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The origins of the Opus Dei

Opus Dei was founded by a Catholic priest, Saint Josemaría Escrivá, on 2 October 1928 in Madrid, Spain. According to Escrivá, on that day he experienced a vision in which he “saw Opus Dei”.  He gave the organization the name “Opus Dei”, which in Latin means “Work of God,”[16] in order to underscore the belief that the organization was not his (Escrivá’s) work, but was rather God’s work.

Throughout his life, Escrivá held that the founding of Opus Dei had a supernatural character.   Escrivá summarized Opus Dei’s mission as a way of helping ordinary Christians “to understand that their life… is a way of holiness and evangelization… And to those who grasp this ideal of holiness, the Work offers the spiritual assistance and training they need to put it into practice.”

 

Initially, Opus Dei was open only to men, but in 1930, Escrivá started to admit women, based on what he believed to be a communication from God. In 1936, the organisation suffered a temporary setback with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, as many Catholic priests and religious figures, including Escrivá, were forced into hiding (the Catholic Church actively supported the Nationalist rebels). The many atrocities committed during the civil war included the murder and rape of religious figures by government loyalists.  After the civil war was won by General Francisco Franco, Escrivá was able to return to Madrid.

Escriva himself recounted that it was in Spain where Opus Dei found “the greatest difficulties” because of traditionalists who he felt misunderstood Opus Dei’s ideas.   Despite this, Opus Dei flourished during the years of the Franquismo, spreading first throughout Spain, and after 1945, expanding internationally.

 

In 1939, Escrivá published The Way, a collection of 999 maxims concerning spirituality.[32] In the 1940s, Opus Dei found an early critic in the Jesuit Superior General Wlodimir Ledochowski, who told the Vatican that he considered Opus Dei “very dangerous for the Church in Spain,” citing its “secretive character” and calling it “a form of Christian Masonry.”[33]

In 1946, Escrivá moved the organization’s headquarters to Rome.[6] In 1950, Pope Pius XII granted definitive approval to Opus Dei, thereby allowing married people to join the organisation.[6]

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