Pope Canonizes Founder of Conservative Catholic Group

Applauded by a huge crowd, Pope John Paul II raised to sainthood Sunday the Spanish priest who founded the conservative Catholic organization Opus Dei.

The canonization of Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer came only 27 years after his death, a remarkably short time by Vatican standards. It can take centuries for the Church to confer sainthood.

A crowd of about 200,000 spilled over St. Peter's Square, many of them from Spain and Latin America, where Opus Dei has a strong following. Some had spent the night in the vast space outside the pope's apartment window.

"Dearest brothers and sisters," John Paul told the crowd, "in this solemn Eucharist, the Church registers in the roll of Saints Blessed Josemaria Escriva, priest, founder of Opus Dei."

"For his intercession, we ask almighty God to transform all moments and circumstances of life into occasions to serve with joy and simplicity the Church and all its souls," the pope said.

Escriva believed holiness can be attained through carrying out one's daily responsibilities in roles ranging from parenting to laboring.

However some see his group, founded in Madrid in 1928, as secretive and elitist. Many of Opus Dei's members come from top professional ranks, including law, medicine and publishing.

The many suits and ties and conservative dresses worn by the crowd Sunday reflected the upscale membership of much of the organization.

Even the crowd's applause at the proclamation of the Church's latest saint was decorous compared to some of the other sainthood ceremonies in St. Peter's Square, such as last year spring's canonization of Padre Pio, an Italian monk, when many followers humbly brought sandwiches and fruit to eat.

Further, some Catholics have said Escriva lacked the virtues of a saint. They accused him of being ill-tempered at times and arrogant about his mission.

But the criticism diminished as it became clear Escriva's sainthood was a cause close to the pope's heart.

Among the pilgrims Sunday was Manuel Nevado Rey, whose recovery from a debilitating skin disease was judged by the Vatican to be a miracle achieved through the intercession of Escriva.

Most of the group's 80,000 members are lay members in keeping with Escriva's philosophy. They include Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the pope's spokesman.

"He didn't say to do extraordinary things to achieve sanctity but to do the little things in an extraordinary way," the Spanish layman said.