Local Opus Dei members try to decode ‘Da Vinci’

first_img“I got in about 20 pages and I couldn’t read anymore. It was silly. I think it’s a piece of crap,” said the Rev. Paul Donlan, a Harvard-educated priest at Tilden. Donlan, a pale man with snow-white hair, has a comical – if a bit uncomfortable – bond with Silas. “Everybody pulls my leg: `Oh, you’re the albino,”‘ Donlan joked. “The nearest I got to being an assassin was when I was a chaplain in the Marine Corps.” Paul Ybarra, a Los Angeles city fire captain, had grown tired of Sunday Christians – those Catholics who serve God at Mass but not during the week. Then he stumbled upon Opus Dei. “They threw down the gauntlet to be a saint,” said the 45-year-old Valencia father of four. Ybarra learned to serve God by dedicating his firefighting to him. “Our work is our prayer,” he said. That concept also attracted Dennis Dubro, who joined in Boston as an MIT student in 1969. Seventeen years later, though, Dubro left Opus Dei embittered by what he claimed were “extremely aggressive” and “deceitful” recruitment strategies. He also said members learned to do whatever a higher-ranking official told them but to act as if it were their choice. “That’s a whole element of the brainwashing thing: You never admit you’re brainwashed,” said Dubro, a 55-year-old Bay Area engineer who remains a devout Catholic. Much speculation has been made about Opus Dei’s role in the Catholic Church and its influence in global politics. Many members choose to remain in the closet because of the undesired scrutiny of claiming membership. It is the church’s only Personal Prelature, which means local officials aren’t accountable to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles but to an official in Rome who reports to the pope. Known as numeraries, about 20 percent of Opus Dei’s members are celibate and single. Supernumeraries, comprising about 70 percent of members, are married and live with their families. They give to Opus Dei all income over household expenses. The organization has worldwide assets of about $2.8 billion and of $350 million in the United States, according to Allen’s book. That’s only a fraction of the 2001 revenue of all U.S. Catholic programs: $102 billion. Among Opus Dei’s worldwide holdings are 15 universities, seven hospitals, 11 business schools and 36 elementary and high schools, with ambiguous names such as Northridge Prep in Chicago. They operate Tilden and 59 other study centers in 19 American cities. Most are located near prestigious universities, where Opus Dei can encounter young, bright minds. Cassar was introduced to Opus Dei while attending Loyola Marymount University in the early 1980s. The group had a house in Cheviot Hills at the time, and one of Cassar’s classmates invited him to visit. He joined in 1986 and that year helped open the Tilden Study Center, where he has lived since. Every weekday morning, Cassar rises at 5:25. He prays for 30 minutes, attends Mass in Tilden’s small chapel and shares breakfast with the eight other men who live there. Throughout the day he repeats prayers such as “He must become more” when he climbs stairs and “I must become less” when he descends them. “It’s like an Internet connection. Maybe you had a flaky connection, the cord in the back of your computer wasn’t fully plugged in. But once you get it plugged in, it shoots out all this information,” Cassar said. “It’s as if my eyes are not my eyes, my nose is not my nose, my ears are not my ears. They are all Christ’s because I am fully connected. “It is basically like being in the spiritual zone.” [email protected] (818) 713-3634160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Without entering the priesthood, George Cassar wanted to commit his life to the work of God. So he pledged himself to a life of celibacy, to giving God every dollar beyond what he needed and to turning his job into a 40-hour-a-week prayer. “The key is trying to do the work well, do it with human perfection as Christ would do it,” the Raytheon engineer said. Cassar, a 20-year member of Opus Dei who lives at its Tilden Study Center in Westwood, is a stark contrast to the murderous albino Silas from Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.” AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBasketball roundup: Sierra Canyon, Birmingham set to face off in tournament quarterfinalsWith a film based on the book and starring Tom Hanks opening in theaters worldwide today, the Catholic Church’s most controversial organization is bracing for renewed scrutiny. Opus Dei – Latin for “the work of God” – has been shrouded in mystery since its founding in 1928 by charismatic Spanish priest Josemaria Escriva. The group, which has about 87,000 global members, including 3,000 in the United States and 180 in Southern California, has been accused of intense recruiting, brainwashing and political puppeteering. “Think of it as the Guinness Extra Stout of the Catholic Church. It’s a strong brew, definitely an acquired taste, and clearly not for everyone,” John L. Allen Jr. wrote in the introduction of his book “Opus Dei,” published last fall to dispel the myths of Brown’s book. Allen, the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, dedicates his book to answering the many criticisms of Opus Dei, which he argues have little merit. “The Da Vinci Code,” which Brown billed as based on previously unearthed history, claims Opus Dei exists to protect a 2,000-year-old church cover-up – that Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene and that their descendents are alive today. last_img
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