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Cardinal to honor founder of Opus Dei

Mass to be said Monday night

Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley is planning to say a Mass honoring the founder of Opus Dei, the controversial Catholic movement, on Monday night.

O'Malley is one of several bishops around the country who will be saying Masses for the feast day of Opus Dei's founder, St. Josemaria Escriva, who was canonized in 2002.

The movement, technically called a prelature, has long been viewed with skepticism by critics, who worry that its practices are cult-like. But its many defenders say it is simply an institution of Catholics who want a more intense expression of their faith.

Public attention to the movement intensified this year with the release of the movie ``The Da Vinci Code," which featured an albino Opus Dei monk (the movement has no monks) as a killer. Opus Dei, previously considered secretive, has seized upon the controversy as an opportunity to more publicly talk about its history and practices.

O'Malley's spokesman, Kevin Shea, said the cardinal was pleased to say Mass for the Opus Dei founder. The Mass is to be at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston's South End.

Opus Dei says it has 87,000 members worldwide, including about 3,000 in the United States.

A Boston leader of Opus Dei, Joseph Billmeier, said there are 300 to 400 Opus Dei members in Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. He said the movement has houses of men in Chestnut Hill and Cambridge and houses of women in the Back Bay and Newton, as well as a retreat center in Pembroke.

Billmeier said that O'Malley's predecessor, Cardinal Bernard F. Law, had said Masses to mark the anniversary of the death of Escriva, but that this was the first year the movement had asked O'Malley to do the same. Billmeier said the invitation was not provoked by the movie, but that ``we are trying to get the word out and to help people understand us."

Escriva founded Opus Dei in 1928 in Spain. The movement says its chief activity is an effort by its members to increase their holiness through prayer, study, and service. A minority of the members, called numeraries, are celibate, and some engage in corporal mortification, self-inflicted pain or discomfort that they believe bring spiritual benefits.

The movement has been supported by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI; last October, Benedict blessed a statue of Escriva that had been installed in a niche outside St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican.

Michael Paulson can be reached at mpaulson@globe.com.

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