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Saint Josemaría addressing young Catholics
Saint Josemaría addressing young Catholics
Saint Josemaría Escrivá (January 9, 1902-June 26, 1975), (previously known as Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer y Albas) was a Spanish Catholic priest and founder of the Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei.


One of six children born to José and Dolores Escribá (the original spelling of his name), Josemaría Escrivá first felt a calling to the priesthood when he saw the footprints left in the snow by a passing monk. He studied in both Logroño and Zaragoza and was ordained in Zaragoza on March 28, 1925. After a brief appointment in the country he moved to Madrid in 1927 to study law. A prayerful retreat helped him to further discern what he considered to be God's will for him, and on October 2 1928 he created Opus Dei (Latin for "Work of God") as a new lay movement through which Catholics might learn to sanctify themselves without abandoning secular life.

During the Spanish Civil War, Escrivá went into hiding to escape persecution and murder by anti-clerics, although he continued to risk his life in order to minister to faithful Catholics. When the war ended in 1939, he was able to resume his studies in Madrid and acquire a doctorate in law.

The Priestly Society of the Holy Cross, attached to Opus Dei, was founded in 1943, and Escrivá himself moved to Rome in 1946. After earning a doctorate in theology from the Lateran University, he was appointed Consultor to two Vatican Congregations and made an honorary member of the Pontifical Academy of Theology. Pope Pius XII acknowledged Escrivá's work by making him a prelate of honor and by granting Opus Dei his official approval on June 16, 1950. After that, Escrivá worked hard to foster Opus Dei's work, so that when he died in 1975 Opus Dei covered five continents and had more than 60,000 members from eighty nationalities.


His cause for Canonization was introduced in Rome on February 19 1981 on the strength of the apparently miraculous cure in 1976 of a rare disease, lipomatosis, suffered by Sister Concepción Boullón Rubio, whose family had prayed to Escrivá to help her. On April 9, 1990, Pope John Paul II declared that Escrivá possessed Christian virtues to a "heroic degree", and on July 6, 1991 the Board of Physicians for the Congregation of the Causes of Saints unanimously accepted the cure of Sister Rubio. A second reported miracle apparently brought about by Escrivá's intervention was ruled valid by the Congregation and approved by Pope John Paul II in December 2001.

Canonization and legacy

John Paul II, who has frequently expressed public support for Opus Dei and its work, canonized Escriva on 6 October 2002. During the canonization, there were 42 cardinals and 470 bishops from around the world, general superiors of many orders and religious congregations, and representatives of various Catholic groups. One-third of the world's bishops (an unprecedented number) petitioned for the canonization of Escriva. (Messori 1997)

During the days of the canonization event, Church officials commented on the universal reach and validity of the message of the founder, echoing John Paul II's decree Christifideles Omnes on Escriva's virtues which said that "by inviting Christians to be united to God through their daily work, which is something men will have to do and find their dignity in as long as the world lasts, the timeliness of this message is destined to endure as an inexhaustible source of spiritual light, regardless of changing epochs and situations."

However, Opus Dei critics criticize Escriva's lightning canonization. They argue that the whole process was plagued by irregularities. Kenneth Woodward, a journalist and an insider, found that the ‘Devil’s advocate’ system was bypassed and witnesses hostile to Opus were not called. Opus claims that eleven critics of Escriva’s canonisation were heard, but Woodward says there was only one. The "consultors" were mainly Italian and members of Opus. This stopped Escriva’s many critical Spanish peers upsetting the procedure. But it also broke the convention that "consultors" should be the fellow countrymen of the proposed saint. Opus argued that Escriva was too "international" to need this. Furthermore, wealthy Opus is alleged to have pressurised "hundreds" of Bishops, especially from the cash-hungry third world, to send favourable reports to Rome’s saintmakers. It is alleged that 1300 Bishops sent in glowing reports. Yet of these only 128 had personally met Escriva. There are also allegations that Opus tightly restricted the Canonisation material, even within the Vatican.

On the other hand, supporters refer to Fr. Rafael Perez, an Augustinian, "one of the best experts" on canonization and who was the Judge of Escriva's Madrid Tribunal. He says that the process was fast because first, Escriva's figure is "of the universal importance;" second, the Postulators "knew what they were doing;" third, in 1983 the procedures were simplified in order to present "models who lived in a world like ours." Fr. Flavio Cappucci, the Postulator also reported that the 6000 postulatory letters to the Vatican showed "earnestness." His team submitted 16 volumes on Escriva's life including the published criticisms against him. The Tribunals listened to 92 witnesses, most of whom were non-members, much above the minimum. Among them were 11 ex-members. Of the 92, 66 were Spaniards who went to the Madrid court. Each one was asked 252 questions on Escriva's life, 10 of which were based on the criticisms. Together with the investigative material, the 980 court sessions make this "the longest process to date." Perez also noted that the Tribunal's work is very rigorous and it "listens only to people who are credible" and not to those who "just want to cause harm." He also said that "money can never make a saint," but "genuine interest." Opus Dei supporters say that the other accusations including a slur against the bishops of the Catholic Church are baseless allegations which anyone can think up. Supporters also say that the attacks against the founder's beatification in 1992 have turned into acceptance and support by the time of the canonization in 2002. (Documentation Service Vol V, 3, March 1992)

Saint Josemaría's books, including Furrow, The Way, Christ is Passing By, and The Forge, continue to be read widely both by members of Opus Dei and by other Catholics attracted to his spirituality, which emphasises the laity's calling to daily sanctification (a message also to be found in the documents of Vatican II). Pope John Paul II made the following observation in his homily at the beatification of Saint Josemaría:

"With supernatural intuition, Blessed Josemaría untiringly preached the universal call to holiness and apostolate. Christ calls everyone to become holy in the realities of everyday life. Hence work too is a means of personal holiness and apostolate, when it is done in union with Jesus Christ."


A vocal defender in life of Catholic orthodoxy and devotion, Saint Josemaría still has many critics. Some have described his character as less than saintly, particularly in his attitude towards women, and have accused him of lacking humility: for example, he changed his name from Escribá to the more aristocratic Escrivá.

He has also been criticised for his enthusiasm for the practices of flagellation and mortification of the flesh: he is recorded as having whipped himself until the walls of a bathroom were splattered with blood. He once wrote: "Blessed be pain. Loved be pain. Sanctified be pain...Glorified be pain!" (The Way, #208). However, his supporters and a number of theologians think this is a healthy and holy virtue (mortification) preached by Jesus Christ and St. Paul, and practised by all saints.

Accusations of right-wing tendencies, based largely on Saint Josemaría's criticisms of the crimes of Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War, are also common. Critics also point to a an alleged Fascist link, saying that he was a supporter of Francisco Franco. Escriva's followers and some historians have emphasized his personal effort to avoid partiality in politics. Professor Peter Berglar, a German historian, asserts that Franco's falangists suspected Escriva of "internationalism, anti-Spainism and freemasonry" and that during "the first decade of Franco's regime, Opus Dei and Escriva were attacked with perseverance bordering on fanaticism, not by enemies but by supporters of the new Spanish state. Escriva was even reported to the 'Tribunal for the Fight against Freemasonry.'" (Berglar, Opus Dei: Life and Works of Josemaria Escrivá 1994, p.180-181)

Although there is a letter from Josemaría to Francisco Franco which shows this supposed link, Escrivá admired Franco. In the letter he also expresses some kind of Spanish patriotism. He actually said "Although alien to any political activity, I cannot help but rejoice as a priest and Spaniard" that Spain, through its Head of State, has officially accepted the law of God in accordance with the Catholic faith. And his Catholic supporters say that Catholicism's law and faith stands for human rights, human dignity and freedom. Escriva together with the Popes have preached that all citizens should practice patriotism and love for their country together with loving other nations as well.

See also

Reading list

  • Josemaría Escrivá: Furrow, Scepter Publications, 1992. ISBN 0933932553
  • Josemaría Escrivá: The Way, Scepter Publications, 1992. ISBN 0933932545
  • Josemaría Escrivá De Balaguer: Conversations with Monsignor Josemaría Escrivá, Scepter Publications, 2003. ISBN 1889334588
  • Francis Fernandez: In Conversation with God, Scepter Publications, 1993. ISBN 0906138191 (7 volume set)

External links

de:Josemaría Escrivá es:Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer fr:Josémaria Escriva de Balaguer nl:Josemaría Escrivá pl:Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer pt:Josemaría Escrivá


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