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Opus Dei to cash in on Da Vinci fever

The conservative Catholic group shown as a shadowy cult in the movie sees the controversy as its trump card.

india Updated: May 19, 2006 15:08 IST
Indo-Asian News Service
Indo-Asian News Service

While controversy rages over the release of The Da Vinci Code, Opus Dei, the conservative Catholic movement shown as a shadowy cult in the movie that also has operations in India, sees it as a chance to clear the air about its work and identity.

The Catholic congregation, a relatively new entrant to India with operations restricted to New Delhi and Mumbai, is hoping 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 exactly we are," Mariano Iturbe, the director of Opus Dei's Mumbai branch, told IANS.

The group is portrayed as a secretive and ruthless Christian cult in the movie, based on the bestselling 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 Thursday by the Indian government, had come under a cloud in the past fortnight following demands from a section of a vocal 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 to date.

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 (Opus Dei) 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 the Argentinean 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."

Pope Benedict XVI Wednesday promoted an Opus Dei bishop in Argentina - yet another indication of the favour that Opus enjoys at the Vatican.

According to a circular issued Wednesday by the Opus Dei headquarters in Rome, the book and the movie portray the group's members as monks though there are none in real life.

"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 the movie, we are ready to abide by whatever decision the church takes regarding the release of the movie."

First Published: May 19, 2006 15:08 IST

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