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Sunday, 6 October, 2002, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
Pope creates controversial saint
Swiss guards on patrol at the ceremony
The ceremony took place in St Peter's Square
Pope John Paul II has canonised Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer, a Spanish Roman Catholic priest and founder of the Opus Dei movement.

Almost 250,000 pilgrims from around the world attended the mass in St Peter's Square in the Vatican on Sunday.

Josemaria Escriva
Born: 1902
Founded Opus Dei: 1928
Died: 1975
Beatified: 1992
Canonised: 2002
The pope, a supporter of the controversial movement, said Saint Jose Maria was now registered "in the roll call of saints" and hailed Escriva's message as "current and urgent".

Escriva, a Spaniard who died in 1975, founded Opus Dei, meaning Work of God, to promote the principle that holiness can be achieved through excellence in every day tasks.

But critics accuse the group of secrecy and elitism and say followers have created an obsessive myth around the figure of Escriva, whom they treat like a guru.

Miracle

The pope, dressed in white vestments, arrived at the square in his popemobile shortly before 10:00 am (0800 GMT) on Sunday morning.

Behind his stage, a giant image of the Catholic Church's newest saint was draped from the balcony of St Peter's basilica.

A relic of the saint, a fragment of his tooth, was placed next to the altar.

At the climax of the ceremony, the 82-year-old pontiff announced: "With the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, the saint apostles of Peter and Paul and our own, after a long reflection, many invocations of divine assistance, and having listened to the advice of many of our brother bishops, we declare and define blessed Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer saint, and we will write his name in the album of the saints."

Manuel Nevado Rey
Manuel Nevado Rey: Healed by Escriva
Many of the pilgrims attending the ceremony were from the new saint's homeland of Spain, but others came from Latin America, where Opus Dei has strongly taken hold.

Spanish doctor Manuel Nevado Rey, whose recovery from a radiation-caused skin disease is considered a miracle performed by Escriva, was among the crowd.

"My hands started to improve and look better, while before I didn't show them to other people for how horrible they were," Mr Nevado told the Associated Press.

Medical experts consulted by the Vatican said there was no scientific explanation for the transformation.

Growing influence

The progression of Escriva to sainthood has been rapid.

He was beatified, or made blessed, in 1992, and his canonisation was approved last year.

Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer
Escriva: Fast track to sainthood
The group's strict adherence to the church's teachings has allowed it to flourish under the current papacy, which promotes traditional values.

Pope John Paul II has already appointed one of the group's members as his spokesman, and has also chosen a cardinal from its numbers.

Some members choose to remain celibate, donate their salaries to the organisation, and live in Opus Dei centres, where men and women are segregated.

They practise "self-mortification" - including fasting and flagellation - as a way of reminding themselves of how Christ suffered.

The group, which has 80,000 members in 80 countries, is thought to have considerable political and financial influence, particularly in Spain where its followers are concentrated.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Brian Barron
"Sainthood for leader of respected and feared Catholic cult"
The BBC's David Willey
"There is no doubt that he (Escriva) has been fast tracked for sainthood"
See also:

04 Oct 02 | Europe
21 Dec 01 | Europe
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