With the release of the upcoming film based on Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” May 19, Opus Dei is creating opportunities for curiosity seekers to learn more about the prelature, its founder and the Church.
Their approach is non-confrontational, and Opus Dei leaders are looking at this film’s release as an opportunity to spread the message of Christ.
According to a report in the New York Times, the group is promoting a blog by an Opus Dei priest in Rome, revamping its Web site and arranging interviews with Opus Dei members throughout its network. One of these members actually bears the same name as the fictional assassin in Brown’s book, Silas.
But real Opus Dei member Silas Agbim, a Nigerian stockbroker who lives in Brooklyn, is the father of three grown children. He is married and says Opus Dei teaches its members to hold themselves to the highest standards. "If you do your work well, it's pleasing to God," he told the New York Times. "And if you think you will get holy by reciting 10 rosaries a day and doing your work sloppily, that is wrong."
When plans were revealed for a movie based on the book, Opus Dei leaders say they tried to persuade Sony Pictures to eliminate any mention of their group.
Opus Dei's United States leader, Fr. Thomas Bohlin, sent the letter to Sony Pictures last year, saying the book was "a gross distortion and a grave injustice" and asking that Opus Dei be left out of the movie. Fr. Bohlin received a "polite but noncommittal" response, reported the Times.
Jim Kennedy, a spokesman for Sony Pictures, reportedly said: "We see 'The Da Vinci Code' as a work of fiction and not intended to harm any organization. At its heart the film is a thriller, and we do agree that it really provides a unique opportunity for Opus Dei and other organizations to let people know more about their work and their beliefs."
A positive spin-off from this pop culture phenomenon, say Opus Dei leaders, is Doubleday’s imminent release of "The Way," a collection of spiritual writings by the Opus Dei founder, Fr. Josemaria Escriva. Opus Dei spokesperson Brian Finnerty told the New York Times that Brown’s book opened the door for the publication.
Still, the movie is expected to revive a long debate over Opus Dei’s influence in the Church, its financial clout, its reputation for secrecy and the practice of corporal mortification by some of its members. Its recruiting practices, described on the Web site for the Opus Dei Awareness Network, have also caused debate.
The New York Times article attributes Opus Dei's reputation for secrecy to the group's tradition that members do not publicly proclaim their affiliation, and the impression of the group’s significant financial clout to Opus Dei’s U.S. headquarters in New York — a 17-story building at the corner of Lexington Avenue and 34th Street on which the group spent $69 million.
Author and Vatican correspondent John Allen determined Opus Dei’s assets to be $2.8 billion, much of it tied up in schools and hospitals worldwide. This figure, however, is difficult to confirm, as the organization does not have central financial records.
Allen authored "Opus Dei: An Objective Look Behind the Myths and Reality of the Most Controversial Force in the Catholic Church” and concludes that Opus Dei’s power and wealth have been largely exaggerated.
There are about 84,541 Catholic lay people and 1,875 priests around the world that belong to Opus Dei. Among its members, 70 percent are supernumeraries, who are usually married, live in their own homes and work in their professions. About 20 percent are numeraries, who have given their lives entirely to the work of the organization, making a promise of celibacy and living in an Opus Dei center. Ten percent are associates, who are celibate but live on their own and not in Opus Dei centers.
Opus Dei was founded 1928 by Spanish priest Fr. Josemaría Escrivá. Its spirituality emphasizes holiness through work and the importance of the family. In 1982, John Paul granted Opus Dei the status of a personal prelature, meaning that it has its own bishop who reports directly to the pope. Fr. Escriva was canonized in 2002.