dei, had since become director of pilgrimages and youth chaplain for the archdiocese of Westminster, in London.

Felzmann disclosed that in November 1991 he had written to the Vatican's pro-nuncio in London, Archbishop Luigi Barbarito, stating that he wished to furnish the Congregation for the Causes of Saints with information he felt might at least delay the beatification. A few days later, Barbarito informed Felzmann in writing that his letter had been forwarded to Rome. Felzmann heard nothing more from Barbarito and never received a call from the Causes of Saints.

Three of the allegations made by Felzmann were particularly fascinating for they revealed a curious twist of mind for someone portrayed as having lived heroically the virtues of faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. Escriva once remarked to Felzmann that Hitler had been 'badly treated' by world opinion because 'he could never have killed 6 million Jews. It could only have been 4 million at the most'. Felzmann further noted that Escriva had felt such deep disgust for Vatican II's liturgical changes that he considered defecting to the Orthodox Church until discovering that their churches and congregations were 'too small for us'. Felzmann's third revelation -- that Escriva had an 'idiosyncratic concept' of the truth -- was so unexpected as to seem almost derisory. Felzmann insisted that Escriva's ethic had left an indelible mark upon the institution. Citing an example, he said parents were systematically 'tricked' concerning the vocations of their children. He also alleged that business deals involving what the Founder called pilleria (dirty tricks) were justified on the grounds that 'our life is a warfare of love, and for Opus Dei all is fair in love and war'.

In the matter of making saints, these were serious accusations. But Felzmann's disclosures were cast aside. Opus Dei described them as the work of a misfit attempting to justify his departure from a compassionate and caring family. The Opus Dei press office offered two reasons why Felzmann had not been called to testify. First, he did not really know Escriva. Second, Felzmann was 'inconsistent' because 'there are documents (the latest dated 1980 when Felzmann was 41 years old) in which he testifies to the Founder's outstanding virtues: love, humility, faithfulness to the Pope, etc. In Felzmann's own words, "He is a saint for today, a saint for ever".'

Abiding by the Founder's maxim that 'all is fair in love and war', Opus Dei employed every trick in the book, including trampling over people's reputations, to steamroller the beatification through. The case of Dr. John Roche, a lecturer in history of science at Oxford's Linacre College, illustrated the extremes to which it went. Roche had joined Opus Dei in Galway at 22 and remained a member from 1959 to 1973.

In September 1985, Roche wrote to Cardinal Bernadin Gantin, prefect of the Congregation of Bishops, expressing concern that 'if Monsignor Escriva were beatified, the resultant scandal could damage the credibility of the whole process of beatification'. He proposed to submit evidence.

Gantin's reaction was to ask the Vatican's nunciature in London to find out more about Roche. On 14 October 1985, the Vatican's charge d'affaires in London, Archbishop Rino Passigato, replied to the Congregation's secretary, explaining that Roche was 'affected by serious psychological disorders' and was most probably being exploited by 'third parties who have the perfidious intention of harming the Church and the Apostolic See by attacking Opus Dei and its Founder'. Roche had never met nor even spoken to Monsignor Passigato, and he denies having suffered from any such psychological disorders, so it is hard to imagine where the archbishop might have obtained his information.

When Roche received no reply, on 27 May 1986 he wrote to Cardinal Palazzini, who at that time was still overseeing the Causes of Saints. He told the cardinal he had a 'dossier on the life and works of the Founder of Opus Dei. It includes testimony from many former members who knew Monsignor Escriva personally, as I did.'

Palazzini replied promptly, pointing out that Roche had sent his letter to the wrong address, as the cause had not yet reached his Congregation. He suggested the letter should be re-addressed to Monsignor Oscar Buttinelli, an official with the Regional Tribunal for Latium at the Vicariat of Rome. As it turned out, Palazzini had already written to Buttinelli, warning him to expect an approach from Roche. 'For years, Signor Roche has been engaged in a campaign of calumnies against Opus Dei; any eventual information he might send you concerning the Servant of God will have to be weighed for its reliability,' Palazzini stated. [11]

Unaware of Palazzini's correspondence with Buttinelli, Roche was more than pleased by the cardinal's apparent interest. Confidently, he enclosed in his letter to Buttinelli a brief biographical note on himself and several remarks attributed to Escriva, intending them to be a preliminary sample of the information he could provide. Roche said Escriva frequently commented to those close to him that he 'no longer believed in Popes or Bishops, only in the Lord Jesus Christ,' and that 'the Devil was very high up in the Church'. As an example of Escriva's disdain for the post-Vatican II Church he cited an article appearing in Cronica, a confidential in-house publication, which stated: 'There is an authentic rottenness [within the Church], and at times it seems as if the mystical Body of Christ were a corpse in decomposition that stinks.' [12] Roche's letter was politely answered. He was told there was no need to send further material as the Congregation for the Causes of Saints 'knows all about you'. [13]

Of the nine judges on the beatification panel, eight were Italian, which was contrary to custom, which holds that a majority should be of the same nationality as the candidate. Monsignor Luigi de Magistris, director of the Vatican gaol, was one of the two who requested a suspension of the procedure because he wanted more light shed on Escriva's spiritual discernment. 'There were certain depositions which seemed excessive. Notably, one witness affirmed that Escriva was frequently in a state of ecstasy, particularly when travelling on trains,' he commented. He also thought it an abuse of privilege that Alvaro del Portillo, Escriva's confessor of thirty years, had been permitted to give evidence and asked -- to no avail -- that his 800 pages of testimony be excluded.

The other 'dissenting' judge was the only Spaniard on the panel, Monsignor Justo Fernandez Alonso, rector of the Spanish Church in Rome. He requested a suspension because he was disturbed that 'many witnesses had not been heard'. [14] The relator general dismissed both requests. The Vatican had decided that the procedure must go forward, and so forward it went.

In spite of Opus Dei's determination, what at first glance appeared to be a simple journey of an Aragonese cult figure towards sainthood had turned into a nightmare. No other beatification in recent times had engendered such controversy. For thousands, Escriva was an evident worker of miracles, while for others he was a charlatan. To make some sense of this contradiction and better understand the movement he founded a visit to Escriva's birthplace offers a good beginning.



1. In his homily at a Requiem Mass for Father Escriva on 26 July 1975, Monsignor del Portillo stated: 'Our Father is with God in our House in Heaven.' [Source: Opus Dei Newsletter No. I, p. 4, published by the Vice-Postulator of Opus Dei in Britain, 1989]

2. Opus Dei denied knowledge of this incident. When asked if it had received such a warning, its UK information officer replied, 'the answer is probably [sic] that there was no such warning'.

3. Patrick Welsh, 'Is Sexual Dysfunction Killing the Catholic Church?' The Washington Post, 8 August 1993.

4. William D. Montalbano, 'Pope to Beatify Controversial Spanish Priest', Los Angeles Times, 16 May 1992.

5. Patrice Favre, 'Le pape beatifie le Pere de l'Opus Dei', Le Courrier, Geneva, 16 May 1992.

6. The article appeared in 13 January 1992 edition of Newsweek. Kenneth L. Woodward has written a book, Making Saints - How the Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes A Saint, Who Doesn't and Why, Simon & Schuster, New York 1990.

7. Interview in Il Regno.

8. 'Beatification du fandateur de l'Opus Dei -- Toujours des polemiques a propos d'Escriva de Balaguer', APIC Bulletin No. 357, 23 December 1991.

9. 'L'Opus Dei de Belgique refute les "declarations polemiques" concernant la beatification de Mgr Escriva de Balaguer -- Une reponse aux assertions critiques du Professor Velasco', APIC Bulletin No. 8, 8 January 1992.

10. Salvador Bernal, Monsignor Josemaria Escrivta de Balaguer -- A Profile of the Founder of Opus Dei, Scepter, London 1977, p. 284.

11. Letter of Cardinal Pietro Palazzini to the Rev. Mgr Oscar Buttinelli, 10 June 1986.

12. Letter of Dr. John J. Roche to Mgr Oscar Buttinelli, 28 July 1986.

13. Perer Hebblethwaite. 'New evidence surfaces in Escriva canonization', National Catholic Reporter, Kansas City, 22 May 1992.

14. 'Une beatification au forceps', Golias No. 30, summer 1992 (Lyons), p. 90.
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2. Barbastro

To understand Opus Dei one needs to study the Founder.

-- Alvaro del Portillo

THE COAT OF ARMS OF BARBASTRO, WHERE ESCRIVA WAS BORN, represents the severed head of a bearded Moor, surrounded by five shields, under the crown of Aragon.

Barbastro is strategically near the Rio Vero's junction with the Cinca, a tributary of the Ebro, and down through the ages it has prospered as a market centre, lying amidst a broad, rolling plain of golden wheat fields and green orchards. Over the troubled centuries of Spanish nationhood, Barbastro quietly grew, so that by the time of Don Jose Escriva's marriage to Maria de los Dolores Albas y Blanc in the summer of 1898 -- the year of Spain's defeat in the Spanish-American war -- the town counted 7,000 souls, all Catholic and none of them particularly poor or downtrodden. [1]

Don Jose's family originally came from Narbonne in France at the time of the Christian reconquest of Spain from the Moors, and settled in Balaguer, a town in Lerida province, not far from Barbastro. In the 1800s his grandfather, a doctor, had moved to Fonz, a hilltop village overlooking the Rio Cinca. Dona Dolores's family owned a textile shop in Barbastro. When Don Jose moved from Fonz to Barbastro in 1894, he became a partner in the shop. He also opened a chocolate confectionery in the basement. Chocolates, neatly done up in bright little packages, seemed to suit his nature, which was cheerful and optimistic. He was a fastidious dresser, always freshly shaven, his handlebar moustache trimmed and twisted.

The newly married couple moved into a narrow four-storey house not far from the Argensola Palace, one of the oldest buildings in town. Their first child, Carmen, was born a year later. Hardly had Dona Dolores finished nursing Carmen than she was expecting her next child, born on the feast day of St. Julian, 9 January 1902. Four days later the infant was christened Jose Maria Julian Mariano in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption. His godfather was Mariano Albas, one of Dona Dolores's cousins who, like Don Jose's elder brother, Teodoro, was a priest.



At the turn of the century Spain remained anchored in the Middle Ages, separated from the rest of Europe not only by the Pyrenees but by a gulf of economic backwardness. Fabulously rich landowners with the same rights as feudal lords lived in the midst of land-hungry peasants. Agriculture, involving more than half the population, had not been freed from its medieval fetters. The Church, too, was marked by abrupt dividing lines: parish priests who were little better than beggars lived in near-hovels, while their bishops lived in palaces. The same phenomenon occurred in the army, with 500 generals receiving imperial salaries while lower ranking officers hardly earned enough to pay for food. Medical services were primitive and limited, but the churches were full.

When in 1904 Jose Maria became ill with high fever, the local doctor and a homeopath were summoned to the house. Neither was able to diagnose the ailment or prescribe a remedy. Giving the child only hours to live, they suggested a priest would be of more use. But Dona Dolores refused to accept their verdict. With stirring faith, she beseeched Our Lady of Torreciudad, whom she held in special devotion, to intercede for the infant, promising that if her prayers were met she would dedicate the child to the Lady's work. Hours later, Escriva's biographers tell us, the little Jose Maria was sleeping peacefully.

Jose Maria's recovery left Dona Dolores in debt to the Virgin. To make good her promise, she wrapped the child warmly and set off on horseback along the rough track to Torreciudad, in the mountains 24 kilometres away, to present him to Our Lady. Riding side-saddle, the infant in her arms, she forded the Cinca and climbed the high escarpment to a medieval beacon tower and rustic hermitage overlooking the gorge. Torreciudad had once been a Moorish outpost defending Barbastro's northern flank. Under the tower in olden times was a mosque. In 1084, when King Sancho Ramirez of Aragon recaptured Torreciudad, a wooden statue of the Madonna seated on a simple throne, the child Jesus in her lap, was placed in the mosque, henceforth transformed into a Marian shrine, and for the next 900 years Our Lady of Torreciudad continued to attract a strong local following.

Over the next five years, Dona Dolores bore three more daughters, but only Maria Asuncion, known in the family as Chon, survived beyond the second year. With two sisters in Heaven, the young Jose Maria believed that if he prayed to the Guardian Angels his parents and two remaining sisters would be protected. But in 1913 Chon fell ill and died shortly after her eighth birthday. It made a deep impression on the 11-year-old Jose Maria. He feared that he might be the next to go. But his mother reassured him. 'Don't worry. You've been put in the care of Our Lady of Torreciudad.' [2] She often repeated how he had been saved by the Virgin. 'Our Lady must have left you in this world for some great purpose, because you were more dead than alive,' she would tell him. [3] Now when a small boy hears his mother reaffirm this proposition over and over again with all the conviction in the world, whether he lives up to the expectation or not it remains lodged in his mind for a lifetime.

The Otals of Valdeolivos, who were local landowners, lived a few houses away. Their daughter, a playmate of Chon, recalled that one afternoon she and some of Jose Maria's friends were building castles with playing cards in the Escriva front room. Everyone was gathered around the table, holding their breath as the last cards were added to the structure, when suddenly Jose Maria toppled them with a sweep of his hand. 'That', he announced, 'is exactly what God does with people: they build a castle, and when it is nearly finished He pulls it down.' [4]

The premonition of a moody, semi-mystical child? Oddly enough, the house where the Escrivas lived was torn down in the 1960s -- not by the sweep of God's hand, but to make way for a more imposing Opus Dei women's residence and cultural centre dedicated to the Founder. One of Escriva's biographers, Peter Berglar, claimed in a revealing passage that the destruction of the house (and three adjoining houses) actually pleased the Founder, 'because he refused any idea of a cult being created around him'. [5] Nevertheless, to replace his birthplace with a much larger brickwork mansion, in the style of the Argensola Palace, might easily be interpreted as an intention of presenting a grander image of Escriva than fitted his rather modest beginnings.

No-one in Barbastro today remembers the young Escriva. The Founder's last surviving boyhood friend, Martin Sambeat, died in 1993. Therefore the most detailed image we have of him comes from the official biographies. They tell us that Jose Maria was a cheerful lad, who even had a touch of mischief in him, and that in spite of the deaths of three sisters, he continued to believe that families united in admiration of the saints enjoyed God's protection. To be sure, the family prayed the rosary together, sometimes in a private oratory belonging to the Otals. On Saturdays they would recite the Hail Holy Queen in the church of San Bartolome. Afterwards they might stroll down El Coso, the broad esplanade near the Cathedral, where Barbastrians still gather on summer evenings to sip the local wines at sidewalk cafes under a canopy of plane trees.

Barbastro was known for its religious rituals. For the celebration of Corpus Christi the narrow streets, decked with flowers and red carpets, were filled with robed processions and dancing. The same cast wearing different costumes assembled again for the Holy Week processions and, during the month of June, for the fiesta of San Ramon, the town's patron saint. Escriva's hagiographers maintain that the piety of Barbastro's citizens overflowed during these special occasions. But there were citizens of Barbastro such as the future revolutionaries Eugenio Sopena and Mariano Abad -- both approximately the same age as Jose Maria -- for whom these pious outpourings were odious.

It is unlikely that Jose Maria ever crossed their paths, for Sopena and Abad played in different worlds -- the garbage-strewn streets of the San Hipolito quarter. They would have stolen from the alms box if they could have. In sharp contrast, Jose Maria was as pious as a church mouse. But he did not see his boyhood piety as anything out of the ordinary. His mother had explained the Sacraments to him by the age of six. His first experience with the Eucharist -- the Holy Communion -- was in the Cathedral. With every visit to Our Lady of the Assumption, he became immersed in the mysteries it contained. Treasures were hidden there that could make a boy's mind spin. In the apse, behind the great altarpiece, was an oval aperture. Jose Maria's mother explained that behind its tinted glass Jesus was present, perpetually waiting for the young boy's adoration. [6]

While the rhythm of secular life in Barbastro, as in every other rural Spanish town of the day, was ruled by the religious calendar, times were changing. The town acquired a Masonic lodge -- the Triangulo Fermin Galan -- whose members were on the whole sympathetic to the idea that Spain would be better governed as a republic. Social tension was increasing in direct ratio to the degree of economic insecurity caused by the disastrous defeat of 1898, the resulting loss of Spain's last colonial possessions and an underemployed workforce suddenly swollen by the return of disbanded units from the lost colonies.

In spite of growing tensions, the social life of Barbastro's middle class remained rooted in the engaging Spanish tradition of the tertulia, informal get-togethers of friends of similar standing and interests. One was organized every Wednesday evening by the Parish Friendship Circle. It was an occasion for the town's leading merchants to meet to discuss local politics. Don Jose always turned up for the tertulia smartly dressed, with bowler hat and walking stick, wearing a caped overcoat when the season turned cold. Neither he nor any other member of the friendship circle would have considered venturing into one of the narrow taverns of the San Hipolito quarter where the working class drank. San Hipolito was lost in another Spain, a world apart, and as such quite unknown to them.



1. According to Annuario Pontifco 1992, the diocese of Barbastro covers 4,397 square kilometres and has a population of 31,590, of whom 140 are non-Catholic.

2. Francois Gondrand, At God's Pace, Scepter, London 1989, p. 30; and Andres Vazquez de Prada, El Fundador del Opus Dei, Ediciones Rialp, Madrid 1983, p. 51.

3. Peter Berglar, Opus Dei -- Life and Work of its Founder Josemaria Escriva, Scepter, Princeton, p. 12.

4. Bernal, Op. cit., p. 24.

5. Peter Berglar, L'Opus Dei et Son Fondateur Josemaria Escriva, p. 27, MamE, Paris, 1992. This passage was not included in the English translation published by Scepter in 1994.

6. Gondrand, Op. cit., p. 27.
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Postby admin » Thu Oct 22, 2015 9:18 am

3. Enemies of the Cross

Many ... live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction ...

-- Philippians 3:18-19

JOSE MARIA JULIAN MARIANO ESCRIVA Y ALBAS MADE HIS FIRST Communion on 23 April 1912, in the tiny church of San Bartolome. He had celebrated his tenth birthday three months before and since the age of seven had been attending the Piarist College, Barbastro's only secondary school. An old Piarist father, whom he later described as 'a good, simple and devout man', had prepared him for his Christian confirmation and taught him the formula for spiritual communion:

I wish, Lord, to receive you with the purity, humility and devotion with which your most Holy Mother received you; with the spirit and fervour of the Saints.

The words 'spirit and fervour of the Saints' held special meaning for him, for he and the other children of his class were being filled with the fervour of the great Spanish saints like Dominic Guzman and Ignatius of Loyola.

All of us in varying degrees are creatures of the cultures into which we are born. Jose Maria Escriva particularly was marked as a son of Aragon. Raised in a deeply Catholic environment, the joys and prejudices of his traditionalist upbringing shone through in everything he did. The ancient trauma of Aragon's Moorish occupation helped shape his everyday perceptions. Moreover, the Crusading movement, so important in understanding certain of his motivations, was in a sense born at Barbastro. Aragon's early warriors were hard mountain men but their souls were softened by an intense admiration of Our Lady, whose cult was widespread on the south side of the Pyrenees. Escriva's often brusque temperament was also moderated by the extravagant regard he paid the Virgin Mary. Above all, Renaissance Spain's concerns for purity of blood and religion were stamped upon his heart. This did not mean that he was closed to other races or religions. But he placed his faith in the Holy Trinity and he believed that there was only one key to the gates of salvation.

In exploring the world of Jose Maria Escriva's childhood, the Piarist College where he received his early schooling deserves special attention. Staffed by a dozen priests, it was not particularly large, with less than forty students, but it enjoyed considerable prestige. Jose Maria excelled at mathematics. Juventud, a magazine for and about the region's youth, reported that Master Escriva shared the first-year Bachillerato prize for arithmetic and geometry, and the following year he received special mention for religion and geography. [1] He developed an avid hunger for the legends of Spain's heroic past, a hunger which if anything grew stronger as he grew older.

But young Escriva's appreciation of Spanish culture would remain selective. Though in the circumstances that might seem natural, one nevertheless is left to wonder what the Piarist Fathers taught their charges about Spain's early history. Did they explain, for example, that in 1064 Barbastro had been the site of a Muslim massacre despite a solemn papal promise of safe passage, all for the sake of greed? That would seem unlikely.

Before the Moors came to Aragon, the Visigoths had been in the Iberian peninsula for 300 years, with their capital at Toledo. They ruled through a military aristocracy that became increasingly irrelevant as amongst themselves the Visigoth nobles could never agree about anything. To the south of the Visigoth kingdom, in North Africa, lay the westernmost outpost of the Byzantine Empire, the County of Ceuta and Tangier. In the early eighth century it was administered by Count Julian of Ceuta. He was nominally allied with Roderick, the Visigoth king of Spain. As Julian was cut off from Constantinople by the Moorish wave that spread across North Africa, he sent his daughter to be educated at Roderick's court. Roderick was struck by her beauty and attempted to court her. She rejected him. One night after a palace feast, Roderick raped her.

When informed of his daughter's deflowering, Julian went to Musa, the Emir of Qairwan, capital of the Maghreb, as the Arabs called northernmost Africa, and proposed an alliance to invade the Visigoth kingdom. Musa wanted Julian to demonstrate the enterprise's viability by leading a preliminary incursion himself, which Julian did, enlisting a small Berber force to assist him. He ferried the Berbers across the straits to Tarifa. When they returned to Tangier at the end of the summer, their galleys were loaded to the gunwales with loot.

A year later Musa followed up Julian's initial success by sending a 12,000-man expedition across the straits. The Moors landed this time farther to the east, in the lee of a rock they called Gebel Tariq -- Mountain of Tariq (and later known as Gibraltar) in honour of their general. The arrival of the Moors caught Roderick off guard and he hastened south with an army said to number 100,000. In 711, Tariq's outnumbered troops defeated Roderick in a battle along the Barbate River, and the Visigoth nation departed from history's stage.

A 100,000 Moors now settled in Spain and the teaching of Islam spread. Within three years, Muslim armies had marched into France, and by 732 they had reached the banks of the Loire, where Charles Martel finally dealt them a shattering defeat. Though expelled from France, Muslim control of all but northernmost Spain remained intact. They established their capital at Cordoba. They set standards for tolerance unmatched by any society in Europe, except perhaps the eastern empire of Byzantium. Under the Emirate of Cordoba, Moorish Spain grew strong, and the cities of Cordoba, Seville, Malaga and Toledo were said to outshine any in western Europe.

Towards the middle of the tenth century the emir of Cordoba invaded the last remaining Christian lands in northern Spain -- the Marches (Catalunya), Navarra and Leon -- and forced them to pay an annual tribute. But after his death in 961 the Christian princes stopped paying and in retaliation the emir's successor, Mohammed ibn Abi-Amir, surnamed Almanzor the Victorious, sacked the capital of Leon. A year later Almanzor plundered Santiago de Compostela -- an unpardonable outrage as Santiago, said to be the burial place of the Apostle James, was one of Christendom's most revered sites. At that time it ranked third as a place of pilgrimage, after Jerusalem and Rome.


As communications broke down during the Dark Ages, the Western Church became increasingly localized. Distant dioceses, remote from papal control, led their own existence, often submerging themselves in corruption and petty politics. According to Gibbon, by the tenth century the Church of Rome had reached her lowest ebb. [2] Reform, when it came, was through the monastic movement, of which the father was St. Benedict (c.480-c.550). He became the first to bring into popular use the phrase opus Dei.

Benedict believed that personal sanctity could only be achieved by promoting God's work -- opus Dei -- while observing the monastic vows of obedience, celibacy and poverty, which he largely defined as the complete absence of personal possessions. [3] In the Middle Ages, the Benedictine Rule transformed monasteries that had become dens of narrow-mindedness into centres of learning and hospitality. It placed heavy responsibility on the abbot. He was selected through democratic process. Once installed in office, however, he was vested with near totalitarian authority. Abbots were not elected for life but for fixed terms. The danger that they might abuse their power was guarded against by making them accountable after their retirement from office. With Benedict's reforms, the monastic movement provided the impetus for renovation within the Church.

Four hundred years after Benedict's death, the monks at Cluny, in central France, began to develop the pilgrimage as a political instrument. They noted that mass travel to the holy places -- what Opus Dei today calls 'religious tourism' -- could be used to reinforce Christian faith in lands threatened by Muslim domination. Thus the monks of Cluny began to promote pilgrimage as a Christianizing force. By the beginning of the eleventh century Cluny maintained the roads that led across Europe to the great Spanish shrines of Saragossa (still in Moorish hands) and Santiago de Compostela, and began to popularize organized pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Cluny now assumed a direct role in defending Spanish Christendom and preserving Christian access to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. But transforming peaceful pilgrimage into a platform for launching military expeditions against Islam presented theological problems.

Encouraging Christian princes to follow the Cross in a warlike enterprise infringed upon fundamental concepts of ethics and morality. But was a Christian not entitled to fight for his Creed? In 1063, Ramiro I of Aragon decided most definitely yes and began marshalling Christian forces at Graus, not far from Barbastro, for an attack on Emir Ahmed of Saragossa. Ramiro's first objective was Barbastro, held by a small garrison of Moorish troops. However, before the attack could be launched Ramiro was stabbed to death by a Muslim who had infiltrated the Christian camp. Europe was enraged. Pope Alexander II (1061-73) promised indulgence for all who fought for the Cross in Spain and set about raising an army to carry on Ramiro's work.

The campaign against the emir of Saragossa preceded the First Crusade to the East by more than thirty years. The army of Sancho Ramirez, son of the murdered Ramiro I, was joined by knights from Aquitaine, Burgundy, Lombardy, Normandy and Tuscany. The campaign began and ended in 1064 with the siege of Barbastro, which lasted forty days. It would have gone on longer but was lifted in August when Alexander II promised that everyone in the town would be spared if they laid down their arms. Upon receiving a papal guarantee of safe passage, the outnumbered garrison surrendered. The Muslims were told to assemble outside the town gates with their possessions so that they could be escorted towards Saragossa. But when the Christian troops saw the extent of the wealth passing through their hands they slaughtered every man, woman and child, and made off with the booty. The butchery committed at Barbastro moved the Muslim princes throughout the rest of Spain to take revenge. Retaliation brought counter-retaliation. Intolerance bred counter-intolerance in a spiral of fundamentalist fury.

By entrusting Aragon to Pope Alexander II's feudal care, Sancho Ramirez acquired the necessary military backing to broaden his attacks against the princes of Islam. The military expeditions of his brother, Alfonso VI of Castile, received the full-hearted approval of Pope Gregory VII, who became preoccupied with the idea of mounting a military Crusade to the East, but died before he had time to launch it.

Gregory had been edging towards a doctrine that would encourage European knights to journey to the frontiers of Christendom to fight against Islam. As reward for taking the Cross they were allowed to keep whatever lands they seized by force of arms, which became an excuse for holy larceny on a grand scale, and they were promised spiritual benefits as well. But more significant, the papacy now took over direction of the Holy Wars, launching them as an extension of Vatican foreign policy, naming their commanders and placing a papal legate at their head.

Five years after the massacre at Barbastro, almost 4,000 kilometres to the east the Seljuk Turks appeared on the fringes of Armenia and routed the Byzantine emperor Romanus IV at Manzikert. Asia Minor -- Christendom's most prosperous province -- fell to the invaders. The scale of the disaster at Manzikert was scarcely imaginable at the time. The Christian empire in the East was vastly more powerful than any other state. Its capital, Constantinople, sat astride the richest trade routes, making it the unrivalled financial and commercial metropolis of the world. It controlled the Mediterranean with an unmatched navy. And it possessed a dedicated and efficient civil service which administered territories from Calabria to the Caucasus.

The source of Byzantium's wealth was in Asia Minor. It was rich in natural resources and its peasants were both free and hard-working. Its cities were populated by merchants and artisans who exported their goods to Constantinople, from where they were sold to the world at large. Asia Minor was where the bulk of the empire's taxes and the largest levies for its armies were raised. Separated from its economic backbone, Byzantium was doomed. But death would be another 400 years in coming.

The Seljuks had embraced Islam before their appearance at Manzikert. They were followed by a horde of Turkoman nomads, travelling lightly armed, with their families and livestock, making for the upland prairies of which Asia Minor is well supplied. The Christians abandoned their villages and farms to be burnt by the invaders. Realizing no force opposed them, the Seljuks imposed their own laws and customs. They quickly overran the coastal cities of Smyrna and Ephesus and the more northerly centre of Nicaea. The sword of Islam severed Asia Minor from the Christian way. The change was abrupt. Only a few years before, the Christian Mediterranean had seemed a secure place, poised for years of peace. In spite of the wars against the infidel in Spain, Muslim and Christian in the eastern Mediterranean had learned to co-exist and trade with each other. At the same time the monks of Cluny had ushered in the great age of pilgrimage, sending thousands of European Christians to the Holy Land each year. But with the Seljuk eruption into Asia Minor, this religious traffic virtually dried up. More than anything else, the Seljuk victory at Manzikert hastened the coming of the Crusades.

The Cluniacs had fired a Christian longing to visit the eastern holy places, and now debated ways of re-establishing the pilgrim traffic. They finally decided that a Crusader movement would be a just and moral means for countering Islam's rise and they explained their doctrine to Pope Urban II, himself a former Grand Prior of Cluny. [4]

In 1095 Urban II was about to journey to France when he received a delegation from Alexius I, the new Byzantine emperor. Alexius was losing ground to the Seljuks and beseeched Urban to send him a force of Western knights. Urban did not reply immediately. As he travelled north to Clermont in France, where he had convened a Church council for that autumn, he struggled with the idea of calling a Holy War to open the way to Jerusalem. Finally, when the council assembled in November he proclaimed the First Crusade, which he portrayed as an armed pilgrimage to restore the Holy sites to Christendom's control.

Urban died in 1099, two weeks after the investiture of Jerusalem by the Crusaders. Almost eight centuries later, in 1881, he was beatified. But Urban might not have been pleased had he lived long enough to learn how the Christian armies had sacked the Holy City. After breaching the walls, the Crusaders rushed through the streets, into houses and mosques, killing men, women and children alike. All through the first night the massacre continued. Those who sought sanctuary in the al-Aqsa Mosque on Temple Mount were slaughtered like sheep.

When not a single Muslim or Jew was left to be slain the Crusaders offered thanks to God in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Some years later the Christian military orders were founded. The idea for a brotherhood that was both religious and military came from a penniless Burgundian knight who in 1118 decided to devote his life to protecting pilgrims. He and a friend took vows of celibacy and set out to win recruits. The same year that Alfonso I of Aragon reconquered Saragossa they persuaded King Baldwin of Jerusalem to give them a wing of the royal palace on Temple Mount as their headquarters. The Poor Knights of the Temple, as they became known, were backed by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a Cistercian who preached the Second Crusade. [5] The Templars grew into a cohesive military force and won great fame through their exploits. They had their own clergy, exempt from the jurisdiction of diocesan bishops, owing obedience only to the Templar Grand Master, who in turn reported to the Pope.

The Templars participated in most of the great Crusader battles. But their rashness led to a disastrous defeat. In 1187 a Christian army under King Guy de Lusignan and Grand Master Gerard de Ridford was trapped by the Muslim leader Salah al-Din (Saladin) in Galilee. The King and Grand Master were spared, but all Templar knights who survived the battle were beheaded. Three months later, after only eighty-eight years in Christian hands, Jerusalem fell to Saladin. Not a building was looted, not a person harmed. Upon payment of an exit tax, the city's Christian inhabitants were permitted to leave. They streamed slowly to the coast with their possessions, unmolested, in remarkable contrast to the fate of the Muslims at Barbastro.

Opus Dei historians do not tell us what the young Escriva thought of these events. We do know, however, that he was an admirer of the Knights Templar. Several of their practices would be incorporated into Opus Dei's norms and customs when, later, they came to be set to paper. That the Templars almost took over as rulers of Aragon was undoubtedly known to him, since the Templar headquarters in Spain were situated at Monzon, a small town not far from Barbastro.

The near cession of Aragon to the Templars came about in the twelfth century when Alfonso I died without issue and bequeathed the kingdom to the Knights Templar. Rather than accept the Templars as their masters, the nobles persuaded Alfonso's brother, Ramiro the Monk, to take the crown. As Ramiro III, the new king's first duty was to marry, which he did, and within the year he sired a daughter, Petronella. Having thus performed his national service in the matrimonial bed, the pious Ramiro wanted to return to monastic life. But the nobles insisted he wait at least until his infant daughter had reached an age when she could be respectably married. This occurred shortly after her second birthday; Petronella was given in marriage to Raymond Berengar IV of Barcelona, a warrior count in his forties. The nuptials were celebrated in Barbastro. Only then did Ramiro return to monastic life. Shortly afterwards, Catalunya was attached to the Kingdom of Aragon.

As the new king of Aragon, Raymond Berengar compensated the Knights Templar by giving them the town of Monzon. There they turned a former Moorish fort into one of the most extensive military works in Spain. Master Escriva knew the fortifications well, having explored them on visits to his grandmother at nearby Fonz. The concept of celibate Christian warriors sworn to obedience and secrecy fired his imagination.

After the fall of Jerusalem, only seven more Crusader campaigns were dignified with a numeric prefix, signifying that they enjoyed papal approbation. The Third Crusade (1189-92) was led by Richard I of England, Philip II of France and Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa. It resulted in a military fiasco but produced a five-year truce permitting unarmed pilgrims free access to the Holy Places.

The Fourth Crusade (1202-04) was diverted to attack Byzantium for the benefit of Venice and was the most wicked. The Crusaders' looting, arson and murder that followed their capture of Constantinople horrified the world and once the rape was completed, they forgot about Jerusalem and proceeded to divide the Eastern empire among themselves.

The disaster of the Fourth Crusade weakened the defences of Christendom. The land route from Europe to the Holy Land became totally impassable and no armed expedition from the West would ever again attempt the journey across Asia Minor. Three years later King Andrew of Hungary obtained Papal approval to redress the situation by leading a Fifth Crusade. The objective was Egypt, regarded as the brawn and bowels of Muslim strength. However King Andrew achieved little and returned home with his army in 1218, transferring command of the remaining forces to Cardinal Pelagius of Spain. Pelagius took Damietta in November 1219, but after an abortive attack on Cairo he was forced to negotiate a truce and withdrew. The Sixth Crusade (1228-29), led by Emperor Frederick II, produced the Treaty of Jaffa, which again gave the Christians access to Jerusalem. The Seventh Crusade (1248-54) resulted in Louis IX of France capturing Damietta for a second time, but another attempt to seize Cairo failed and the French monarch was taken prisoner. He was released after the French treasury paid a ransom of 800,000 gold pieces to the Sultan.

Louis IX returned to North Africa in August 1270 at the head of the Eighth Crusade. But the endeavour was cut short when he died of the plague under the walls of Tunis. The Ninth and last true Crusade was led by Prince Edward of England. He landed at Acre on the Palestinian coast in May 1271 with a mere one thousand men. While drafting plans for a march into Galilee he was stabbed by a fanatical Muslim of the sect known as the Assassins and lay ill for several months before returning to England to become king. The Crusade as a militant Christian concept was by then debased. Once reserved for the fight against Islam, it had been co-opted for other papal designs. Spiritual rewards were promised to anyone willing to fight for Rome against whomever opposed papal policy, whether Greek, Albigensian or Turk.

After the fall of Acre in 1291, the Templars moved to Cyprus. There they devoted themselves to finance, becoming the West's chief money-lenders. As bankers, the Templars were scrupulously honest. They understood the value of capital gains and were shrewd evaluators of risk. As with Opus Dei seven centuries later, they became a major financial corporation within a remarkably short time, amassing more wealth and influence than many states and any other Christian enterprise of its day. However, Philip IV of France plotted to bring the Templars under his control and to confiscate their assets. He waited until the Grand Master Jacques de Molay came to France on an official visit. During the night of 13 October 1307 he had de Molay and sixty of his knights arrested on trumped-up charges of treason, sexual perversion and devil worship. Pope Clement V acceded to French pressure and dissolved the Order. Philip had the Grand Master burnt at the stake, the traditional punishment for heretics. As the flames rose around him, de Molay damned King and Pope for betraying God's trust and he called upon them to meet him within the year before God to answer for their crime. Clement V died within the month. Philip followed seven months later. His disbanding of the Knights Templar proved another serious blow to Christendom's defences. In little more than a decade the Turks made their first appearance in Europe, while Jerusalem became totally closed to pilgrim traffic.

After capturing Thrace and moving into the Balkans, in 1453 the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet reverted his attention to Constantinople and launched a final attack. During the night of 28 May, his Janissaries breached the Theodosian Walls and within hours the city was in Ottoman hands. After assuring that his troops committed no atrocities, nor desecrated a single monument, Mehmet converted Christendom's largest church, the Hagia Sofia, into a mosque and he changed the city's name to 'Stambool -- Istanbul.

With the disbanding of the Templars, the only Christian thorn remaining in the Ottoman flank was the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, also known as the Knights Hospitaller. As a Military Order like the Templars, they were bound by vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience. The eight-pointed cross on their scarlet tunics was symbolic of the eight beatitudes. Its four arms represented the four virtues -- Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude and Justice. Like the Templars, they had escaped from Acre, going first to Cyprus before establishing their headquarters on Rhodes. More than two centuries later, Sultan Suliman the Magnificent drove them from the island. As compensation, King Charles I of Spain (later Emperor Charles V) gave them the island of Malta as their ultimate retreat. But there too they would be threatened by Suliman who wanted Malta as a stepping stone for his planned attack on Rome.

Ottoman forces were by then at the gates of Vienna; the Sultan's beys ruled in Budapest and Belgrade, and in 1570 a Turkish force seized Cyprus. Pope Pius V requested Spain's help in forming a Holy League to defend Rome. The League raised a fleet under the command of Don John of Austria, illegitimate son of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Don John's previous assignment for the 'vice-regent of God', as his father was sometimes called, had been eliminating the Moors from the countryside around Granada, which he carried out with a guerra a fuego y a sangre (war by fire and blood), a sixteenth-century euphemism for ethnic purification. Now he went on to win the famous naval victory of Lepanto over the Turks.

Had the Ottomans won the Battle of Lepanto they would have ruled supreme in the Mediterranean. The Christian victory saved Rome.

Spain was then at the height of her power. A Spanish king was Holy Roman emperor and his armies were the Pope's enforcers. At home Spain was on the way to achieving purity of blood and faith. The process had begun well before Lepanto -- about the time Christopher Columbus set sail for the New World -- when Granada, Islam's last Andalusian stronghold, fell to the troops of Castile. Tomas de Torquemada, taking charge of the Inquisition, set in motion the machinery that would make Spain a uniquely Catholic country. First it was the turn of the Jews. The edict of expulsion gave them three months to convert or leave. A similar fate awaited the last of the Moors -- Don John, who had killed 60,000 Spanish Muslims at a cost to the state of 3 million ducats, had not done enough -- and in 1609, they too were forcibly expelled.

Spain under Charles V counted a population of no more than 6 million. Even with treasure pouring in from the New World his subjects were over-burdened and over-taxed to pay for an imperial policy that made him the Pope's protector. Arming the Holy League for the Lepanto campaign had cost the Spanish treasury over 4 million ducats. By comparison, income from the South American mines was then estimated at only 2 million ducats a year. [6] Fortunately for the West, the Ottoman Empire now faltered; slowly its armies were rolled back, thanks in part to a split between the Shiite and Sunni branches of Islam that sapped the Muslim world of cohesion and strength.

By then Spain had other enemies. Not only was she at war with France, but British freebooters were raiding her bullion fleets and disturbing overseas trade. Enforcing papal policy had exhausted the country. Charles V retired to a monastery, leaving his son, Philip II, a national debt of 20 million ducats and a war with France that was so costly it brought both countries to the edge of bankruptcy. In a final miscalculation, Philip moved the Invincible Armada against England. Its destruction raised the Spanish debt to 100 million ducats. Spain lost control of the seas and her long decline began.

By the end of the sixteenth century, Spain's chronic inability to make ends meet -- servicing the national debt consumed two-thirds of the gross national product -- had ravaged her currency. Bullion imports from South America dried up. Deprived of fresh capital, agriculture and industry went into decline. Trade stagnated. With empty order books, shipyards closed and the merchant fleet, second to none at the time of Lepanto, shrank by three-quarters.

By the time Jose Maria Escriva entered his final year at the Piarist College, social tensions in Spain were approaching breaking point. The origins of the unrest could be traced back to Charles V's reign. They had their roots in an imperial policy that had made the Spanish monarch God's vice-regent on earth, a policy that mortgaged the nation's wealth for generations thereafter.



1. Bernal, Op. cit., pp. 21-22. Also Vazquez de Prada, Op. cit., p. 55, citing Juventud Semanario Literario (Seccion de Gacetillas), ano 1, num. 4, del 13 de marzo de 1914.

2. Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Ch. 49.

3. Manin Scott, Medieval Europe, Longmans, 1964, p. 15.

4. Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades, Vol. 1, p. 84.

5. The Second Crusade, from 1147 to 1149, was led by King Louis VII of France and Emperor Conrad III. It was disbanded after an unsuccessful siege of Damascus.

6. Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, Fontana, London 1989, p. 59.
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Postby admin » Thu Oct 22, 2015 9:19 am

4. Bankruptcy

Be patient in tribulation; constant in prayer.

-- Romans 12:12

IN 1902 -- THE YEAR OF JOSE MARIA ESCRIVA'S BIRTH -- THE SIXTEEN-year-old Alfonso XIII ascended the Spanish throne. Brought into the world six months after his father's state funeral, the young Alfonso suffered a wholly inadequate upbringing for a future monarch. His mother, a religious hysteric, chose as his tutor an ultra-traditionalist priest, anti-Liberal to the hilt. Under Spain's existing constitution, the king, not the electorate, was the sale arbiter of governments. Alfonso made and unseated them as he pleased. In the first twenty-one years of his reign -- from 1902 to 1923 -- he ordered thirty-three changes of government. [1]

The Liberals' concern to free education from Church control did not make them popular with the clergy. However, when Jose Maria began his schooling something like 60 per cent of the Spanish population was illiterate. The Liberals gradually forced the introduction of universal primary education and unfettered the universities, while the religious orders shifted their teaching efforts to secondary schooling. The working classes regarded this as proof that the Church was intent on educating the sons of the wealthy, while those of the poor were condemned, if they were lucky, to the drudgery of child labour.

The pope of Jose Marfa Escriva's childhood, Pius X, had been born the son of a village postman and seamstress from near Venice. He was credited with working miracles while still alive, and was made a saint forty years after his death. But because of his war against 'Modernism', he instigated an anti-Liberal reign of terror inside the Church. In 1907 he published the encyclical Pascendi, declaring that anyone tainted by Modernism would be excluded from holding public office or teaching. Secret informer networks were established. Anyone who opposed Pascendi was excommunicated.

That same year King Alfonso XIII appointed a strong Conservative, Antonio Maura, as his prime minister. Maura was described as a man of integrity, but unfortunately for Spain his home secretary Juan de La Cierva was a master of malicious, murderous Machiavellian statesmanship. Though claiming to be a devout Catholic, La Cierva believed that maiming and killing people, guilty or innocent, was a permissible political expedient.

Fed up with Madrid's incompetence, in the regional elections of 1907 the Catalan people overwhelmingly elected the Lliga Regionalista, a newly formed nationalist party. As Catalan nationalism posed a threat to Spanish federalism, this presented Madrid with a problem. La Cierva's answer was to provoke a wave of bombings in Barcelona so that the Home Office could assume direct control over the province. Within weeks some 2,000 bombs exploded in the Catalan capital. The local authorities asked an English detective to investigate; in most cases he found the bombings were the work of agents provocateurs in the pay of the Home Office. This did not prevent La Cierva from placing Barcelona under martial law. The Church, meanwhile, made no attempt to prevent the slide towards social upheaval and frequently hurried the process along.

Intent on countering Liberal influence at all levels of national life, a Jesuit priest, Father Angel Ayala, founded the Asociacipn catolica nacional de propagandistas, better known as the ACNP. Ayala hoped that by infiltrating the key sectors of national life, his hand-picked ACNP militants would influence public opinion against Liberal reform. The Propagandistas, as they also became known, were graduates of Jesuit colleges, laymen with an apostolic bent, but who were not required to make vows of a religious nature. Their president for the next twenty-five years was a young lawyer, Angel Herrera Oria. The Propagandistas never counted more than 1,000 members, but they became immensely influential behind the scenes.

The Propagandistas quickly masterrd the techniques of news management, founding in the process a national press empire whose centrepiece was the daily newspaper El Debate. Herrera was a brilliant tactician who in the final analysis was probably more Liberal than Father Ayala might have liked. However the ACNP concept of deploying a secular elite to defend Church interests was something that appealed to Escriva. When he first learned of ACNP's existence is not recorded. But the Propagandistas provided him with a model for the organization that he came to create twenty years later.

In the meantime, the Escriva family business was foundering. In August 1914, Escriva's father discovered that his partner had been embezzling funds from the partnership while trading losses went unrecorded. [2] The company went bankrupt. The event left Jose Maria -- already marked by the death of three younger sisters deeply upset.

Some Barbastrians hinted that the confectioner of bonbons knew all along what his partner was up to and had assisted in bleeding the business dry. Jose Maria must have heard these rumours. 'Failure is not forgiven lightly in small towns, and gossip is free,' one of his disciples later remarked. [3]

Reputation ruined, Don Jose was obliged to take a job as sales clerk in a clothes shop in Logrono, 220 kilometres away. The shop was called The Great City of London. Logrono was reasonably wealthy for its size. It was a textile and food processing centre as well as the capital of the Rioja wine-growing region. In 1915 it was almost four times the size of Barbastro.

The next five years were unhappy ones for Jose Maria, during which he would form but one lasting friendship. The family was living in a small rented apartment in near poverty. The official biographers portrayed them as following the counsel of Saint Paul, being patient in tribulation and constantly at prayer. The father was said to be nearly as saintly as the son.

'One could see he was a happy man, and extremely methodical and punctual. He dressed very smartly,' one of them quoted Manuel Ceniceros as saying. A colleague of Don Jose, Ceniceros remembered the dapper Escriva with bowler hat and walking stick taking his family for Sunday strolls through the centre of town. Opus Dei numerary Salvador Bernal gives so sweet a picture of the noble shop attendant as to be almost treacly. 'He ... learned to live with the sobriety that circumstances had imposed upon him. For his afternoon break, he had just one sweet ... And Don Jose smoked little: six cigarettes a day, which he carried in a silver case ... He rolled them himself. [4]

Jose Maria was enrolled at the Logrono Instituto, a state secondary school, where over the next three years he completed his Bachillerato. The Opus Dei literature described him as an exceptional student. Others, including some classmates, claimed he was average. Exceptional or not, Jose Maria was never quite the model that his biographers made out. He was given to pouting and occasional outbursts of anger. In one incident he threw the chalk and duster at the blackboard because his maths teacher had scolded him. [5] The boy had character. Girls found him attractive. And, everyone agrees, even at the age of thirteen or fourteen he was meticulously neat. In the afternoons he received private tutoring at St Anthony's College, where he became friends with Isidoro Zorzano, who had been born in Argentina. Like Jose Maria -- they were both the same age -- Isidoro was concerned about his future career. Being good at maths, Jose Maria was considering architecture. But his father suggested law. Isidoro, on the other hand, would become an engineer.

Repudiation of the father, identification with his mother and a nagging uncertainty about the future became the motivating forces of Jose Maria's growing spirituality. Gradually he laid aside the objects of his childhood to experiment with those of his manhood -- the cilicio, a barbed metal bracelet attached around the thigh, and the discipline, a braided whip-like instrument of penance. Convinced that God had chosen him for a mission, though as yet he did not know what that mission would be, shortly after his sixteenth birthday Jose Maria decided to tell his father about his vocation.

'It was the only time I saw my father cry. He had other plans in mind for me, but he didn't reject my idea. He said: "My son, think it over carefully ... A priest has to be a saint",' Escriva later recalled. [6]

Meanwhile the family's financial situation remained desperate. Jose Maria and Carmen spent the summers with their uncle at Fonz. In Russia, the Romanovs were murdered, causing Winston Churchill to remark that their massacre had unleashed a new kind of barbarism upon the world. It was called Communism. Countering the spread of Communism would become one of Escriva's principal goals in life, but for the moment he focused on entering Logrono's Minor Seminary as an external student, which he did in October 1918.

A month later, the First World War ended in an armistice of relief and hope. Soon after, Jose Maria's mother announced that she was pregnant. The future cult figure had prayed so intensely for the Lord to grant his parents another son to take his place in the family that he was certain the Holy Spirit was about to unveil for him another sign. 'With this news, I had actually touched the grace of God. I saw the Lord's hand in it,' he said. [7]

Jose Maria's brother, Santiago, was born in February 1919. For the seminarian it confirmed that he was destined for a career as a servant of God. But for many, God was one of the first casualties of the changing world order. Friedrich Nietzsche had written thirty years before: 'The greatest event of recent times -- that "God is Dead", that the belief in the Christian God is no longer tenable -- is beginning to cast the first shadows over Europe.' [8] In fact Spain was about to begin a long journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death when Jose Maria decided that, henceforth, he would dwell in the House of the Lord.



1. Gerald Brenan, The Spanish Labyrinth, Cambridge University Press, Canto edition, 1993, p. 23n.

2. Vazquez de Prada, Op. cit., p. 56.

3. Gondrand, Op. cit., p. 31.

4. Bernal, op. cit., pp. 26, 28.

5. Gondrand, Op. cit., p. 36.

6. Bernal, Op. cit., p. 62, citing RHF 20164, p. 219.

7. Vazquez de Prada, Op. cit., p. 75.

8. Paul Johnson, History of the Modern World, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London 1983, p. 48.
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Postby admin » Thu Oct 22, 2015 9:19 am

5. 'Do That I See'

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.

-- Genesis 2:15

IN SEPTEMBER 1920, 'GOD'S GIFT TO THE CHURCH OF OUR TIME' [1] entered the Royal Seminary of San Carlos in Saragossa and his quest for spiritual fortune now began in an organized way. The next seven years would be a time of psychological testing, when his dreams of winning glory for God would suffer many hard knocks. To offset the hardship, he would experience his first inner locutions -- which he described as encouragements from his Maker -- but he kept them secret.

Jose Maria was conscious that Saragossa represented an important gateway. It was by far the largest city he had known until then. It was the capital of Aragon, and its history was of the sort he thrived upon. Founded by the Romans, it had been sacked by the Goths and taken by the Moors, who in 712 made it an independent emirate. It was reconquered for Christendom in 1118 by Alfonso I of Aragon, who transferred his court there from Barbastro. Saragossa possessed two cathedrals: La Seo (the See), a former mosque, was the older; but the Metropolitana del Pilar the larger and more famous. It rises from the banks of the Ebro upon the spot where, according to legend, the Virgin Mary appeared to St James the Apostle. She was said to be standing on a pillar of jasper which she left behind as testimony of her coming, and it now stands beneath the Metropolitana's eleven multicoloured domes, protected by a sheath of bronze and another of silver, and lest we forget a statue of the Virgin stands upon its summit.

To study in Saragossa, where he could follow courses in both theology and civil law, had required some extra string-pulling. An uncle, Canon Carlos Albas, lived in the city as well, but Jose Maria had little contact with him. Don Carlos did not approve of the business ethics of Jose Maria's father, blaming Don Jose for exposing his sister to the shame of bankrupcy. [2]

Life at the seminary took some getting used to. Many of the students arrived at San Carlos still smelling of the farmyard; some found Escriva's manners affected. They chided him for his ostentatious piety. One remarked: 'I must say he was the only one of us who would go down to the chapel in his spare time.' [3] He spent long moments there, kneeling to one side of the altar, his gaze fixed on the tabernacle with the intensity of someone willing himself to enter the holy mysteries. It was not long before his classmates began calling him the 'Mystical Rose'. [4]

When young men share the same dormitory, few secrets remain buried for long. One of the students discovered that Jose Maria used a cilicio. This medieval instrument of penitence is so uncomfortable it can only be worn for an hour or two at a time. But the barbs of the bracelet were nothing compared to the barbs he received from his peers for possessing such an instrument.

What was happening outside the walls of San Carlos was largely unknown to the young seminarians. Jose Maria, for example, would have been oblivious to the fact that the world had entered a period of inflation unknown in intensity since the sixteenth century, or that the Spanish army was about to be engulfed in a Moroccan catastrophe in which some 7,000 troops would be massacred by Berber guerrillas led by the legendary Abd-el-Krim. Major Francisco Franco, second in command of the Spanish Foreign Legion, got his name into the newspapers as one of the few officers to fight with distinction.

During his second year at San Carlos Escriva attracted the attention of the archbishop, Cardinal Juan Soldevila y Romero, who recommended that he be named prefect. This required his admission to the clerical orders as a novice, which meant he had to be tonsured. [5] The Cardinal personally shaved his head in a private ceremony at the episcopal palace. He was twenty years old and henceforth was required to wear a priest's cassock. As a prefect he was responsible for maintaining discipline, which meant that his relationship with other seminarians was placed on a new footing. Also as a special privilege he received the rector's permission to enrol in the civil law faculty at the University of Saragossa.

Six months later -- in March 1923 -- a moderate Anarchist trade union leader, Salvador Segui, was killed by hired pistoleros in the streets of Barcelona. Buenaventura Durruti, a railway worker from Leon, and Francisco Ascaso, a waiter, swore revenge and decided to strike at the heart of the Establishment in a manner that would provoke national outrage. On 4 June 1923 they assassinated the eighty-year-old Soldevila, riddling his body with automatics. The police never found them. They fled from Saragossa during the night and disappeared into the unknown for a decade, spent as itinerant bank robbers and booksellers, treading revolutionary paths that took them from La Paz to Paris, robbing the rich to give to the poor, and inciting workers to revolt. Unfortunately for Spain, theirs was not an isolated act, but part of a chain that was leading the country to civil war. To prevent the country from sliding deeper into chaos, in September 1923 General Miguel Primo de Rivera, the military governor of Catalonia, seized power.

Jose Maria was devastated by Soldevila's assassination. He was one year away from priesthood and he felt the loss of such a powerful sponsor even more deeply than the news received later that autumn that his father had suddenly died. Jose Maria admitted he had never been filled with 'filial affection'. But as head of the family, he was now required to shoulder new responsibilities for which he was hardly prepared. He found a small apartment in Saragossa into which he moved with his mother, sister and brother in time to celebrate a bleak Christmas together.

Jose Maria was ordained on 28 March 1925. Three days later the new priest received his first pastoral assignment in Perdiguera, a parish of 870 souls 30 kilometres from Saragossa. The local curate was ill and Jose Marfa was named temporary regent. But he was not pleased. He feared it would cause him to miss his law exams.

Jose Maria did not remain there long. Only six weeks later his Ordinary permitted him to return to Saragossa and begin preparations for his law exams. His finals were still two years off, but once awarded his degree he immediately obtained a two-year transfer to the diocese of Madrid-Alcala so that he could prepare for a doctorate in civil law at the Central University. He arrived in the capital in April 1927 with little else than a thick country accent and the dust of Aragon upon his cassock. He found lodgings in a residence for priests, run by the Apostolic Ladies of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, not far from the law faculty. About a dozen priests lived there and Escriva, at twenty-five, was the youngest. He paid five pesetas a day for full room and board.

During the previous two years nothing had been heard of his longing to know God's intentions. Spain was enjoying a period of relative prosperity under the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, who had booted out the corrupt politicians. Primo de Rivera was a prince of paradox. Never quite able to cast off his attachment for Spain's traditional past he nevertheless talked of drafting a new Constitution that would bring the country into the twentieth century. By the same measure, he proposed to overhaul the demoralized bureaucracy and restore faith in the army. His slogan was 'Fatherland, Monarchy, Religion' -- all institutions that Escriva identified with and wished to see prosper.

To end the war in Spanish Morocco, Primo de Rivera adopted a proposal put forward by the newly promoted Colonel Franco to attack Abd-el-Krim's mountain stronghold. The plan required landing a force at Alhucemas Bay. During preparations for the campaign, Franco worked with the navy, experimenting with landing craft, and one morning aboard the gunboat that was assigned to him he was served breakfast by a young naval lieutenant, Luis Carrero Blanco. The meeting was fortuitous, for in the years ahead Carrero Blanco would become Franco's closest collaborator, and by the same occasion Opus Dei's strongest supporter. But those days were still far off and no-one could have foreseen the many twists that the careers of three men -- caudillo, priest and future prime minister -- would know in the interim. Franco's battle plan met with success: Abd-el-Krim's capital of Agadir was captured and the Rif leader surrendered to the French six months later. Franco was promoted to brigadier, becoming at thirty-three the youngest general in Europe since Napoleon. As for Primo de Rivera, his standing would never be higher.

World markets were booming and Spain's raw materials were in high demand. Primo de Rivera had established good relations with the labour movement, permitting industry to improve productivity. He also introduced a public works programme that almost did away with unemployment.

But Primo de Rivera was incapable of producing any meaningful constitutional reform. As Escriva would later point out in one of his maxims, without a plan it is impossible to achieve order. Primo de Rivera had no plan. Escriva, on the other hand, had a plan, stimulated in part by his encounter with the Apostolic Ladies. Their headquarters -- the Patronato de Enfermos, or Foundation for the Sick -- had been opened on 14 July 1924 by the king, giving some indication of their social importance. As Escriva got to know more about them, he saw an opening and offered to help. We are told that the ladies were charmed by his sweetness. In June 1927, he became their chaplain.

The Foundation provided food, medicines, clothing and spiritual help to about 5,000 ailing or infirm who were confined to the solitude of their often miserable dwellings. Through a sister organization the Apostolic Ladies also ran sixty schools in the poorer precincts of the city and operated a string of soup kitchens. Not only did Escriva take in hand the chaplaincy but he was asked to organize catechism classes for the schools and provide spiritual care for the sick.

As soon as time permitted, he chose as his confessor a Jesuit, Father Valentin Sanchez Ruiz, who worked at one of the Foundation's hostels. Jose Maria also registered for his first courses at the faculty of law. He proved during those first months in the capital that he was an effective organizer, ordering his life as if driven 'to cast fire upon the earth'. Most mornings he left the Larra residence before the others had come down for breakfast. He went first to the Foundation to celebrate Mass and then attended classes at the university. In the evenings he made his rounds, visiting the sick. He heard confessions and prepared children for First Communion. While fulfilling his apostolate among the poor, he celebrated private Masses for his patrons, the Apostolic Ladies.

Two years previously, Angel Herrera had told ACNP members that higher education 'was a terrain virtually abandoned by Catholics'. He described the university as the summit of society. After meeting Herrera, Escriva saw the need for a university apostolate. He spoke of 'influencing able minds as a real source of potential good'. Intellectuals, he added, 'are like the snow-capped summits: when the snow melts, the waters pour down the valleys and make them fertile'. [6]This became his version of a holy 'trickle down' approach -- that a new regard for the Church must begin on the highest summits and gradually seep down through the layers of rock and soil to the fertile valleys. If the summits are sanctified the valleys will seed themselves.

For the moment, however, while casting his regard towards the intellectual summits, Escriva was in danger of drowning in the swamps of Madrid's slums where he administered to the sick. He found them a spiritually-inert wasteland. The ideological causes that bred this wasteland were not his concern but the weight of anticlerical prejudices existing there did fall upon his shoulders and the burden was heavy. Moreover, the same anti-clerical prejudices he found in the slums were invading the university corridors and lecture halls. The hostility made him feel uncomfortable. Nevertheless, he sat for his first exams in September 1928. Immediately afterwards, the Vincentian Fathers held a retreat for priests. Diocesan priests were required to participate in at least one retreat a year. As it would be his last opportunity before the new term began, he decided to attend. He was given a room under the eaves where each morning after Mass he withdrew to read his diaries.

On the Feast of Guardian Angels -- Tuesday, 2 October 1928 -- he was in his room reflecting on the words of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar of Jericho who asked Jesus, 'Master, do that I see!' [7] when suddenly the Lord opened wide His arms and displayed before the young priest a vision of Opus Dei, 'as He wanted it, and as it would become according to His wishes down through the centuries'. [8]At least this is what the postulation for Jose Marfa Escriva's sainthood unveiled to the world more than fifty years later. In his own lifetime, however, Escriva was reluctant to discuss what happened on that October morning. 'Please do not ask me to go into details about the beginnings of the Work ... They are intimately connected with the history of my soul and belong to my inner life,' he told an interviewer in the late 1960s. [9]

For Escriva, then three years into priesthood, this vision -- one of several 'cornerstone' visions he would receive over the next three years -- was an expression of God's will. The message was simple: 'Sanctify work, sanctify oneself through work, and sanctify others in their work.'

From his interpretation of Genesis -- and particularly the fifteenth verse of the second chapter which states that God put man in the garden of Eden 'to till and keep it' -- he concluded that God had created man to work. This conclusion was justified, he believed, because the Genesis reference to man's labours -- i.e. 'tilling' the garden -- came before his fall from grace. Therefore work was at the very heart of the human condition. It was part of God's plan. His 'Genesis 2:15 proposition' was simply reasoned. Anyone could understand and identify with it. Having set it to paper, had the young priest departed this world leaving only that proposition behind, he would have made an enduring contribution to Catholic thinking. But Escriva did not stop there. He went on, adding over the years layer after layer of dogma to this basic affirmation, giving rise after a prolonged period of incubation to a fascinating ecclesiastical power play designed to ensure its everlasting acceptance by the Church.

Escriva's Genesis 2:15 proposition was an important correction of the theological principles established in the thirteenth century by Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-74). Aquinas held that work in all its forms was a condition of man's fall from grace and therefore an impediment to sanctity. But since work was necessary, it had to be tolerated so long as goods and services were sold at a just price. This principle had been reaffirmed by the Council of Trent (1545-63), and declared official Catholic doctrine by Leo XIII in 1879. According to Escriva's revelation, however, Aquinas had got it wrong.

Now Escriva was not tackling some obscure myth. By affirming that work should be placed at the forefront of Christian living, and that a layman could attain Christian perfection through professional excellence, he was chipping away at the very foundations of the Church in order to re-orient and reinforce her theological systems. Escriva believed that this flaw in Aquinas's philosophy was impeding the Church's ability to satisfy the spiritual requirements of a modern, industrialized society. [10]

On that October morning the Divine Sower planted a seed that in another forty years would bring about a change of Church doctrine. The seed took the longest time to sprout. It only began to show signs of life many months later, and would require a dozen years to put forth the first blossoms. Moreover, Escriva consistently denied that Opus Dei was his creation. He insisted that he was only the gardener. This is important to understand. If accepted, it bestows upon Opus Dei a sort of divine licence that, in the view of its members, permits it to function in a sphere beyond the laws of man. From the very outset, then, in order to become a member one had to accept without qualification that this Opus was truly God's creation, and that Escriva had only acted as proxy. If not accepted, the gates remained closed.

For Escriva nothing that morning was without divine meaning. The birth of God's Work on the Feast of Guardian Angels meant that they had a special role to play in its development. For him, they were powerful allies and it was prudent to seek their protection. At the same moment he received the revelation, the pealing of the bells from the parish church of Our Lady of the Angels, not far from the Vincentian residence, came to his ears, He took this to be another divine pointer, affirming the Marian quality of the Work.

'From that moment on, I never had any tranquillity, and I began to work -- reluctantly -- because I did not like the idea of being the founder of anything ... I had my twenty-six years, God's grace and a good sense of humour, and nothing else. But just as men write with a pen, our Lord writes with the leg of a table to make it clear that it is He who is doing the writing: that is what is so incredible, so marvellous,' he explained. [11]

Marvellous perhaps, but also deceptive. Escriva avoided defining the full range of the divine plan he received. The message as he revealed it to the world was, by his later words, not the complete message. The complete message could only be made known to initiates, according to the degree of their immersion in the Work. Thus from inception Opus Dei led a layered existence, with only the outer layer being for mass consumption; successive inner layers were reserved for higher ranks in the hierarchy.

Escriva's principal concern was to restore the Church to a central role in society. This remains the core of the Work: 'the labour of placing Jesus [i.e., the Church] at the summit of all human activity throughout the world'. To do this requires a dedicated, disciplined militia -- troops of various ranks and stations who, by sanctifying their work, sanctify (i.e., convert) others and sanctify the workplace. 'What good is it to me if so-and-so is said to be a good son of mine, a good Christian, but a bad shoemaker? If he doesn't strive to learn his trade well or doesn't give it due attention, he won't be able to sanctify it or offer it to God. Doing one's ordinary occupation as well as possible is the hinge of true spirituality,' is one Escriva saying that Opus Dei fondly repeats.

So now we have the basics. There is a public version of the Work's founding -- to promote the sanctity of work -- and a hidden version that explains why a Catholic militia is needed for 'in-depth penetration' to protect and place the Church at the summit of human activity. To sum up the public version: God showed Escriva what He wanted -- an enterprise that encouraged ordinary Christians to carry out, each in their own way and according to their own skills, a personal apostolate that would reach areas not normally accessible to priests. Very good. But there was more to come. For example, the enterprise had no name -- not yet -- and neither had the holder of God's proxy written down any statutes or given it a formal structure. It would grow according to no blueprint other than the memory of a vision fixed in his mind. He told nobody about it for days or even weeks.

That Tuesday was also the first day of the new university term. Was this confirmation that the Work also had a specific university apostolate? And, too, at about the same time the bells of Our Lady of the Angels began to peal, General Primo de Rivera returned to the capital from a weekend tour of the Basque provinces. As soon as the Irun Express pulled into the North Station, he was whisked off to a cabinet meeting. Did this mean that the Work had a political mission as well? Escriva had said that nothing on that October morning was without meaning.

The first person he told about the revelation was his confessor, Father Sanchez, who encouraged him to persevere. Escriva also spoke to a few other priests, within and outside the diocese. Then, with growing assurance, he began visiting friends and future followers, writing letters, trying to interest others in his mission. At the outset he had little success. There was no infrastructure, no tradition to build upon. Moreover, he had his duties to fulfil as chaplain of the Foundation for the Sick, lecturer in law at a private academy and post-graduate student. Gradually he dropped the latter two to concentrate more fully on God's Work.

The next cornerstone vision came on St Valentine's Day 1930. One of the founders of the Apostolic Ladies had asked Escriva to celebrate Mass for her eighty-year-old mother, the Marchioness of Onteiro, at the family mansion. While serving Communion, Escriva said God instructed him to create within his still unnamed work a separate section for women.

Some weeks later Escriva had another soul-searching session with Father Sanchez. Two versions exist as to what happened. The one accepted by Opus Dei is that the Jesuit, full of enthusiasm, asked, 'And how is this work of God going?' Escriva was still searching for a name for his enterprise. The one suggested by Father Sanchez's apparently innocent question seemed providential. It fitted like a glove, a Work promoted by God -- Opus Dei. [12] It had finally come together! But a second version of these events suggested that Escriva lifted the name from another priest, Father Pedro Poveda Castroverde, who in 1912 had founded a similar sort of association for lay people, Poveda's Teresian Association was primarily interested in the spiritual and pastoral formation of teachers. It received diocesan approbation as a pious union in 1917 and was recognized by Rome in 1924, four years before Opus Dei was born.

Father Poveda was almost thirty years older than Escriva and was well established in Madrid as a royal chaplain. He appeared to understand the problems and ambitions of the younger priest and tried wherever possible to help. Poveda was in the habit of referring to his Teresian Institute as the Obra, meaning 'Work', and Escriva adopted it, using the Latin Opus, to which he added Dei. When he asked Father Sanchez for his opinion, the Jesuit reportedly responded that it sounded pretentious and advised him to change it. Escriva kept the name but changed confessors.

Seven weeks after receiving the second 'cornerstone' revelation, Escriva drafted a first pastoral letter for his handful of followers. The Work was now two years old; it apparently had a name, but little else. Escriva himself had but one full-time disciple, Father Jose Maria Somoano Verdasco, approximately the same age.

Somoano was from Asturias. After arriving in the capital as a young priest he became chaplain at a home for young delinquents and orphans where Escriva gave catechism classes. 'They used to come with runny noses. First you had to clean their noses, before cleaning their poor souls a little,' Escriva would remark during public speaking tours years later. Father Somoano also played an important role in Opus Dei's earliest development and may have been running with the concept somewhat faster than Escriva appreciated.

Escriva's first pastoral letter was dated 24 March 1930. In the style of papal bulls, it became known as Singuli Dies. It set out the Work's basic programme in terms described as 'clear and limpid, like the language of the apostles'. [13] Singuli Dies foresaw, vaguely, the forming of a corps of Christian militants who, though they dressed the same as everyone else in their station in life, were nevertheless set apart from them. 'The supernatural mission that we have received does not lead us to distinguish or separate ourselves from others, it leads us to unite ourselves to everyone, because we are the equals of the other citizens in our country. We are, I repeat, equal to everyone else, though not like everyone else. We live in the same general environment, wear normal clothes, have no distinctive mannerisms. We share all the ordinary civic concerns, and those pertaining to professional work and other activities.' [14]

The letter contained twenty-two sections. From it, according to one Opus Dei specialist on canon law, the organization's first statutes were developed. [15] The text seemed to suggest that Opus Dei's mission was national and that in 1930 the Founder had not yet considered a worldwide apostolate. And yet, thirty-seven years later, Escriva would claim, 'From the first moment, the Work was universal ... It was born not to solve the concrete problems facing Europe in the twenties, but to tell men and women of every country and of every condition, race, language, milieu and state in life (single, married, widowed or priest) that they can love and serve God without giving up their ordinary work, their family life and their normal social relations.' [16]

Singuli Dies is viewed with suspicion by some former members who wonder whether it might not be an Opus Dei attempt to rewrite its early history. Curiously, Opus Dei refused to provide a full-text copy, claiming 'this letter and several others are being studied with the ultimate objective of publishing them with commentaries ...'

The Founder was during this time working on bringing in disciples. Early in the summer of 1930 he had written to Isidoro Zorzano, whom he hadn't seen for many years. Then on 24 August 1930, Escriva was on his way home, but not along his usual route, when 'by coincidence' he saw Isidoro Zorzano walking in the opposite direction.

'I've just been to see you, and when I found you weren't at home, I was going to look for a restaurant before catching the night train north to join my parents,' Isidoro told Escriva. He quickly added that he was in need of spiritual advice. But there was nothing particularly spectacular about this 'coincidence', as they met literally a few paces from Escriva's office.

'What's troubling you?' Jose Maria asked. Isidoro explained that he believed God was asking him to become more actively involved and he did not know how to respond. He enjoyed his work as an engineer with the Andalusian railways in Malaga and didn't want to give it up. Escriva, of course, had the solution.

'The Lord has called us to the Work to be saints; but we will not be saints if we do not unite ourselves to Christ on the Cross. There is no sanctity without the Cross, without mortification,' he told Isidoro.

Zorzano had to catch his train. But before leaving Escriva's office he asked to join Opus Dei. Jose Maria improvised an oblation ceremony, requiring Isidoro to promise before God to devote his life to apostolate while abiding by the ecclesiastic counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. [17]

Isidoro Zorzano thus became Opus Dei's first lay member -- the first to persevere -- and from then onwards he called his boyhood friend Father. [18]



1. The phrase 'Gift from God to the Church of our time' was used by one of the seven judges in summing up his reasons for supporting Escriva's beatification.

2. Bernal, Op. cit., p. 66; and Berglar, Op. cit., p. 20.

3. Opus Dei Newsletter No.9, In the Seminary at Saragossa, p. 7.

4. Gondrand, Op. cit., p. 43; and Vazquez de Prada, Op. cit., p. 88.

5. This practice, begun in the fifth century, was abolished by Pope Paul VI in 1972.

6. Vazquez de Prada, Op. cit., p. 107.

7. Cf. Mark 10:.51-52.

8. Berglar. Op. cit., p. 39, citing Articoli del Postulatore, section 45, Rome 1979.

9. Pedro Rodriguez, Palabra, Madrid, October 1967.

10. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) was canonized forty-nine years after his death. This was very quick. But the canonization of the founder of the Black Friars, Dominic Guzman (c.1170-1221), had been even swifter. He was made a saint thirteen years after his death.

11. '2 October 1928', Opus Dei Newsletter No. 1 (London 1989), p 9; and Amadeo de Fuenmayor et al., L'itineraire juridique de l'Opus Dei -- Histoire et defense d'un charisme, Desclee, Paris 1992, p. 36. Also Bernal, Op. cit., pp. 109-110.

12. Berglar, Op. cit., p. 64.

13. Taken from the French edition of Berglar's Opus Dei (p. 83).

14. Berglar, Op. cit., p. 66, quoting from section 5 of the letter of 24 March 1930.

15. De Fuenmayor et al., Op. cit., pp. 75-77.

16. Conversations with Monsignor Escriva de Balaguer (Peter Forbath, Time Magazine), Scepter, London 1993, p. 62.

17. Giancarlo Rocca, 'L 'Opus Dei' -- Appunti e Documenti per una Storia, Edizioni Paoline, Rome 1985, p. 20, citing the document Beatificationis et canonizationis Servi Dei Isidoro Zorzano Ledesma viri laici, signed by Cardinal Bacci in Rome, 1946.

18. Gondrand, Op. cit., p. 80.
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Postby admin » Thu Oct 22, 2015 9:20 am

7. Dios Y Audacia

Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.

-- Matthew 23:9

IN JANUARY 1930, IN THE MIDST OF A WORLD ECONOMIC CRISIS AND record unemployment, with student and worker riots paralysing the capital daily, Primo de Rivera announced that Spain had become ungovernable and went into exile. Six weeks later, alone and miserable, he died in a Paris hotel.

The king took over the government, deciding one year later that the moment had come to test his popularity by calling nationwide municipal elections, and in all large towns and cities the Monarchist candidates were roundly defeated. The size of the Republican turn-out was enormous. On the following day, the nation was too stunned to react. But two days later crowds began gathering in the streets and that afternoon when the king met with his ministers they told him that if he did not leave the capital before dark 'it might be too late'. [1]The Second Republic was born during the night. Next morning -- 15 April 1931 -- the country learned that Niceto Alcala Zamora, a former war minister, had become provisional prime minister.

That Alcala Zamora was a conservative landowner did little to soothe the apprehensions of the right. He appointed as his foreign minister a godless Radical, Alejandro Lerroux, whose upbringing had left him with a permanent disgust for everything connected with religion. The equally godless Manuel Azana became minister of war. Together these three became the driving force in the Constituent Assembly that was elected two months later.

The cardinal primate, Archbishop Pedro Segura y Saenz of Toledo, did not hesitate to draw a parallel between what was happening in Madrid and the French Revolution of 1789 -- which had not only buried the monarchy but dispossessed the Church - and he delivered a violently anti-Republican pastoral that caused a national storm. Following the primate's outburst, the country's mood turned sullen. Early in May 1931, a group of right-wing officers and monarchists met at a house in the centre of Madrid to form an Independent Monarchist Club. Word soon spread that a group of conspirators were at work inside the house and the crowd that gathered in the street outside quickly degenerated. into a mob setting parked cars alight and sacking the nearby offices of the rightwing ABC newspaper.

Next day sporadic rioting broke out. First a Jesuit residence in the centre of Madrid was gutted by fire. Then other churches and convents were set on fire throughout the city. For a moment it was feared that the mob would attack the Foundation for the Sick. Jose Maria rushed into the chapel and started swallowing handfuls of Sacred Hosts from the ciborium to prevent them from being profaned. Unable to swallow them all, with the mob drawing closer, he wrapped the ciborium in a newspaper and took it by taxi to a friend's apartment near the Cuatro Caminos Plaza, where he went into hiding. The mob left the Foundation headquarters untouched, and Escriva returned days later, deeply upset by what had happened. Soon after, he resigned as the Foundation's chaplain. [2]

Fearing he would now be required to return to Saragossa, Escriva discussed his problem with Father Poveda, who offered to have him appointed an honorary royal chaplain. But Escriva turned down Poveda's offer because he knew that incardination did not extend to honorific titles. [3] Incardination is like an umbilical cord that ties a priest to his diocesan Ordinary, who is responsible for him within the Church. If at this point Escriva had been unable to remain in Madrid, Opus Dei might have shrivelled and died. But just as it seemed his academic furlough would end with no doctorate to show for his five years in the capital, providence intervened presenting him with a Palatine device.

It was Father Poveda who found the solution, suggesting to his bishop, the Palatine Ordinary, that Escriva should be appointed to the chaplaincy of the Patronato of Santa Isabel, which consisted of a convent for Augustinian Recollect nuns, a church and women's college, located next to Madrid's General Hospital. The Patronato of Santa Isabel, because it was a royal benefice, came under the jurisdiction of the Palatine Ordinary -- the bishop in charge of the royal vicariat to whom all royal chaplains were incardinated -- which meant that it functioned like an independent diocese.

Santa Isabel's previous rector and chaplain had both resigned in compliance with a government decree disbanding the royal vicariat. This was later repealed, and Poveda managed to have Escriva named Santa Isabel's new chaplain. Thus in September 1931 the Palatine Ordinary confirmed the appointment, leaving the Ordinary of Saragossa with no alternative but to acknowledge the fait accompli.

Even before the appointment was confirmed, Escriva started using the church of Santa Isabel and its confessionals to administer spiritual direction to his growing circle of disciples. His only other pastoral activity at the time consisted in taking his handful of followers on weekend visits to the very sick in the city's hospitals. Understaffed and overcrowded, swarming with staphylococci and other lethal germs, Madrid's hospitals were said to have served as the cradle of Opus Dei.

Escriva's closest associate at the time, Father Jose Maria Somoano, was claimed to be the first person fully to appreciate the spirit of the Work. The other disciple who accompanied Escriva on his weekly rounds of the sickwards was Luis Gordon, a young engineer and nephew of the Marchioness of Onteiro. He became Opus Dei's second lay member, after Isidoro Zorzano, who was still working for the Andalusian railways in Malaga. Speaking of Luis Gordon years later, Escriva said, 'One day he collected a chamber pot from a patient with tuberculosis and it was disgusting! I told him, "That's the spirit, go and clean it!" Then I felt a bit sorry for him, because I could see that it had turned his stomach. I went after him and I saw him with a look of heavenly joy oil his face, cleaning it with his bare hands.' This incident later caused Escriva to write in one of his famous maxims, 'Isn't it true, Lord, that you were greatly consoled by the childlike remark of that man who, when he felt the disconcerting effect of obedience in something unpleasant, whispered to you, "Jesus, keep me smiling".' [4]

Somoano, on the other hand, had a gift for instilling in patients a sense of usefulness even as they were dying. In the last months of 1931, he approached one of the terminal patients at King's Hospital, a young woman whose name was Maria Ignacia Garcia Escobar, and confided that he needed her help. She had intestinal tuberculosis and was in constant pain after surgery had failed to stop the disease from spreading. Somoano told her, 'We must pray a lot for something that is going to help the salvation of everyone. And I don't mean just for a few days. This is a matter of great good for the whole world. It will require prayer and sacrifice today, tomorrow and always.' [5] Later he told her that the intention was Opus Dei. In April 1932, Maria Ignacia asked to join. She became Opus Dei's first woman member. She had but five months to live. Somoano lavished care upon her. She wrote in her diary that Opus Dei had brought to the world 'a new era of Love'. [6]

Somoano's popularity among patients overshadowed even Escriva's charisma. Somoano wanted to bring Opus Dei to the greatest number of people, no matter if they were destitute, delinquent or at death's door. With his limitless energy he was in danger of running away with God's invention, taking it along paths not revealed to Escriva in the 'cornerstone' visions. Escriva had different views about Opus Dei's apostolate, based on a holy 'trickle down' approach, and -- judging by his later writings -- he must have resented Somoano's efforts, regarding them as an attempt to kidnap Opus Dei. 'As Jesus received his doctrine from the Father, so my doctrine is not mine but comes from God and so not a jot or tittle shall ever be changed,' Escriva wrote almost forty years later in Cronica. [7] Was he jealous of Somoano? We shall never know, except that some years later Escriva remarked to one of his earliest disciples, 'from the first day [Somoano] promised obedience, but then he began to disobey ...' [8]

On 13 July 1932, Somoano suddenly fell ill. Four days later he died in terrible agony. Though not present at the moment of his death, Escriva had spent hours at his bedside, praying. The young priest was thought to have been poisoned by 'anticlerical elements' in one of the hospitals, but apparently no 'autopsy was undertaken and no charges were ever pressed.

Maria Ignacia Garcia died in September 1932, and two months later, Luis Gordon also fell ill and died. Said Escriva: 'Now we have two saints in heaven. A priest and a layman.' [9] This remark suggests that the Founder never really considered Maria Ignacia a member. As for Luis Gordon, it seems that nobody questioned whether encouraging a civil engineer to spend his Sunday afternoons tending patients with contagious diseases in Madrid's hospitals -- without any training on how to avoid the risk of contamination -- had contributed to his premature death. In any event, soon afterwards Escriva abandoned the hospital apostolate.

With only his duties as chaplain at Santa Isabel to occupy him, Escriva was now able to devote more time to recruiting. His family had moved to Madrid by then and he found them an apartment in a narrow five-storey building at 4 Paseo del General Martinez Campos. The apartment was reasonably close to the main university faculties, and large enough to invite ten or twelve people at a time for a tertulia. Dona Dolores and sister Carmen helped prepare food for these gatherings. Young Santiago was said to be dismayed by the student appetites. Escriva contended, however, that it was important for his disciples to develop a sense of belonging to a family. Isidoro Zorzano, his first apostle, was hoping to be transferred to Madrid to help the Father expand the Work's apostolate.

Juan Jimenez Vargas, a medical student who came to the Martinez Campos tertulias, asked to join in January 1933, becoming the second apostle. Jose Maria Gonzalez Barredo, a research chemist and third apostle, joined a few weeks later. He was a valuable addition because, like Zorzano, he was earning a salary, which he contributed to the general funds of the Work. Ricardo Fernandez Vallespin, an architecture student, joined in June 1933, becoming the fourth apostle.

In spite of these first successes Escriva found that the Martinez Campos apartment, though cosy and clean, lacked sufficient class to provide his recruits with a feeling of belonging to a select, close-knit family. The building was quite shabby and its ground floor was let out as a shop and a working man's wine bar which Escriva thought detracted from the general salubrity of the location. And so after months of hesitation he finally moved his family into the rectory of Santa Isabel.

The customs and norms destined to transform Opus Dei into a strong sect-like organization were slowly evolving. Novices were put through an initiation rite. Even in those early days, according to one of its first members, Opus Dei possessed a strong Crusader element, which for some heightened its mystery and appeal. Opus Dei was to have three main apostolates, each placed under the protection of an Archangel. The Work of Archangel Raphael was to oversee the recruiting of new members into the Work, and quickly it became the focus of Opus Dei's existence, initially targeting university students before they embarked upon professional careers. At this stage, Opus Dei only had celibate members, known as numeraries. Once brought into the movement, their ongoing care and guidance was entrusted to Archangel Michael, the Guardian of God's Chosen People. This meant that while one arm of Opus Dei worked at recruiting, another laboured at maintaining the motivation of those already inducted into the organization.

The work of Archangel Gabriel, God's Special Messenger, came later. It was to look after the spiritual well-being of married members and co-operators -- the future bread and butter of the organization. In the 1930s, however, celibacy remained a prerequisite for membership. Supernumeraries -- noncelibate members -- would only be admitted in the 1950s, after the development of the Women's Section.

By December 1933, Escriva was ready to launch Opus Dei's first corporate work. He had Zorzano rent a first-floor apartment at 33 Calle Luchana not far from the city centre. They transformed the apartment into a private institute offering supplementary courses for university students and called it the DYA Academy, claiming the three letters stood for Derecho y Arquitectura -- Law and Architecture. Only secretly were some students -- those viewed as likely recruits -- told that DYA really stood for Dios y Audacia -- 'God and Audacity'.

Ricardo Fernandez, the fourth apostle, became the DYA's director. The Luchana premises had a visitors' room, two small classrooms, a study room, small living room and an office for the Founder that contained a bare wooden cross. Escriva heard confessions in the kitchen, which also served as Jose Marfa Gonzalez's chemistry lab. The furniture was borrowed from Dona Dolores or came from the Rastro, Madrid's flea market.

The Republican party of Manuel Azana, then the serving prime minister, was almost annihilated in the November 1933 elections that followed the adoption of a new constitution. A right-wing coalition came to power in which the dominant figure was Jose Marfa Gil Robles, Angel Herrera's successor as head of the Propagandistas. Herrera had resigned to become national chairman of the Catholic Action movement, but still exerted strong influence over his successor at the ACNP.

Gil Robles had distinguished himself as a leader writer for the ACNP's El Debate newspaper. He had married the daughter of one of Spain's richest grandees, and took her on a honeymoon to Germany, where they attended Hitler's' first Nuremberg Rally, bringing back to Spain many of the Nazi propaganda techniques. He demonstrated his organizational ability by forming a nationwide federation of right-wing Catholic parties -- the CEDA. He claimed that CEDA had more than 700,000 members, making it the largest political grouping in Spain. But Gil Robles lacked Herrera's tactical brilliance and self-restraint, and this would lead him into a particularly acrimonious confrontation with his Republican 'Popular Front' opponents.

In the meantime, however, the Gil Robles alliance set for its objective the revocation of Azana's restrictive legislation against the Church. At first he was content to stand aside from a cabinet posting, satisfied that if the Radical party kept its part of the bargain the Church could 'live in the Spanish Republic with dignity, respected in her rights and the exercise of her divine mission'. [10] This, of course, interested Escriva as in April 1933 the Azana government had abolished the Palatine jurisdiction, leaving the recently appointed chaplain of Santa Isabel without an Ordinary, an ecclesiastical oversight that lasted for the next eight years. An unusual situation, it nevertheless permitted Escriva full freedom to concentrate on Opus Dei's development. Nor did it stop him from requesting that the new government appoint him to the vacant post of Santa Isabel's rector. As required by the Law of Congregations, his appointment was confirmed by the President of the Republic in December 1934, by which time he had already moved his family into the rector's house.

Within months of the DYA's opening, Escriva decided to transform it into a srudent residence since he believed this would provide a better atmosphere for recruiting. Three larger apartments were found at 50 Calle Ferraz and turned into accommodation for twenty students. Escriva also kept an office there -- known as the 'Father's room' -- with a bathroom whose walls were frequently flecked with blood from the 'pious flagellation' he inflicted upon himself. In March 1935 he requested permission from the diocese of Madrid to install a chapel, which was granted.

Within weeks of the first Mass being celebrated in the new chapel, a student from the School of Civil Engineering by the name of Alvaro del Portillo carne to see Escriva. Portillo's aunt, one of the Apostolic Ladies, had told him about the Father's work with students. Portillo met Escriva several times over the next few months but seemed unable to make up his mind about joining. Escriva therefore asked another DYA resident, Francisco Pons, to befriend Portillo and help draw him closer to the Work. Pons told Portillo that becoming a member was like being a 'Crusader with cape and sword'. [11]

In July 1935, Portillo became the fifth apostle. The sixth apostle, Jose Maria Hernandez de Garnica, another engineering student, joined two weeks later. After him came Pedro Casciaro and Francisco Botella, both architecture students. They drew in fellow classmate Miguel Fisac.

It took quite a while to get the twenty-one-year-old Fisac to 'whistle' -- the term used by Opus Dei when a recruit decides to join. He was pressed to attend the weekly sessions at which Escriva would comment upon readings from the Gospel, and talk of the necessity of observing certain Christian norms, such as making offerings to a good cause, reciting set prayers, going to confession once a week and examining one's conscience -- all of which Fisac later learned were obligatory norms for Opus Dei members.

In no case during these sessions was reference made to Opus Dei. The introduction was done privately, on a one-to-one basis. An early paradox that Fisac noted was that Escriva insisted there was no need for secrecy, only discretion, for exactly the same reasons that people did not broadcast to the world their most intimate thoughts. Then pretending he wanted to know more about his students, the Father asked those who interested him to fill in a form, giving full biographic information about themselves, down to their preferred hobbies and sports.

When Fisac was asked to join he was caught off balance. 'I did not dare refuse, and it was a weakness that I began to regret the same day,' he later wrote to a friend. [12]

In spite of his reservations, Fisac became the ninth apostle. He was required to write a letter requesting admission -- still a standard procedure for new recruits -- and then Escriva sent him on a three-day retreat. For the next twenty years he remained a close observer of Opus Dei's inner workings. He remembered on one occasion Escriva telling Casciaro and Juan Jimenez Vargas that for certain inner-circle ceremonies he was thinking of having them wear white capes emblazoned with a red cross whose four extremities would be shaped like arrowheads. [13]

Fisac was followed in 1936 by a philosophy student, Rafael Calvo Serer, who became the tenth apostle, a history student, Vicente Rodriguez Casado, the eleventh apostle, and an internationally known research chemist, Jose Maria AIbareda Herrera, the twelfth apostle. Like Zorzano, Albareda was the same age as Escriva.

Fisac said that when he joined Opus Dei the mood of religious persecution in Madrid created a reaction of 'genuine exaltation' among staunch Catholics that strengthened their faith. In Angel Herrera's case, he resigned from Catholic Action to enter the priesthood. Then early in 1936 new elections were called. Gil Robles and Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, son of the ex-dictator and founder of the Falange Movement, banded together to form a National Front in opposition to the left's Popular Front. Spain was now completely polarized. The Popular Front received 34.5 per cent of the vote and the National Front 33.2 per cent. Bitterly, Gil Robles assailed the results as a 'revolution against law and order, respect for religion, property, the family, and national unity'. [14]

By May 1936 the situation had become so tense under the Popular Front that Escriva, never knowing when he might be attacked in the street, was in a state of nervous exhaustion. A few weeks before, a fellow priest had almost been lynched because it was rumoured he had distributed poisoned sweets to the children of factory workers. More religious houses and churches were sacked, and Escriva felt that the Patronato of Santa Isabel was no longer safe. He found another apartment for his mother, sister and brother across town, closer to Calle Ferraz.

DYA quickly outgrew its premises and a vacant building was found down the street at 16 Ferraz. After the death of Uncle Teodoro earlier that year, Escriva persuaded his mother to sell the family property at Fonz so that the proceeds might be used to purchase the 16 Ferraz building. It was well situated, directly opposite the Montana Army Barracks. The building was owned by the Conde de Real who had fled to France. Dona Dolores could refuse her son nothing and 16 Ferraz was purchased by a company called Fomento de Estudios Superiores. Isidoro Zorzano was its president. Escriva immediately addressed a letter to the diocese of Madrid asking for permission to transfer the 'semi-public' DYA chapel to the new address. As in previous letters, no mention was made of Opus Dei, only the DYA residence. Officially Opus Dei did not exist. It was registered neither with the diocese nor with the state.

At the beginning of July, with tension stretched at the breaking point, a depressive Father Escriva informed his 'children' that he intended to expand Opus Dei's mission by opening an office in Paris. [15] This was said to have 'greatly surprised' them. He had already begun to make travel arrangements, but political events moved faster than anticipated. [16]

On 12 July 1936, Lieutenant Jose del Castillo of the Republican Assault Guards was gunned down by Falangists. Retaliation was immediate. That same night a prominent right-wing politician was shot and the outrage that followed spurred the Nationalist generals, who were already plotting rebellion, to move against the Republic. But even for them the Spanish Civil War began one day earlier than planned. Fearing they were about to be arrested, a handful of conspirators at Melilla, the easternmost city of Spanish Morocco, jumped the gun in the early evening of Friday, 17 July 1936, and shot their commanding officer. The garrisons of Tetuan and Ceuta rose hours later. After receiving news of the uprising, Franco flew from the Canary Islands, where he had been appointed military governor, to take command of the Army in Africa and immediately appealed to Hitler and Mussolini for military aid.

One of Franco's closest friends, Colonel Juan de Yague, then in command of the Spanish Foreign Legion, was probably the first to use the word 'Crusade' to describe the Nationalist uprising. Whether Yague's or someone else's innovation, crusade perfectly suited the motivation of the conspirators and it quickly became conventional usage in Nationalist propaganda. The re-invention of holy war in Spain was accompanied by the same propensity for atrocity as during, the Crusades of old.

All Opus Dei members supported the Nationalist cause. Some, however, because they resided in areas that remained faithful to the Republic at the outset of the rebellion, were conscripted into the Republican army. The rising was immediately successful in the north and north-west of Spain, and in isolated pockets in the south. Elsewhere, the Republicans maintained control, though in Madrid they barely had the situation in hand.

At sunrise on Monday, 20 July, a crowd gathered in the Plaza de Espana and began chanting 'Arms for the People' and 'Death to the Fascists'. Then one of the agitators perceived that the gauntlet of Don Quixote, whose statue stands in the centre of the plaza, was pointing towards the Montana Barracks. The crowd took this as a sign to storm the barracks. Two brightly coloured beer trucks commandeered by the Anarchists wheeled into place three antiquated artillery pieces that had been discovered in a nearby depot.

From the DYA building across the street, Escriva watched the attack on the fortress-like barracks. The three field pieces opened fire at virtually point-blank range. They were more than a match for the trench mortars inside the barracks. After several hours of pounding, the troops inside the barracks turned on their officers and drove them into the central courtyard, where scores were despatched by machine gun. The frenzied mob stormed through the breached walls and applauded as a giant loyalist soldier threw the remaining officers to their deaths from the highest parapet.

When the smoke cleared, the Father changed into worker's overalls and slipped out of the building. Accompanied by Zorzano and Gonzalez, he hurried to his mother's apartment, close by. As the milicianos were summarily shooting priests like game in the streets, he remained at the apartment while Juan Jimenez Vargas met in the afternoon with Alvaro del Portillo to exchange information about what was happening in the rest of Spain. News bulletins mentioned a limited rebellion which the government said would soon be crushed. According to these reports, loyalist troops had already recaptured Seville and loyalist warships were shelling the North African garrisons. None of this was true.

In Barcelona, on the other hand, the uprising had failed miserably, not because of decisive government intervention but because Durruti and Ascaso -- by then under sentence of death in four countries but national heroes in Republican Spain -- had taken over the city arsenal and with arms seized there mounted a successful assault on the Atarazanas Barracks in which Ascaso was killed. The military governor, General Manuel Goded, was captured and executed, and the city reorganized under a revolutionary committee. Durruti formed the 'Ascaso Column' consisting of six thousand Anarchist 'minutemen' and marched out of Barcelona to liberate Saragossa, which had gone over to the Nationalists. His second in command was Domingo Ascaso, brother of the fallen Francisco.

Inside Saragossa, the Virgen del Pilar was named supreme commander of the city. Whereas the Fourth Division in Barcelona had collapsed, the Fifth Division in Saragossa under its new commander remained a viable fighting force. Moreover, the city's population became enraged when a lone Republican aircraft dropped a bomb on the Basilica. del Pilar. The bomb actually dislodged Our Lady from her column, but -- miracle of miracles -- it failed to explode.

After receiving Axis air transport, on 5 August 1936 Franco began airlifting troops from Ceuta to Salamanca and started advancing northwards. Nine days later, in retaliation for the wholesale executions that followed the fall of Badajoz to the Spanish Foreign Legion, guards at the Model Prison in Madrid butchered the inmates, among them Fernando Primo de Rivera, brother of the Falange leader. Days later militiamen looking for spies searched the building in the Calle de Sagasta where Escriva had gone into hiding. They found no-one, but that night he and Jimenez Vargas moved to the apartment of Jose Maria Gonzalez's father, where they remained for the next few weeks.

On 28 September 1936, the Nationalist junta met at Salamanca and accepted Franco as generalisimo. They had little choice. Franco held all the cards. His German and Italian allies made it clear they would deal only with him. Three days later, Franco moved his headquarters to Burgos in northwest Spain. His arrival was celebrated by the ringing of church bells throughout the city. He formed a military government which was sworn in with medieval pomp and a special Mass at the ancient Abbey of Las Huelgas.



1. Harry Gannes and Theodore Repard, Spain in Revolt, Victor Gollancz, London 1936, p. 47.

2. Gondrand, Op. cit., p. 75.

3. Vazquez de Prada, Op. cit., p. 139.

4. Josemaria Escriva, Maxim 626, The Way, Four Courts Press, Dublin 1985.

5. Berglar, Op. cit., p. 85.

6. Bernal, Op. cit., pp. 139-140.

7. Cronica I, the internal publication for Opus Dei numeraries, Rome, 1971.

8. Miguel Fisac, Noces, 8 June 1994.

9. Berglar, Op. cit., p. 84.

10. Cannes and Repard. Op. cit., p. 71, citing El Debate.

11. Fisac Notes, 8 June 1994.

12. Miguel Fisac letter to Luis Borobio, 18 February 1995.

13. Fisac Notes, 8 June 1994.

14. Gannes and Repard, Op. cit., p. 117.

15. Gondrand, Op. cit., pp. 127 and 128.

16. Ibid., p, 128.
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