Fuenlabrada, Spain -- When his alarm clock rings in the morning, Tello Aguilar never hits the snooze button. He says God doesn't want him to.
"It's not easy, but it's the first sacrifice that can be offered to the Lord," says the 50-year-old elementary school principal. "From the first moment of the day to the last, all belong to God." Aguilar is one of 85,000 worldwide followers of the Roman Catholic movement Opus Dei, "God's work" in Latin. Disciples believe that professional dedication and personal sacrifice - some even wear hair-shirts and flagellate themselves - are pathways to holiness.
Their movement was at first regarded warily by ecclesiastical authorities, but Opus Dei founder Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, who died in 1975, will be canonized Sunday at the Vatican after one of the shortest waiting periods in church history. The ceremony is expected to draw 230,000 supporters from 84 countries to Rome, Opus Dei says.
Still, back in the country that is home to about a third of its members, the mention of Opus Dei stirs passionate debate.
Detractors accuse it of cult-like practices such as brainwashing adherents into thoughtless devotion and blackmailing former members to keep them from revealing organization secrets. Some Spaniards suspect it of illegally acquiring wealth and conspiring to influence both church and state.
"They are a danger to society," said Javier Sainz Moreno, a finance and tax law professor at Madrid's Autonomous University. He claims the organization has enriched itself in a string of murky financial deals.
Escriva was born Jan. 9, 1902, in Barbastro at the foot of the Pyrenees. Three years after his 1925 ordination, he had a vision in which he said God revealed Opus Dei's mission.
God wants ordinary Christians, he wrote later, "to be saints and apostles in the very midst of our professional work; that is, sanctifying our job in life, sanctifying ourselves in it and, through it, helping others to sanctify themselves as well."
Despite early concerns that Escriva's message might challenge ecclesiastical authority, the church classified the movement a "personal prelature" in 1982. That places it outside the supervision of any diocese.
Today, some of its biggest fans are found in Rome.
After he was named pope, John Paul II prayed at Escriva's tomb before addressing cardinals. Opus members close to the pontiff include the Vatican's Spanish spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, and financial adviser Jose Angel Sanchez Asiain.
The pope, who shares the founder's vehement anti-communism, is said to be impressed with the Opus Dei's ability to inspire religious fervor and bring the faith into the everyday lives of Catholics.
The core of the movement is made up of "numeraries," about a third of the total membership. They are celibate and live in sexually-segregated homes.
Some, like psychiatrist Rafi Santos, who lives with nine other professional women, donate their salaries to the cause. She works at an Opus-sponsored social aid organization and a private clinic, and also rises at the crack of dawn.
"My life is not all that different from that of any other professional. Maybe what's different is my motivation," said Santos, who wore a chunky diamond ring on her left hand.
Aguilar, the school principal, lives with his family of eight children. He prays and attends Mass daily, having joined the movement at age 18 after visiting an Opus-sponsored youth center. "I was impressed by the cleanliness and the discipline," he said.
Opus Dei's reputation for elitism started during the 1939-75 dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco. Many of the technocrats in Franco's later governments belonged to the movement, and are widely credited with helping bring about Spain's economic boom of the 1960s.
Today, Opus Dei runs IESE, one of the nation's leading business schools; and the University of Navarra, which Escriva founded in 1952. Two of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's children went to Opus-run schools.
Notable Opus members include Defense Minister Federico Trillio, Justice Minister Jose Maria Michavila, Attorney General Jesus Cardenal and former National Police Chief Juan Cotino.
The movement's chief prelate in Spain, Monsignor Tomas Gutierrez - in a written response to questions from The Associated Press - rejected claims that members secretly conspire to influence government or the professional world.
Those in public office "are exclusively subject to the norms and guidelines" of their government, he said, notwithstanding Opus Dei's strict adherence to Vatican doctrine on issues such as abortion and birth control, which are legal in Spain.
Gutierrez also maintains the organization's financial assets are "scarce" - no more than needed to cover education and salaries of its 1,800 priests and sponsored activities. He didn't give any figures.
The cleric also said that self-inflicted suffering for Opus followers was no different from "all those people who wish to achieve an objective ... in sports, at work, in politics and in Christian life."
While some members wear hair shirts under their clothing, most devotees go no further than "going without a drink at dinner, or changing a baby's diaper," Aguilar said.
But Carlos Biendicho, who spent five years in an Opus home before abandoning priesthood studies, recalled other rituals.
Members were required to report every bit of their personal lives - who they met, which books they read - to "spiritual directors," he said. Some strapped their bodies with barbed wire and flagellated themselves with lead-tipped whips until they bled.
"The first thing they do in the morning is kiss the floor and say 'Serviam!' (I will serve!)," said Biendicho. "It is a dangerous and destructive group that eradicates personality and freedom."