NEW YORK — In a letter to the New York Times, the U.S. vicar of Opus Dei said that the personal prelature has no conflict with Pope Francis, but supports him and is united with his mission.
“From my perspective, I don’t see that there’s any conflict with the Holy Father. Love for the Holy Father is part of our DNA. We pray for him every day. We learn from him,” Msgr. Thomas Bohlin told CNA April 5.
He quoted Opus Dei’s founder, St. Josemaria Escriva, who used to say that Opus Dei had three great loves in the Church: “Christ, Mary, and the pope.”
Bohlin spoke to CNA after responding by letter to the mention of Opus Dei in a March 24 opinion piece in the New York Times, written by Paul Elie, a senior fellow at Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs.
“While John Paul forged a relationship with Opus Dei — the strict and secretive movement with roots in the postwar Spain of Francisco Franco — Francis is at ease with the Community of Sant’Egidio, founded in Rome during the student uprisings of 1968 and now present in 70 countries, working with the poor, migrants, the elderly and people with AIDS,” Elie wrote.
Bohlin responded in an April 3 letter to the Times’ editor. “As head of Opus Dei in the United States, I want to affirm that all of us in Opus Dei support the pope and his work as pastor of the universal Church,” he said.
Pitting Sant’Egido and Opus Dei in opposition to each other creates a false dichotomy, he said, adding that Francis “can be at ease with both.”
Bohlin pointed to several signs of Francis’s support of Opus Dei.
“He has prayed at the tomb of Opus Dei’s founder in Rome; he has beatified Opus Dei’s first prelate, Álvaro del Portillo; and he has appointed several Opus Dei priests as bishops around the world,” the vicar said. “Recently, the pope sent a beautiful letter supporting a project for young people (UNIV) organized by members of Opus Dei.”
In his comments to CNA, Bohlin said he felt compelled to write the letter because “we wanted to make sure that people know that we support the pope, we pray for the pope. He needs our prayer, he needs to feel that support.”
“We are very much on the wavelength of the Holy Father…We love the pope, and the pope loves and respects Opus Dei, too.”
Bohlin objected to the depiction of Opus Dei as “strict and secretive,” saying that this is a “caricature” of the personal prelature, which is open about its mission in the Church.
“Opus Dei is fully a member of the Church. [It] spreads the message of holiness in ordinary life, especially among the laity, to be actively engaged in society through their work and their presence there, to bring the Christian message there and make it felt in the world.”
Opus Dei and Sant’Egido are not opposed to each other, he emphasized, adding, “It’s kind of a red herring to try to divide the Church that way.”
“We are all united with the Holy Father, in his message of mercy and love for the poor, imitating Jesus in this world today, being missionary disciples. All the things that Sant’Egido stands for are things that we too stand for.”
While Elie in his opinion piece emphasized the service work being done by Sant’Egido, Bohlin said Opus Dei also has a strong tradition of service, with projects all over the world. For example, he said, the organization runs a major hospital in Democratic Republic of the Congo, schools for poor children in Guatemala, and an inner-city center for kids in Chicago.
Bohlin clarified that Opus Dei does not have a specific mission to serve in one particular way. Rather, he said, “we try to set people on fire with the love of Christ,” and then encourage them to serve in whatever way they feel called. Members of Opus Dei work in hospitals, schools, homeless shelters, pro-life organizations and other charitable outreaches.
“We leave people a lot of freedom, but we urge them, ‘Take your talents, and go out and serve,’” he said.