Blockbuster bonus: Despite the rigors of belonging the secretive sect, the group finds itself enjoying unprecedented levels of public interest
It takes three years of devout learning before you can become a member and, once in, you’ll be encouraged to wear a spiked metal wire around your thigh and pray for hours a day.
On top of that, most of the population will think you belong to a “secretive” group prepared to commit murder to protect the darkest secrets of the Catholic Church.
And yet, despite the rigors of belonging to Opus Dei and despite the organization’s sinister reputation — forged largely in the febrile pages of Dan Brown’s blockbuster The Da Vinci Code — the elite Catholic sect finds itself enjoying an unprecedented surge in popularity and in interest in it’s activities.
Even before the film version of the novel is unveiled at the Cannes Film Festival this week, increasing numbers of Catholics are lining up to join the 78-year-old organization’s 85,000-strong ranks.
“We’re getting two to three inquiries a day from people looking to join,” said Jack Valero, its spokesman in the UK.
Valero accepts that growing interest in Opus Dei is down to the popularity of the book, which has sold 40 million copies worldwide.
But he insists that most of it is from people genuinely seeking a spiritual dimension to their lives, rather than the chance to encounter the fictional, murderous albino monk, Silas.
“There’s a real interest in what we are doing. Obviously you get a few cranks, but in the main it’s genuine,” Valero said.
The success of The Da Vinci Code took the Catholic Church by surprise, but many within Opus Dei feel that the book — and now the film, which stars Tom Hanks, Sir Ian McKellen and French actress Audrey Tautou — may turn out to be a force for good.
“Maybe the people in charge have been teaching the Catholic message so badly we need to learn from the success of the book and teach in a more understandable way,” Valero said.
In the US, Catholic groups have found strategic references to the book can swell numbers on pews.
“In America, if you give a talk on the early years of the church, a handful of people turn up,” said Austen Ivereigh, London’s Archbishop of Westminster’s director for public affairs, who is spearheading the Catholic church’s Da Vinci Code response group.
“But if you give the same talk and put the Da Vinci Code in the title, 30 turn up,” Iverleigh said.
Opus Dei, meanwhile, is reprinting The Way, a book of reflections by its founder, Jose Maria Escriva, which has sold 4.6 million copies since 1939.
The organization hopes The Way will help to separate “facts from fiction,” chiefly The Da Vinci Code’s claim that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, who had his children.