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Opus Dei hopes to gain from Da Vinci

In an odd coincidence, the release comes on the 14th anniversary of the beatification of the group founder.

india Updated: May 19, 2006 10:14 IST

While a global controversy rages over the release of The Da Vinci Code, a little known Christian group, Opus Dei, allegedly shown in a poor light in the movie, sees it as a chance to clear the air about its real identity.

The Catholic congregation, a relatively new entrant to India with operations restricted to New Delhi and Mumbai, is hoping that the controversy will generate interest in the "real background" of Opus Dei.

"Out of a bitter lemon, we shall make lemonade. This is an opportunity for us to tell people who we exactly are," Mariano Iturbe, the director of Opus Dei's Mumbai branch, said.

The group is allegedly portrayed as a grotesque conservative Christian cult in the movie, which is based on a best-selling book by Dan Brown.

Spanish priest Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer founded the group, which has around 86,000 members, in 1928. It has been operating in India - first out of two centres in New Delhi and later out of two more in Mumbai - since 1993.

In an odd coincidence, the film's release comes on the 14th anniversary of the beatification of Opus Dei's founder.

The movie's release, although cleared on Thursday by the Centre, had come under a cloud in the past fortnight following demands from a section of the Catholic community to ban it or at least issue a disclaimer before its screening.

The book espouses the theory that Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene and had children and that the bloodline survives even today. It puts the Church and Opus Dei, which in Latin literally means 'work of god', at the centre of a conspiracy supposedly to cover up the secret.

"We work towards enabling people to inculcate Christianity in their everyday aspects. We show people how to put all the pieces of their lives - faith, work, family life - together," said Iturbe.

"Be it a housewife, a worker, a taxi driver or a teenager - his or her main activity is not prayer. We try to help them maintain their link with God even as they drown in mundane activities," he added.

"The idea is to reinforce the Christian identity of the layman. Unlike other Catholic groups, which have specialised fields of service like education and healthcare, we do not specialise in any area."

According to a circular issued on Wednesday by the Opus Dei headquarters in Rome, the book and the movie portray the group's members as monks, which they are not.

"They portray us as people who practise grotesque corporal mortification. Although the Catholic Church does advise its adherents such practices, neither is this an exclusive trait of Opus Dei, nor is it performed in the extreme manner as the book describes," Iturbe clarified.

The Spanish teacher, who is also a theology and research scholar, denied that Opus Dei was a cult or a sect as Dan Brown writes. Rather, the group is a fully integrated part of the Catholic institution.

"Although we are naturally hurt as our family and family members are being debased by the book as well as movie, we are ready to abide by whatever decision the Church takes regarding the release of the movie."