Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday blessed a statue of the founder of the conservative Catholic organization Opus Dei, saying he hoped it will serve as inspiration for those who passed by to “do one’s daily work in the spirit of Christ.”
The 20-foot-tall white Carrara marble statue, placed in a niche of the outside wall of St. Peter’s Basilica, depicts Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer with his hands open in a welcoming gesture and two cherubs at his feet holding a sculpted Bible. Balaguer founded Opus Dei in Spain in 1928.
“May all those who stop to contemplate the statue be encouraged to live their daily work in the spirit of Christ and in ardent love for the work of redemption,” said Benedict, who stopped to bless the statue at the end of his general audience before returning to Castel Gandolfo, his summer residence in the Alban hills outside Rome.
Opus Dei has more than 80,000 members worldwide, many of them lay people but also hundreds of priests and bishops.
Its mission – to give lay people a dynamic role in spreading the word of God – was backed by the late Pope John Paul II, who championed the movement as a means of confronting the secularization of society and reinforcing his conservative doctrine. But Opus Dei – Latin for “God’s work” – is also accused of secretive, cult-like practices.
Sculptor Romano Cosci, present at the unveiling ceremony, worked two years on the statue, which joins eight others depicting saints. The Vatican authorized statues to be placed in the three dozen niches of the basilica’s exterior wall in 1999.
“I hope that my work can transmit, at least in part, all that St. Josemaria gave to me and in truth to all,” the artist said at the unveiling ceremony. He also recounted a fall from the scaffolding during which he hit his head was taken to a hospital. “Thanks to God (and St. Josemaria) I was not seriously injured,” he said.
John Paul canonized Escriva in 2002, only 27 years after his death, one of the shortest waiting times in Vatican history.
In 1982, John Paul granted the organization the status of personal prelature, showing his favor for the group known for its rigorous defense of Church teaching.
Escriva held that sainthood could be achieved by anyone, from homemaker to professional, by carrying out everyday tasks extraordinarily well.
In the unveiling ceremony that preceded the blessing, Monsignor Javier Echevarria, the Opus Dei’s present leader, thanked the sculptor for capturing Escriva’s spirit.
“You immortalized a typical gesture, his hands open in welcome,” Echevarria said.
The ceremony was attended by five cardinals and several hundred pilgrims, many of them Opus Dei members.