Thursday, January 19, 2006

Tuesdays with Glenwood: The Big Picture Seminar

By Kevin Te, Special to The B.C. Catholic
The BC Catholic (Vancouver, BC)
November 21, 2005.

Tuesdays will never be the same for the 21 Grade 9 and 10 students currently attending the Big Picture Seminar at Glenwood, a centre located at 4050 Osler Street in Vancouver that helps with both the human and spiritual formation of young men.
Glenwood helps high school and university students work towards becoming competent, generous, and responsible men who understand that professionalism and excellence are best directed to serving society. One of the programs it has been offering for the past four years is the Big Picture Seminar, held every Tuesday from September to May, 7 to 8 p.m.
"The purpose of the Big Picture Seminar is to help students in Grade 9 realize the challenges that they are going to face very soon," said Mario Jardon, the Director of Glenwood and the Co-ordinator of the Big Picture Seminar.
Participants listen to talks and attend workshops by people with more life experience. This helps them to prepare for the personal choices they will face about such issues as family and career.
The program is offered mainly to students entering Grade 9; however, in some cases it accepts Grade 8 and 10 students. Jardon said Grade 9 students are at a very critical age, and they are mature enough to understand the content of the program. The Big Picture Seminar is only for boys, but there is another centre that offers a similar program for girls.
Other cities, including Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec, have centres offering the same program. In Greater Vancouver, however, only Glenwood has the Big Picture Seminar. Jardon said that there have been some requests about starting one in Surrey, but they are still studying that possibility.
The cost of the seminar is $150. Interested parents and participants can either apply online or go to the centre. Potential members are interviewed to make sure they really want to be involved in the program.
"It makes a big difference if the young man himself wants to participate in the program, rather than his parents wanting him to attend," said Jardon.
He also said that although there is no official closure of registration, he advises interested people at this late date to register for next year's seminar, so that they will be able to grasp fully the speakers' message.
Christopher Elvidge, a Grade 12 student who attended the program three years ago, said, "I think it (the Big Picture Seminar) is great because they tell you how to get jobs, how to get ahead, and how to prepare for university and life in general."
He said he does not regret participating in the program because once a student takes part, he will be invited to the other activities Glenwood offers, such as retreats, volunteer works, and daily excursions such as mountain climbing and canoeing.
His father, David Elvidge, is so pleased with the effect of the program on Christopher that he now has his younger son attending the Big Picture Seminar. David, who usually stays and listens to the talks himself, said the speakers are teaching the same values he is trying to instil in his children.
He sees this reinforcement of values by non-parents as a benefit of the Big Picture Seminar, and he is happy that the seminar makes participants start thinking about important issues when they are in Grade 9 rather than in the last month of Grade 12.
"It has been worth the effort, from this family's perspective, to provide this additional learning opportunity for the boys," David said.
Despite all the sacrifices they have to make, he still believes that all of it is worthwhile because of the intangible values his sons will gain from this experience.
Jardon added that the people involved in Glenwood are very optimistic about the outcome of the program. They believe that the Big Picture Seminar is a good way to grow. "We care for the formation of young people," he said.
Formation activities at Glenwood are entrusted to Opus Dei, which was founded in 1928 by St. Josemaria Escriva. Opus Dei is an institution of the Catholic Church with the mission of spreading the message that all are called by God to seek holiness in and through their daily work, family life, and social relations.
For more information, visit
Kevin Te is a Corpus Christi College communications student.

Journalist John Allen on Opus Dei

Vatican-Watcher's Book Goes Beyond the Myths

ROME, DEC. 25, 2005 ( In a new book on Opus Dei, an American journalist tries to separate facts from fiction about the personal prelature. The volume is entitled "Opus Dei: An Objective Look Behind the Myths and Reality of the Most Controversial Force in the Catholic Church." In his research for the book, reporter John Allen of the U.S.-based National Catholic Reporter dedicated a year to interview members of Opus Dei in Italy, Spain, Kenya, the United States and Peru, among other countries. The author also talked with former Opus Dei members. The result is 400 pages in which this Vatican correspondent, who also works with the BBC and CNN, touches on topics ranging from the separation of men and women, to the use of the hair shirt, to the organization's finances.

The book has been published in the United States by Doubleday and in England by Penguin.

Q: So ... Opus Dei is not as bad as it seemed, you state. Is this the general idea of your book?

Allen: The aim of my book is to be as objective as possible, on a subject that's not really known for attracting objective discussion. The idea is to separate fact from fiction, providing tools for a rational conversation that's grounded in reality rather than myth or stereotype.

It was not my intent to "convert" readers to any particular position about Opus Dei, and my experience is that most people come away from the book without having changed their fundamental impressions of the group, but perhaps feeling a bit more informed, and a bit less alarmed.

On the other hand, given the highly negative image Opus Dei carries in some quarters, any serious comparison of that image with reality inevitably will make the group seem more human, less nefarious, than some had previously believed.

To take the basic numbers, Opus Dei has a worldwide membership of 85,000, which is roughly equivalent to the Diocese of Hobart on the island of Tasmania off the Australian coast. The group also counts some 164,000 "cooperators," meaning "supporters."

Outside Spain, where Opus Dei was born in 1928, Opus Dei represents a tiny, almost invisible, fraction of the Catholic community; in the United States, for example, there are roughly 3,000 members out of a total Catholic population of 67 million.

Opus Dei's global wealth, meaning the physical value of all the assets listed as "corporate works" of Opus Dei, is around $2.8 billion. For one frame of comparison, General Motors in 2003 reported assets of $455 billion.

Even by Catholic standards, Opus Dei's wealth is not terribly impressive; in 2003, the Archdiocese of Chicago reported assets of $2.5 billion. The American lay organization the Knights of Columbus runs an insurance program which all by itself is worth $6 billion. In terms of power, Opus Dei numbers only 40 out of more than 4,500 Catholic bishops worldwide, including only two members of the College of Cardinals, and just 20 out of more than 2,500 employees in the Roman Curia, including only one head of a policy-making agency.

In truth, Opus Dei's potential to "call the shots" inside Catholicism is far more limited than many imagine. For every Vatican battle Opus Dei members have won over the years, they've lost others. Despite being a vaunted recruiting machine, Opus Dei's growth rate is pretty small. Worldwide they add about 650 members a year, and in some places they're basically stalled. In the United States, Opus Dei has hovered at about 3,000 members since the 1980s. All this suggests that Opus Dei is not as imposing as some of the mythology would lead one to believe. Ironically, the people most determined to believe in Opus Dei's occult power are generally not its members, but its critics, who see its modest structure as masking vast unseen influence.

Q: Money, power, mortification, "Octopus Dei" ... most of your book tries to "purify" the whole mystery around Opus Dei. Do you think you have achieved this clarification?

Allen: I'm not naive enough to believe that prejudices and conspiracy theories that have formed over 70 years are going to collapse overnight because of this book. What I hope, however, is that the factual information provided in the book, much of it for the first time, will represent a point of departure for future discussion.

There's a legitimate debate to be had about some aspects of Opus Dei's internal culture and practice, and in my experience it's a conversation happening, in the first place, inside Opus Dei itself. The question of how Opus Dei could make itself more transparent without compromising its own identity, for example, is a completely reasonable point to press. Opus Dei must increasingly realize that it is responsible not only to itself and the memory of St. Josemaría Escrivá, but to the broader Catholic Church, and hence should do anything in its power to respond to legitimate questions and doubts.

At the same time, Opus Dei has also been a magnet for some of the wildest accusations and speculation over the years, and I hope the book will help to clear up those distractions so a more productive discussion can move forward.

Q: Reading you, it appears that Opus Dei has not as much power or influence as it seems. Why then this controversy and mysterious aura around them?

Allen: To me, this is the greatest single question about Opus Dei: How did this relatively small group, with only modest wealth and influence, become the bogeyman of the Catholic imagination? I think the answer is complex, pivoting on at least four factors:

One, Opus Dei grew up in Franco-era Spain, and hence has long been linked to Spanish fascism. Two, Opus Dei and the Jesuits engaged in fierce "border wars" over young vocations in Spain in the 1930s and 1940s, generating a rivalry which followed Opus Dei wherever it went because of the Jesuits' extensive worldwide network. Three, in the post-Vatican II era, Opus Dei became a symbol of the broader struggles within Catholicism between left and right. Four, in the John Paul II era, Opus Dei received considerable papal favor, generating envy in some quarters and ideological opposition in others. In other words, Opus Dei represents a sort of "perfect storm," where a combination of historical and political factors collided to invest this group with a mythic status that its actual sociological profile doesn't support.

Q: If I were from Opus Dei I would surely thank you for your book. Have you received lots of messages in these terms?

Allen: I've heard from a number of Opus Dei members who are grateful for what they see as the relatively balanced treatment they believe the group received in the book.

Others, however, are unhappy with what they see as excessive focus on the controversies surrounding Opus Dei. They feel as if Opus Dei is their family, and it's always painful to hear accusations against loved ones, even if they're given the most balanced treatment in the world. I would say, by the way, I've received much the same reaction from Opus Dei critics. Some feel the book gave fair voice to their concerns, while others, convinced that Opus Dei is dangerous, feel as if I didn't go nearly far enough in "exposing" its flaws. This reaction illustrates the unfortunately polarized nature of much discussion about Opus Dei.

Q: You think you do not fit into the Opus Dei structure. Do you realize it now, after your research, or you already knew it?

Allen: As a journalist, I don't join groups within the Church as a matter of general principle, because I need to preserve my impartiality.

For that reason, there was never any serious question of my joining Opus Dei, or any other body. Certainly my 300-plus hours of interviews and travels to eight countries for this book, however, brought home for me that if I were to join a Catholic group, it would not be Opus Dei. This is not the result of any lack of respect, or any fears about Opus Dei; quite the contrary, I came to admire most of the people I met in Opus Dei, and I usually found their company highly stimulating and enjoyable. Yet there is a daily "program of life" for Opus Dei members, and a set of expectations about attendance at events and so on, that I would personally find stifling. I'm a classic "only child," meaning that control over my time and space is important to me. I don't like anyone setting schedules for me, or telling me when I need to pray, or how. Let me be clear, however, that this is a matter of personal taste. I admire the commitment I see in most Opus Dei members, and my perception is that most are eminently satisfied with their experiences.
Opus Dei on John Allen's New Book
We're "Neither Angels nor Demons," Says Spokesman
ROME, DEC. 25, 2005 ( An Opus Dei spokesman has expressed satisfaction with a new book on the personal prelature written by an American journalist. Marc Carroggio, who oversees Opus Dei's relationship with international journalists in Rome, said he was satisfied with the book just published by John Allen. "Opus Dei: An Objective Look Behind the Myths and Reality of the Most Controversial Force in the Catholic Church" has been published so far in English, Portuguese and Korean. Carroggio told ZENIT that this is the first book that compares dispassionately the myths and reality surrounding "the Work," as it's called by Opus Dei members. "The author has understood well the nature of Opus Dei," Carroggio said.

Q: You must be happy since this book clears up many issues about Opus Dei.

Carroggio: I worked in the Rome press office while John Allen was writing this book. I can say that I am satisfied with it, especially with respect to its method. Allen spent hundreds of hours gathering a great deal of information and views from all sorts of people. He places all this information in its proper context, and so gives the rationale for many ways of doing things. He has listened to both sides and been respectful to both. Finally, he leaves the readers to reach their own conclusions. These are desirable qualities for a book of this kind. The issues it deals with do not easily lend themselves to dialogue or dispassionate discussion. Hence, any attempt to clear away false stereotypes is positive. I do not like comparisons, but I should point out that the author of "The Da Vinci Code" never visited a center of Opus Dei and, as far as I know, never spoke to any members. The picture of Opus Dei presented in the novel is a figment of his imagination.

I think that John Allen's work can help readers of "The Da Vinci Code" who have no firsthand knowledge of Opus Dei to understand that we are neither angels nor demons. We are human beings with flesh and blood, who are sometimes wrong and sometimes right, who have faults but also want enthusiastically to follow an ideal.

Q: As he explains, the author had access to documents that are not available to the general public. He spent time in centers of numeraries, he interviewed dozens of members of the Work and he has absorbed what it means "to be in Opus Dei." In your view, what more would he need to understand Opus Dei better?

Carroggio: I think that the author has understood Opus Dei well: the nature of its message, the reasons for the things it encourages people to do, its members' mode of life, our ideals and also where we fall short.

This book is a journalist's report, not a dissertation in theology or a treatise on the history of the Church. Its approach is sociological, although it also acknowledges and respects the spiritual dimension of things.

Allen himself says that he does not intend to give an exhaustive account of Opus Dei but rather to compare myths with reality. As a consequence, he devotes a lot of space to matters that are actually fairly secondary in the life of Opus Dei but which have received a lot of attention from the media, especially in the United States.

So, for example, one could say a lot more about the spiritual experience of belonging to Opus Dei and about the inner motivation that leads persons to choose this path in their search for holiness in the middle of the world. This would entail a larger treatment of each person's awareness of his or her own Christian vocation as well as persons' desire to follow Jesus Christ in their work, in their family and in their daily life. For an institution in the Church, the personal and existential dimensions are more important than organizational charts or questions of image.

Q: As part of his research, John Allen has also given the ex-members of Opus Dei a chance to speak. Do you think he has given too much space to their testimonies?

Carroggio: The book is a journalist's report, not a philosophical reflection on questions of principle. It is the result of a great number of interviews with people in a variety of different situations.

In a work like this, it is the author himself who has to determine the proper balance among his sources. I respect Allen's decision here, because it seems completely legitimate to me. Personally I think that he explains well how these sorts of criticisms differ from those that arise, if I might put it this way, from the writers of fantasy. It easy enough to show that Opus Dei is not behind the sinister operations and conspiracies so often attributed to it. It is different, however, when we are dealing with a person who has had a negative experience. You cannot simply deny a wound, or pain, or bad memories. This is not just an issue of lies and truth.

When we encounter a person's negative experience, we have to show our respect for it, we have to share that pain, even though at times we do not share that person's interpretation of the events.

The fact is that the faithful of Opus Dei live out their dedication to God with full freedom, and their dedication helps them to find happiness, at least the relative happiness that can be had in this world. Hence the great majority of those who come to centers of Opus Dei have a lifelong appreciation for the Work. But this is not always the case. And so it does not seem wrong, but rather just the opposite, that a book like Allen's would include these cases, which I consider to be exceptions. When Allen asked the prelate about this matter, Bishop [Javier] Echevarría said that we ask pardon with all our heart of those persons who do not feel that they were well treated. As you can understand, I have nothing to add to that.

Q: Would you like to see a "Part Two" of this book?

Carroggio: Each book is unique and therein, it seems to me, lies its strength. Although John Allen's book is not merely a book about controversies, the emphasis is certainly on the more-debated issues. In my opinion, he treats these questions respectfully and offers factual information more than partisan or ideological explanations of them. Moreover, he makes an effort to summarize some of the essential characteristics of Opus Dei, such as divine filiation, freedom, the sanctification of work and ordinary life, etc.

I would like a future book to develop these aspects, and precisely in journalistic form. Such a book would be able to describe in a fresh way the experience of living one's Christian life in the middle of the world. It would talk about how faith and prayers provide such admirable resources for one's ordinary life, including the more difficult times like sickness, unemployment or the death of a loved one. There is a lot to talk about.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

What to do with the Da Vinci Code Flick

The Da Vinci Movie is coming out on May 19th. This will be a huge public podium to speak about what we love the most in the world: Jesus Christ, the real one. And part of that is clarity on the Church and institutions in it like Opus Dei. The Da Vinci Code gave us the fiction, now we must have the facts. Here is an article in Zenit about the movie and what Opus Dei will do about it.

"Da Vinci Code" -- a Blessing for Opus Dei?
Use the Lemon to Make Lemonade, Says Spokesman

ROME, JAN. 12, 2006 ( The forthcoming film "The Da Vinci Code" might not be so bad for Opus Dei after all.

For the first time, in this interview, a representative of the "evil one of the film" -- the Opus Dei prelature -- offers his view on this production, which Sony-Columbia will release in May.

Marc Carroggio, who oversees Opus Dei's relationship with the international media, told ZENIT that interest about the book and the film "is turning out to be a sort of indirect publicity for us."

Carroggio added that, given the existence of the movie, there will be no fight against anyone. An effort is being made to take advantage of the great interest aroused to propose the figure of Jesus Christ, he stressed.

Q: What do you most dislike about the book and now the movie?

Carroggio: I realize that fiction has its own rules and you shouldn't take it too seriously, but like any Christian I dislike the frivolous way the book plays with the life of Jesus Christ.

Moreover, scripts like this demonize a particular group. It presents the Catholic Church as a band of criminals who for 2,000 years has tried to hide a huge lie.

Although the story is absurd and at times somewhat humorous, it produces a hateful image of the institution and it is well known that hateful images like this produce feelings of hatred in those who lack a critical sense.

I don't think we need more caricatures of any religion. We should all be working for harmony, tolerance and understanding. You cannot be seeking peace with your left hand while you are beating people over the head with your right.

Q: Opus Dei does not usually give official responses to events. Will there be an exception for the "Da Vinci Code" movie?

Carroggio: Some people are waiting for a "declaration of war" from the Catholic Church and from Opus Dei. This might interest those who are marketing the movie -- you know, a big fight in public.

But I can assure you that Opus Dei's only response will be a declaration of peace. No one is going to make threats or organize boycotts or anything like that.

We would have been happy if the producer, Sony-Columbia, had given us some sign that they would respect us. I would call their response so far "polite but noncommittal," with little indication that they intend to respect religious beliefs.

Q: How do you think the members of Opus Dei will react to the movie?

Carroggio: The reaction of the members of Opus Dei, like that of many other Christians, will be to "use the lemon to make lemonade."

Actually this event gives us a wonderful chance to talk about Jesus Christ. After all, it is the figure of Jesus Christ that explains, to a large degree, the popularity of the book.

The novel is essentially parasitical: The author makes a name for himself by attacking a major cultural figure, and he presents it as art. If the plot did not center on Jesus Christ, the book would lose its appeal.

I think that the best response is simply to help people to know Jesus Christ. I suspect that in the coming year, many people will be moved to read the Gospels or a book about the life of Jesus Christ.

They will be drawn to consider the great themes of faith, which give light to the most difficult questions of human existence. For me, these are all ways of turning the lemon into lemonade.

Q: In a certain way, Dan Brown has made Opus Dei more fashionable and given you an opportunity to explain yourselves. Have you noticed an increase in numbers of people seeking information?

Carroggio: Undoubtedly. In the last year, in just the United States, more than a million persons have visited our Web site [] and this is primarily due to interest generated by "The Da Vinci Code."

So we are receiving a sort of indirect publicity. This reminds me of what used to happen in the former Communist countries.

If an official organ published an article against the Church - at times attacking Opus Dei as well - we would receive secret messages from individuals who would read the article "backward." They would conclude that if Opus Dei was being criticized by people who criticized the Catholic Church, then Opus Dei must be interesting.

Something similar is occurring with "The Da Vinci Code." We have already made quite a bit of lemonade with the book and, God willing, we hope the movie only increases production.

We will try to give out as much information as possible and will be completely open and available: The doors are open.

We would like to offer anyone who wants it the chance to know about Opus Dei firsthand. This, by the way, is something that seemed to interest neither the author of the book nor the producer of the movie.

Q: Are you going to take legal action against the movie?

Carroggio: I would be surprised if that happened. Of course there are more than enough reasons.

Suppose a movie revealed that Sony-Columbia was not what we had always thought but was a secret group of assassins run by the Mafia, but included a disclaimer that it was just fiction. Somehow I doubt their lawyers would be satisfied. I am sure they would threaten a suit.

Still, legal action is like an icon of institutional conflict. It would be "Opus Dei vs. Sony-Columbia." To me that just sounds almost surreal. As I said earlier, the only thing Opus Dei is going to do is to make a declaration of peace. It takes two to fight and in this case we lack a quorum.

But there are members of Opus Dei in 60 countries. Some of them, with others, run centers that train farmers and young people who can't find work. They also run hospitals in underprivileged areas. All these activities depend financially on the help of many donors. Obviously the novel and movie could make their fund raising more difficult. For this reason, it would not surprise me if some of these organizations thought about seeking damages.

Q: Is Opus Dei going to advise its members not to see the movie? Or would it prefer that they be aware of the negative perception of Opus Dei in some circles?

Carroggio: Members of Opus Dei are adults. We are not going to advise them either way.

An interesting question is whether this movie should be only for adults. Any adult with a minimum of education can distinguish reality from fiction. But when history is manipulated, you cannot expect a child to make proper judgments.

Merely adding a disclaimer that says "Fiction" is not enough. Just as we protect children from explicit sex and violence, it would seem to make sense to protect them from violence that is more subtle and thus more insidious.

I think it is reasonable to be concerned about this question. Besides thinking about profits, one should also think about possible negative influences on the young. As I said earlier, this is not the time for sowing disharmony among persons, nations and religions, but rather understanding.