Tens of thousands of people have gathered in Madrid for the beatification of an early leader of the Roman Catholic organization Opus Dei.

At a large outdoor mass Cardinal Angelo Amato began the process that will turn Alvaro del Portillo into a saint. Del Portillo succeeded Opus Dei founder Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer as leader of the organization.

Opus, once considered a secretive, right-wing, cult-like group that curried high favor within the church, has been trying to foster a friendlier image in recent years.

The turning point came with Dan Brown's best-selling book "The Da Vinci Code" and subsequent 2006 movie. The plot portrayed Opus Dei as a murderous, power-hungry sect at the center of a complex conspiracy.