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Be Saintly, Mahony Advises Opus Dei

Cardinal celebrates his first memorial Mass for the group on the feast day of its founder.

June 27, 2004|Larry B. Stammer | Times Staff Writer

Marking the first time he had celebrated a memorial Mass for Opus Dei, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony on Saturday called on an estimated 2,000 members and friends of the conservative Roman Catholic group in attendance to lead saintly lives.

Speaking on the feast day of St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, the Spanish priest who founded Opus Dei (Work of God) in 1928, Mahony said Josemaria was among the first priests in recent Catholic history to stress the role of rank-and-file Catholics in building the church through holy living.

While the church placed renewed emphasis on the laity during the historic Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960s, Mahony said, Josemaria had been doing so decades earlier.

"Vatican II set forth for the whole church the role in our baptism to be holy and to be wonderful witnesses in the world," Mahony told the congregation. "Pope John Paul II described Josemaria as a man far ahead of his time."

Josemaria died June 26, 1975, and was made a saint by Pope John Paul II in Rome in 2002 before an audience estimated by Opus Dei at 300,000 people.

The Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels was one of about 20 scheduled throughout the United States to mark the saint's feast day. Other bishops, including Cardinal Edward Egan of New York, also planned to celebrate Masses in their cities.

Opus Dei, which claims 85,000 members worldwide and 3,000 in the U.S., has been criticized by some as secretive.

In his homily in Los Angeles, Father John Waiss, one of two Opus Dei priests in the Los Angeles archdiocese, said the "universal call to holiness" by Josemaria was "desperately needed."

"For some, the idea of lay faithful becoming canonized saints is crazy," Waiss said.

But St. Josemaria disagreed. Looking at the cathedral tapestries depicting ordinary people walking with the saints, Waiss said, "Those tapestries are so Opus Dei!"

Opus Dei members in their everyday lives were mentoring at-risk youth, providing medical care for the indigent, running summer camps for youths, and setting up father-son and mother-daughter clubs, he said.

Most such efforts, Waiss said, were not official Opus Dei programs but efforts of individual Opus Dei members.

Waiss also stressed that Opus Dei members were members of local Catholic parishes and did not spend their Christian lives in isolation.

"We need the support of the parish and the archdiocese," he said.

In Los Angeles, a large photograph of Josemaria sat on an easel in the front of the cathedral as puffs of white incense smoke wafted above the marble altar.

The audience included adults of all ages and children. Many of the parents carried infants. There were nuns in traditional black and white habits.

In one indication of change in the church, during the Mass for Opus Dei, two young women read scriptural lessons. At the end of the Mass, Mahony held up a relic of the saint encased in a cross and blessed the crowd with it.

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