What is the Attraction of Opus Dei?
Could you state whether — or to what extent — Opus Dei m Spain has an economic and/or political orientation? If affirmative, could you define it?
Opus Dei has no political or economic orientation in Spain or elsewhere. Undoubtedly its members are led by Christ's teachings always to defend personal freedom and the rights of all men — the right to live and to work, to be cared for in sickness and old age, the right to marry and have a family and give one's children an education in proportion to their individual talents, and the right to be treated as befits free men and citizens.
The Work, however, does not propose concrete solutions for any economic, political or cultural problems. Each member is absolutely free to think and to act as he sees fit in those fields. In all temporal matters he enjoys the greatest possible freedom. Opus Dei is open to people of every political, social, cultural and economic tendency that a Christian conscience can accept.
I never talk about politics. My mission as a priest is exclusively spiritual. Furthermore, even if I did express an opinion on a temporal question, the members of the Work would be under no obligation to follow it.
Opus Dei's directors can never impose a political or professional criterion on other members. If a member of the Work ever tried to do this, or to use other members of the Work for some human end, he would be expelled straightaway, because they would rise in legitimate rebellion.
I have never asked anyone who belongs to the Work what party he supports or what political ideas he holds; and I will never do so. It would seem to me a violation of his legitimate freedom. And the directors of Opus Dei, the world over, follow the same rule of conduct.
Nevertheless I am aware that among the members of the Work, in Spain just as in any other country, all shades of opinion are represented and I have no objection whatsoever. I respect them all, as I will always respect any temporal decision made by a man who tries to act according to the dictates of his conscience.
This pluralism is not a problem for the Work. Rather it is a sign of good spirit that bears witness to the legitimate freedom of each individual.
Is it a myth, a half-truth or a fact that Opus Dei in Spain has become a political and economic power through the positions, in the official and business world, held by its members?
It is purely and simply an error. The majority of Opus Dei members are of modest means and social position: manual workers, farmers, clerks, housewives, office workers, engineers, teachers, etc. A much smaller number are engaged in the world of government and business. All of them act exclusively on their own authority. They are completely autonomous in their work and answer personally for their actions.
The aims of Opus Dei are strictly spiritual. The only thing it asks of its members, be they socially influential or not, is that they strive to lead a fully Christian life. It never gives them instructions on how to carry out their work. It does not attempt to coordinate their activities, nor does it make use of the positions they may hold.
In this sense, the Work could be compared to a sports club or a charitable institution that is in no way related to the political or economic activities of the people who belong to
If, as claimed by its members, Opus Dei is simply a religious association in which each man is free to pursue his own line of thought, how do you explain the widespread belief that Opus Dei is a monolithic organisation with well-defined positions in temporal matters?
I do not think that that opinion is really very widely held. Some of the most authoritative organs of the international press have recognised the pluralism of the members of the Work.
Undeniably, however, there are people who maintain the mistaken opinion you mention. It is possible that some of them have propagated it for reasons of their own even though they know it to be false. In many other cases it may be attributed to inadequate knowledge. Being initially ill-informed, it is not surprising that people who lack sufficient interest in the question to enter into contact with Opus Dei and receive firsthand information, attribute to the Work as such the opinions of a few members.
In any case, no one who is reasonably well-informed about what happens in Spain can ignore the reality of the pluralism to be found among the members of the Work there. I am sure that you could easily cite many examples.
Another factor may be a subconscious prejudice engendered by a one-party mentality, in politics or in spiritual matters. People with this mentality want everyone to think the same way as they do, and they find it difficult to believe that there are people capable of respecting the freedom of other men. Thus they attribute to Opus Dei the monolithic character of their own groups.
It is generally believed that, as an organisation, Opus Dei wields considerable economic power. Since Opus Dei does engage in activities in the field of education, social welfare, etc., could you explain how Opus Dei conducts these activities, i.e., how does it obtain funds, how does it coordinate and use them?
In all countries in which it works, Opus Dei does carry out social, educational and welfare projects. They are not, however, its main function. Opus Dei's aim is to help men and women to be good Christians, and therefore witnesses of Christ in the midst of their everyday occupations The activities you mention are directed precisely towards that goal. The effectiveness of all our work is, therefore. based on the grace of God and on a life of prayer, work and sacrifice. But undoubtedly any activity in the field of education or social welfare needs to make use of a certain amount of money.
Each centre is financed in the same way as any other of its type. Student residences, for example, through providing the room and board for the residents, high schools by providing the pupils' tuition, agricultural schools from the sale of their products. But these funds are hardly ever sufficient to cover all the expenses of a centre, especially if you consider that the activities of the Work are all planned with an apostolic outlook and that the majority of them are designed for people with very limited economic resources who, in many cases, pay only, a nominal fee for the training they receive.
Another important source of funds is the members of the Work who donate part of the money they earn through their professional work. But most important of all is the generous support of many who do not belong to Opus Dei but want to contribute to these social and educational undertakings. The personnel in charge make an effort to arouse an apostolic zeal and a social concern which will move many people to collaborate actively. Since the centres are conducted with a high degree of professional competence and are planned to meet actual needs of the community, in most cases the response has been very generous. You probably know that, for example, the Association of Friends of the University of Navarra has some 12,000 members.
The finances of each centre are autonomous. They are operated on an independent basis and look for ways to find the necessary funds among people interested in their activities.
Would you accept the statement that Opus Dei actually 'controls' certain banks, business enterprises, newspapers etc.? If so, what does 'control' mean in this context?
There are members of Opus Dei (considerably fewer than some rumours would have it) who work at an executive level in businesses of various kinds. Some manage family concerns they have inherited. Others conduct businesses they themselves started or helped to start. Still others have been placed at the head of companies by the owners, who were convinced of their ability. They have reached the positions they hold by any of the honest ways in which people usually reach them. That is to say it has nothing to do with their membership in Opus Dei.
Just as with all the other members of the Work, the business executives who belong to Opus Dei seek to live the spirit of the Gospel in the exercise of their profession. This means, in the first place, that they have to be scrupulously just and honest. They endeavour to be honest in their business affairs, paying a just salary to their employees, respecting the rights of the shareholders or owners, fulfilling all the laws. They avoid any type of favouritism with respect to other persons, whether they belong to Opus Dei or not. I feel that favouritism would be contrary not only to the search for holiness, which is the reason for their belonging to Opus Dei, but to the most elementary morality.
I already mentioned the absolute freedom enjoyed by the members of Opus Dei in their professional work. This implies that the business executives who belong to the Work manage their companies as they see fit, without receiving any instructions from the directors of Opus Dei as to how they should carry out their work. The economic and financial policies that they adopt and the ideological orientation, in the case of a newspaper, or other publication, is their own responsibility entirely.
Any attempt to picture Opus Dei as a source of temporal or economic directives is completely unfounded.
How is Opus Dei organised in Spain? How is its leadership constituted and how does it operate? Do you, personally, intervene in the activities of Opus Dei in Spain?
The government of Opus Dei is never in the hands of one individual. Decisions are never made by a single person. We detest tyranny as being opposed to human dignity. In each country the direction of our apostolic activities is entrusted to a commission composed in its majority of laymen of different professions and presided over by the Counsellor of Opus Dei in the country. The Counsellor in Spain is Dr Florencio Sanchez Bella.
Since Opus Dei is a supernatural, spiritual organisation, its government is limited to directing and orientating its apostolic activities to the exclusion of any temporal aim whatsoever. The Work not only respects its members' freedom: it helps them to become fully aware of it. To achieve holiness in their profession or job, the members of Opus Dei need to be formed in such a way that they can administer their freedom in the presence of God, with sincere piety and with doctrine. This is the fundamental mission of the directors: to help its members know and practise the Christian Faith so they can make it a reality in their lives, with full individual autonomy.
Naturally in the purely apostolic field a certain degree of coordination is essential, but even there the intervention is limited to the minimum necessary to facilitate the creation of educational and social activities which constitute an effective Christian service.
The principles I have just mentioned are also applicable to the central government of Opus Dei. I do not govern alone. Decisions are taken by the General Council of Opus Dei which is in Rome, made up at present of people from fourteen countries. The General Council limits itself to setting down the basic guidelines for the apostolate of the Work the world over, leaving it to the directors in each country to put them into practice. The Women's Section is governed in the same way. Its Central Council is made up of women from twelve countries.
Why is Opus Dei, in your opinion, resented by numerous religious orders, such as the Society of Jesus?
I know an immense number of religious who are aware that we are not religious, but who return the affection we hold for them and pray for our apostolates. With respect to the Society of Jesus, I am personally acquainted with Fr. Arrupe, its Superior General, and can assure you that our relations are of mutual esteem and affection.
You may have met some religious who do not understand or sympathise with our Work. If so, it is probably due to a misunderstanding, or to a lack of knowledge of the specifically secular and lay character of our apostolate, which in no way intrudes on their proper field. We venerate and love all religious, and ask our Lord to make their service to the Church and to all mankind ever more fruitful. There will never be a dispute between Opus Dei and a religious, it takes two to make an argument, and we have no desire to argue with anyone.
To what do you ascribe the increasing stature of Opus Dei? Is it the appeal of your doctrine in itself or is it also a reflection of the general modern-age anxieties?
Our Lord gave rise to Opus Dei in 1928 to remind Christians that, as we read in the book of Genesis, God created man to work. We have come to call attention once again to the example of Jesus, who spent thirty years in Nazareth, working as a carpenter. In his hands, a professional occupation, similar to that carried out by millions of people all over the world, was turned into a divine task. It became a part of our Redemption, a way to salvation. The spirit of Opus Dei reflects the marvellous reality (forgotten for centuries by many Christians) that any honest and worthwhile work may be converted into a divine occupation. In God's service there are no second-class jobs, all of them are important.
To love and serve God, there is no need to do anything strange or unusual. Christ bids all men without exception to be perfect as His heavenly Father is perfect. Sanctity, for the vast majority of men, implies sanctifying their work, sanctifying themselves in it, and sanctifying others through it. Thus they can encounter God in the course of their daily lives.
The conditions of contemporary society, which places an ever higher value on work, evidently make it easier for the men of our time to understand this aspect of the Christian message that the spirit of the Work has recalled. But even more important is the influence of the Holy Spirit. His vivifying action is making our days the witness of a great movement of renewal in all Christianity. Reading the decrees of the Second Vatican Council, it is clear that an important part of this renewal has been precisely the revaluation of ordinary work and of the dignity of the Christian vocation of life and work in the world.
How is Opus Dei developing in countries other than Spain? What is its influence in the United States, Britain, Italy etc.?
At present people of sixty-eight nationalities, who work in almost all the countries of America and western Europe and in various parts of Africa, Asia and Oceania, belong to Opus Dei.
The influence of Opus Dei in all these countries is a spiritual one. It consists essentially of helping people to live the spirit of the Gospel more fully in their everyday lives. The situation of these people is extremely varied. From small farmers who till the land in isolated villages of the Andes to Wall Street bankers. Opus Dei teaches all of them the value of their ordinary work, which can be a highly effective means of loving and serving God and others, be it brilliant or lowly from a human point of view. It teaches them to love all men, to respect their freedom, and to work in the way they personally see fit to eliminate intolerance and to make society more just. This is the only influence of Opus Dei in any place where it carries on its apostolates.
As to the social and educational undertakings that the Work, as such, promotes, let me say that they are designed to meet the particular needs of society in each locality. I do not have at hand detailed information about them for, as I told you earlier, our organisation is highly decentralised. I could mention as one example among many, Midtown Sports and Cultural Centre in Chicago, which offers educational and sporting programs to the residents of that neighbourhood. An important part of its work consists in bringing together, in an atmosphere of friendship and collaboration, the different ethnic groups that live there. Another interesting activity in the United States is carried on at The Heights in Washington D.C. Its services include professional guidance courses, special studies for gifted students, college preparation programs, etc.
In England one might mention a number of university residences which provide not only a place to stay but numerous activities to complete the students' human, spiritual and cultural training. Netherhall House in London is perhaps especially interesting because of its notable international character. Students from more than fifty countries have lived there. Many of them are non-Christian, since Opus Dei's houses are open to all without any racial or religious discrimination.
To be brief, I will mention just one more activity, the Centro Internazionale della Gioventu Lavoratrice in Rome. This centre for the professional training of young workers was entrusted to Opus Dei by Pope John XXIII and was inaugurated by Pope Paul VI less than a year ago.
How do you visualise the future of Opus Dei in the years to come?
Opus Dei is still very young. Thirty-nine years is barely a beginning for an institution. Our aim is to collaborate with all other Christians in the great mission of being witnesses of Christ's Gospel, to recall that it can vivify any human situation. The task that awaits us is immense. It is a sea without shores, for as long as there are men on earth, no matter how much the techniques of production may change, they will have some type of work that can be offered to God and sanctified. With God's grace, Opus Dei wants to teach them how to make their work an act of service to all men of every condition, race and religion. Serving men in this way, they will serve God.