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Da Vinci Code’s Opus Dei: Fact or Fiction?

Late last week, Newsday added another article to the ever-growing Da Vinci Code analysis omnibus: "As Da Vinci Code film looms, Opus Dei tries to explain itself" (which, apparently, is now only available in their fee-blocked archives, sorry). The article reports that - like their U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops brothers who put together the Jesus Decoded Website - the Opus Dei leadership has decided to take advantage of all the hoopla in order to “get out there and explain who we are:”

Opus Dei is touting a new edition of Saint Josemarie Escriva's "The Way," a collection of points of prayer by its founder, 10 days prior to the movie's May 19 release. The group has even found a real-life "Silas," in this case a Nigerian member who lives in Brooklyn with his wife, who they are offering as a counterpoint to [Dan] Brown's Albino killing machine of the same name.
And who is this Nigerian fellow? NY Times mentions him in a Feb. 7 article (which is still available, by the way):

Silas Agbim, the stockbroker, said that Opus Dei taught its members to hold themselves to the highest standards. "If you do your work well, it's pleasing to God," said Mr. Agbim, a graying father of three grown children who is married to a professor emeritus of library science. "And if you think you will get holy by reciting 10 rosaries a day and doing your work sloppily, that is wrong."
The Times article, which offers lots more info than the Newsday piece, also gives these tidbits about Opus Dei:

Opus Dei's reputation for secrecy developed partly because of the group's tradition that members should not publicly proclaim their affiliation. . . .

Opus Dei leaders say they are neither secretive, nor particularly powerful, nor lockstep conservatives. They say the group is a decentralized network of more than 84,541 Catholic lay people and 1,875 priests around the world, relatively small numbers in a church of 1.1 billion.

They say they have no aspirations to control the Vatican and believe their calling is to live out their devotion to God by doing their jobs well, be it janitor, senator or full-time mother. Opus Dei is Latin for "the work of God."

Lynn Frank, an Opus Dei member in Walden, N.Y., mother of seven and the owner-entrepreneur of a business that promotes healthful eating, said: "The determination I have definitely comes from my vocation with Opus Dei, because every single day with Opus Dei, you wake up and say, 'I'm giving 100 percent of my day to you, Lord.' And if you slack off, that's a boss you don't want to answer to."

The Times article goes on to give more history and background on the Catholic organization, including this tidbit I’d preferred not to have known:

Much of the eerie mystique surrounding Opus Dei comes from the numeraries' practice of "corporal mortification." In The Da Vinci Code, Silas the murderous monk is shown whipping himself bloody and wearing a spiked chain around his thigh so tightly that it draws blood.

In reality, numeraries do wear a "cilice," a chain with points, under their pants for two hours a day. Once a week, they beat their backs with a small cord while reciting a prayer. Opus Dei says corporal mortification is an ancient Catholic practice that promotes penance and identification with the suffering of Christ.
Ouch. But back to the Newsday article, which doesn’t just stick to Catholic efforts to counter Da Vinci Code myths. The article also mentions The Da Vinci Dialogue web site, an evangelical Protestant effort (albeit subsidized by Sony) to use the film as a “teachable moment.” But not every evangelical thinks that's a good thing:

As far as Christian screenwriter Barbara Nicolosi is concerned, efforts at dialogue simply fuel Sony's publicity machine. "Duped!" she asserts of those participating in Sony's Web site on her popular blog. "There is no discussion. What there is is a few p.r. folks in Hollywood taking mondo big bucks from Sony Pictures, to deliver legions of well-meaning Christians into subsidizing a movie that makes their own Savior out to be a sham."
So, there you go, the latest. Enjoy.

(Image: Columbia Pictures)