Controversial group's founder now saint

New York Daily News/October 7, 2002

Vatican City -- Pope John Paul made a saint yesterday of the controversial founder of Opus Dei, a conservative Catholic organization whose rigorous defense of Catholic Church teaching has won the pontiff's favor.

The canonization of Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer drew one of the Vatican's largest crowds as more than 300,000 people overflowed from St. Peter's Square.

Sainthood for the Spanish priest who founded the group in 1928 came just 27 years after his death - one of the shortest waiting times in the Vatican's history.

The swift canonization underscored John Paul's support for a group that critics say is too elitist, drives home unthinking devotion among its followers and encourages secretive practices, including self-flagellation and the wearing of hair shirts.

Some Catholics, including some former Opus Dei members, contended Escriva was unworthy of sainthood because he was ill-tempered and arrogant.

80,000 doing 'God's work'

Opus Dei insists Escriva's leadership qualities were sometimes misunderstood and rejects the claims of elitism.

Escriva held that sainthood need not require extraordinary deeds but could also be achieved by carrying out everyday tasks well, from being a homemaker to being a lawyer.

Opus Dei - Latin for "God's work" - has more than 80,000 members, most of them from the laity and many of them holding top jobs in professions such as law, medicine, media and banking.

It is led by a core of celibate professionals who often live in the organization's residences around the world.

Membership also includes married people.

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