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October 6, 2002
Pope raises Opus Dei founder to sainthood
By ERIC J. LYMAN
UPI SpecialCorrespondent
VATICAN CITY -- Amid a crowd of 200,000 pilgrims that spilled out of St. Peter's Square, Pope John Paul II raised the Spanish founder of
the conservative Catholic group Opus Dei to sainthood.

Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer was made a saint only 27 years after his death, the fastest canonization in church history, a fact that
observers said showed the power the sometimes-controversial Opus Dei organization has within the Holy See. Usually, sainthood is
conferred only after centuries.

Many of the faithful gathered for the ceremony came from Spain and Latin America, where Opus Dei -- Latin for "God's Work" -- is
strongest. They held signs with Escriva's image on them and began gathering outside of St. Peter's hours before the ceremony began.

"In this solemn Eucharist, the Roman Catholic Church registers in the roll of Saints Blessed Josemaria Escriva, priest and founder of
Opus Dei," John Paul told the crowd, many of whom wept when the sainthood was made official.

Maria Pila Romero, a nun who traveled from Peru for the ceremony, said Escriva's example was guiding Catholics even today.

"These are difficult times, but Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer taught us that we can be virtuous and holy in small things like our jobs and
relationships and not only through big things," Romero told United Press International. "This is a lesson that is as valid today as it has
ever been."

Escriva founded Opus Dei in Madrid in 1928, and the organization now has around 1,800 priests and 84,000 members, most of them
professionals in Spanish-speaking countries. The group bills itself as "a way of sanctification in daily work and in the fulfillment of the
Christian's ordinary duties."

But the organization has also been criticized for being elitist and secretive, and Escriva himself has been attacked for being arrogant and
hot tempered. But John Paul made it clear 10 years ago that the canonization would not be sidetracked when he said that Escriva, who
was born in 1902, would be made a saint during the centennial of his birth.

But the acceptance of Escriva has not silenced criticism of Opus Dei, which is still seen by many as promoting a dangerous
fundamentalist agenda. The organization is also criticized for requiring that its thousands of lay members take vows regarding piety and
faith that are similar to those taken by priests.

Some have speculated that the quickness of Escriva's sainthood reflected the power that Opus Dei has within the Holy See, where the
group's most visible member, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, is the pope's spokesman.

But those concerns were pushed aside Sunday.

"Opus Dei has become more democratic over the years and the fact that the sainthood of Escriva has been so close to the heart of this
very revered pope has helped to silence criticisms that have been heard in the past," the Rev. Alistair Sear, a church historian, told UPI.

Escriva is the 468th saint named by John Paul, more that all the saints named in the previous 400 years combined.
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