Don Alvaro who? Beati what?


Like most Manila Times readers, including ardent Catholics who aren’t Opus Dei members, I was astonished at this newspaper’s Sunday edition, which devoted five long news articles and an opinion column on the “beatification of Don Alvaro del Portillo.”

Even the newspaper’s editorial was devoted to Portillo, whom it described was a  “friend of many Filipinos.” Huh? I had never heard of this friend of Filipinos before, and I thought I’ve been a very well informed journalist.

I cannot remember any national daily ever devoting such enormous space to a dead religious personality.  The other major newspapers hardly treated it as an important story, burying it in their inside pages.

So what the hell, rather, what in heavens’ name, was this paper reporting about?

First, “Don Alvaro” is Msgr. Alvaro del Portillo, who died 20 years ago, and who had succeeded Jose Maria Escriva as head of the religious organization Opus Dei, which was founded in Spain in 1928, where it has the biggest and most influential operations.

Opus Dei is an organization of 92,000 members – of whom 90,000 are lay persons and 2,000 are priests – a tiny group relative to the Catholic Church’s 1.2 billion faithful. It is dwarfed by our homegrown Iglesia ni Cristo, whose membership has been estimated at 5 to 10 million. I would even suspect Brother Mike’s El Shaddai is bigger than the Opus Dei.

Unlike INC and El Shaddai, however, Opus Dei lay members are among the elite in Spain and in the few countries it has taken root, including here.  This explains its influence, which is so grossly unreflective of its size.

In fact, Opus Dei is so much of an exclusive club that most people got to know about it only because of Dan Brown’s best-selling novel Da Vinci Code, where it is portrayed as a fanatical, yet powerful sect.  (I’ve met many working-class people who are INC or El Shaddai members. I have yet to meet an Opus Dei who is an ordinary employee, making me suspect it is, indeed, a sect of the elite.)

The biggest criticism against Opus Dei has been its support of the Spanish fascist Franco’s regime, an accusation I would tend to believe, as many of its leading members had also been officers or supporters of Marcos’ dictatorship.

Second, “beatification” is the “recognition accorded by the Catholic Church to a dead person’s entrance into Heaven and capacity to intercede on behalf of individuals who pray in his or her name (intercession of saints).”  It is the Church’s penultimate step before one is “canonized,” that is, included in its list, or canon, of saints.

Opus Dei members are so happy over Portillo’s beatification because it means the organization is well on its way to have its second saint, with Escriva having been made one in 2002.

A New York Times article reported last week: The beatification is a result of “indefatigable lobbying” by Opus Dei within the Vatican, according to Marco Politi, a Vatican journalist with Il Fatto Quotidiano, an Italian newspaper. He suggested that the speed of the beatification, coming just 12 years after the canonization of Father Escrivá, was “a record for a religious organization.”

You see, much like divisions in an army, religious orders’ track record, prestige, and influence over the Vatican through history is somehow a function of the number of its saints. Franciscans have 55 saints, the Benedictines 41, Jesuits 20, Dominicans 18, Carmelites 10 and Redemptorists just 4.

After all, a saint among an order’s ranks demonstrates it has a hot line to the divine. A saint can do no wrong, an old Christian adage says, so that the more an order has saints from its ranks, the less it can do wrong.

That Opus Dei in such a relatively short time will have two saints means the organization, despite its tiny size, has become an influential force within the Catholic Church.

I’ve been wondering though:  Would Opus Dei’s unusual strength in the Philippines be an indication of colonizer Spain’s continuing hold on the minds of our elite?

Conferring sainthoods is also one way the Catholic Church raises the morale of its troops in areas where it is advancing, so that there has been an acceleration of canonizations in the 20th century, and in recent years, of people from Africa, China, Korea and, of course, the Philippines.

According to the Church’s 2,000-year history, most popes appointed only a handful of saints during their term. This tradition, however, was radically changed by Pope John Paul II (1978-2005), who canonized a record number of 110 saints during his term – more saints than those anointed by other popes in the previous 500 years.  That included Opus Dei founder Escriva and the first Filipino saint, Lorenzo Ruiz. Benedict XVI has continued the new trend of mass canonization, which included our second saint Pedro Calungsod.

The nationality of saints, however, points to the system’s mundane features.  There are 257 Italian saints, 155 Spanish saints, 76 English, and 87 Egyptian and 95 Anatolian. This simply reflects where Christianity’s power had been based as one moves through history. (Anatolia is in Turkey, which was once a center of Christianity before it broke off into the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox wings.)  Most of the other nationalities in the world wouldn’t have a saint, or just a handful, if any.  That would make Italian and Spanish the most spoken language in Heaven.

Pantheon of Saints
Or is the Church’s pantheon of saints, as many modern observers have pointed out, polytheism in disguise? Believe it or not, there is no official Catholic Church list of saints. This is partly because a huge number of those portrayed as faithful for centuries, have been disowned by the Church as they turned out to be simply the stuff of legend and mythology, among them St. Christopher and the Archangel “saints,” while many were thought to be saints simply out of public clamor.

There are patron saints for nearly all conceivable diseases, for instance. St. Symphoran for syphilis, St. Fiacre for hemorrhoids, St. Ubald for autism. And a saint for each line of work, e.g. St. Bernardine for advertisers, St. Francis Caracciolo for chefs, and St. Francis de Sales for journalists.

That patronage system of saints is obviously an ancient human predilection in all cultures around the world, by which a god or goddess was believed to be behind each force or aspect of nature, from the Norse Thor, the god of thunder, Apollo the god of the Sun, to the Hindu Aranyani, the goddess of the forests.   The Greeks were the first to assign gods for each line of work and emotion, for instance, Hephaestus, as the god of blacksmiths and Cupid, the god of lust.  The Church beats all these old polytheisms though, with its 10,000 saints, each of which Catholic Online assigns as patron for a disease or a line of work.

The strength of Opus Dei may be due to the fact that its members find both community and religion in one organization they are convinced is part of a larger whole, the Church.

Or its strength may be due to the fact that certain individuals prefer, in a world of uncertainty, the certainty in dogmas and authoritarian discipline, with its exclusivity convincing them they are among the elite who have an assured space in Heaven.

For the Philippines, though, it presents an interesting case study of how a tiny elite group can occupy the commanding heights of our society and has enough influence to make the country’s oldest and widely respected newspaper devote nearly an entire edition to the glorification of its second head.
FB: Rigoberto Tiglao


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  1. Good article. A must to know our religion. By the way, one of the ardent supporters of the organization if I am not mistaken is Ms. Baby Arenas. And during the time of then Pres. Cory Aquino, one of the cabinet members who is an active member of Opus Dei was Jesus Estanislao, a former seminarian. And a former Congressman from Cebu, who was a former NTC head. Is this the organization labelled by former Philippine Star columnist Max Soliven as “Octopus Dei”?.

  2. Kudos, and more kudos to Mr. Tinlao. I thought for a moment Manila Times is Catholic newspaper. Now, you restore my confidence to MT reports.

    KUDOS for speaking out,

  3. Gloria M. Kuizon on

    May God forgive you, Mr. Tiglao, and those who made comments hitting at me and even lying about Mr. Tatad. People who value the truth know that Mr. Tatad did not become an Opus Dei member until many years after Ferdinand Marcos had been ousted. And Tatad resigned from the Marcos Cabinet during martial law — the only one to do so. He became an oppositionist columnist writing columns hitting the Marcos Regime every other day in the newspaper Business Day (which later became Business World). He and Mrs. Ninez Cacho Olivarez were the star columnists of Business Day daring to write against the Marcos regime while the other papers were tools of the dictatrship.
    Mr. Tiglao also lies when he says that Opus Dei people became ministers of Marcos. No Opus Dei member served as a Marcos Cabinet man. Opus Dei members became high officials during the presidency of Mrs. Cory Aquino.
    Two famous ministers of the Spanish government were Opus Dei members. They were the most progressive and not as close to Generalissimo Franco as Mr. Tiglao makes it appear, using polluted sources of slander against Opus Dei. One of the two modernized the Spanish economy. Another freed Spanish foreign policy from the fascistic mentality and spearheaded Spain’s relations with the Communist and socialist bloc and because of him Spain became the first European state to recognize the People’s Republic of China of Mao Tse Tung.
    My appeal to you is to practice compassion, truthfulness and tolerance. Why make it appear that Blessed Alvaro was not a friend of the Filipinos, when in fact several pro-poor projects that still exist today sprang up here in the Philippines thanks to his encouragement and his sending experts from Europe to launch the projects? If only because he was a friend of the late Cardinal Sin and the latter’s close friends, and the thousand or so Opus Dei members here, wasn’t Blessed Alvaro a friend of the Filipinos? Why make it look like he was a bad man and unworthy man, Mr. Tiglao? He authored some of the most important parts of the Vatican II documents on the Role of the Laity. But then those things that concern love of God, prayer and working for others as Christians are so stupid and medieval to you.

    • Amnata Pundit on

      Kit Tatad was fired for supporting the opposition in Bicol during one Batasang Pambansa election despite repeated warnings. His desire to be the Bicol political kingpin even at the expense of his boss was what did him in. He was not the only one to resign. Gerry Sicat, Arturo Tanco and Alex Melchor all resigned too, or were told to do so for reasons unknown.

    • Seriously,did Mr.Tiglao mentioned that some Ministers of Marcos were members of Opus Dei??

    • Rigoberto Tiglao on

      Dear Ms. Kuison

      Please read again my column. I wrote: “.. many of its leading members had also been officers or supporters of Marcos’ dictatorship.” While I admire my colleague Kit Tatad for leaving the dictatorship in the early 1980s, he was Press Secretary of Mr Marcos for many years since the start of martial law. Another notable Opus Dei figure was Placido Mapa, who was PNB chairman and president during most of martial law years. Banker Ozaeta, a close executive of the Romualdezes was another Opus Dei member, and indeed the Opus Dei institution that has became University for Asia and Pacific became a big institution during martial law.

      I was with Business Day from 1979 to 1987, and with other Business Day REPORTERS (hardly columnists) broke major stories exposing he bankruptcy of the Marcos regime. I broke the story on the central bank’s overstatement of its international reserves, for which Mr. Mapa threatened me that he would ask the owner to fire me, and that he could do so since Business Day borrowed money from PNB to buy its presses. Mapa’s interest in this particular story was that he belonged to a cabal that engineered that overstatement, with PNB playing a key role.

    • Mr Tiglao, you said while you admire Kit Tatad for leaving the dictatorship, he served as Press Secretary for martial law. So? That doesn’t make him less guilty than you who joined the communist rebellion that waged a violent campaign against the government and still does so today. You admitted that the commies bombed Plaza Miranda and blamed it on Marcos. You cannot get more diabolical than that, but you insist that martial law, the government’s act of defending itself against a violent opposition, was even worse. Cant you drop your knee jerk Marcos-and-his-men-are-guilty reaction already? You guys are so good at spinning things that you can make the aggressors look like the victims. You resent that martial law violated your rights and freedom of speech. Suppose we used a magic wand to transform all these NPA and NDF subversives into Americans and transplanted them to the U.S.A. to fight there. Do you honestly think the Americans will respect their human rights over there? They will not only gas them like animals, they will bomb Joma out of his cushy lair in the Netherlands. Joma like Osama bin Laden will not find a safe haven anywhere. Aren’t you wondering why he is being given a safe haven by an American ally? Its only here that subversion is treated with kid gloves because of human rights pressure from the Americans but these same Americans are blind to the savagery of Israel against the Palestinians. Cant you see the con job they are doing to us? You have been played for a fool by no less than the imperialists you were supposed to fight, and you didn’t even know it. I suggest you use your investigative skills to audit the re-enacted budget of your favorite president, GMA. Do that and you will find out who is to corruption what Einstein was to physics. You might have to invent a new word for plunder.

  4. Excellent article. Reads like an article on everything you want to know about the Catholic Church but were afraid to ask.

  5. Amnata Pundit on

    The Jesuits are the Pope’s private army made up of clerics, and that is one reason why they are organized like the military. The Opus Dei is its civilian counterpart. You don’t have enough fingers on your two hands to count how many times the Jesuits have been kicked out of a country for creating intrigue and discord. Give the Opus Dei enough time and they are likely to match this record.

  6. Elitists are the root of all evils. Just look or study the practices of the Oligarchs, tycoons you name it, dictating the policies of the government by corrupting elected officials to enrich their own pockets. They talk about employing a lot of people in their business but look again, the folks working in the malls, restaurants, etc. are barely making enough to support a family — much like if not worst than the poor farmers or slaves of hacienderos, like our president.

  7. Mr Tiglao,

    Your article reinforces the saying that anything that is in done excess is a bad thing – opus dei is one.

  8. the reply which disappointed me most was that by Gloria Kuizon. Surely a news paper is entitled, even expected, to present balanced opinion? Her response is just the kind of bigoted blinkered thinking I see all too often in the Philippines.

  9. Mr Tiglao when you look at your own column at The Manila Times , just glance to your left ang you’ll know the reason why :)

    • edgardo marcelo on

      Mr. Francisco Tatad, the self-righteous, was Mr. Marcos martial law announcer. As a member of the Opus Dei, Mr. Tatad surely enjoyed sending the nationalist senators, Tanada and Diokno to military prison.

  10. Dehinz Pundit on

    The Church has done very well for itself when it comes to the accumulation of so much indecent wealth and power, but how about its spiritual mission? The basic function of any religion in any society, be it one of a primitive tribe in the Amazon jungles, the crowded streets of Calcutta or of a westernized civilization like ours, is to provide a moral compass for that society. We know to what depths of immorality our society has fallen into from the lowest to the highest, most elitist levels of our government and private sectors. Many of these creatures are even graduates of Ateneo! Doesn’t this prove no other than the FAILURE OF RELIGION, and what Church has allegedly been providing that spiritual guidance to us for the last 500 years? You know the real history of the Catholic Church in this country. Do you think that God will course His blessings through a church that has blood in its hands?

  11. PinoyAkoPinoyTayo on

    In the old days, people believe there’s god of the river, god of the sea, god of the sun because it was logical back then to believe so why? They don’t know gravity yet nor anything about physics. Now our knowledge has improved and the past religion looks silly now but in time our own religion would look silly, we would ask ourselves why are we giving such authority and power to a priest who barely has experience in leading a community nor people, why do we believe our religion is better than the others, why are we doing such rituals for our god etc. etc.

    Religion is a system of immortality we put in place to address our gravest fear… DEATH. Look at any religion, they will tell you, if you follow their dogma you will get SALVATION which means eternal life. Everybody wants that.

    What we would like to happen and what we believe would happen doesn’t necessarily means it’s real nor will it happen. What we are certain is everyone will become dust, you only have 1 life so live to the fullest, do good because you only have 1 chance to enjoy earth. Don’t be a good person because there’s an afterlife waiting, we haven’t proven that yet.

    • Rafael Santos on

      Religion prospers because of doubt. So long as people doubt existence of God, heaven, and hell, priests and all religious leaders can put their faithfuls in their sway and they can order them to do anything for them (priests and other leaders). Remove doubt and people will no longer do their bidding.

    • Excuse me religion is is not a system of immortality. I think this is only your presumption. I think you have to make greater effort in searching your own spirituality before you can make your own mortal introspection. Sometimes this assumptions makes a fool out of a person. May you find true meaning of your words and action…

  12. Gloria M. Kuizon on

    What Mr. Tiglao has written today is consistent with his atheism. He has written two or three other anti-God and anti-Catholic columns before. Let us pray for his conversion.
    I am amazed, howver, that the Manila Times editors did not throw this column in the garbage can. I suppose the editorial policy of the paper is extreme tolerance. Many of us Catholics are happy with the Sunday Sept. 28 issue that Mr. Tiglao hates so much.
    May God bless you, Manila Times, with more readers and subscribers and advertisers.

    • I totally do not agree with you Ms. Kuizon. He is writing factual things about this man whom we barely know about…now a saint? How? And why? I am a devote Roman Catholic…I go to church and do as what I preach. However, the past few years, more and more newly dead are becoming saints. Doesn’t that make a mockery of the “tradition” we have been protecting and upholding for years? Some saints waited hundreds of years to be beatified. Waited for miracles and signs from them. I am sorry but being beatified after a few years of leading a flock does not make one saintly. If that were the case, then my local priest, Father Ben should be a saint. And I am not an atheist.

    • I am also Catholic since birth. God knows all things but if the Pope does not make one a Saint, they are not Saints. Countless RIDICULOUS THINGS in the Catholic faith. But if you transfer to another Faith you might be jumping from the Frying Pan into the Fire

    • What wrong with atheism? Theists think they have the truth, Far from it. Belief is blind and laks fact.

  13. I just want to say “Bingo!”

    Cebu has, according to many Cebuanos (educated and uneducated, politicians, teachers, businessmen, some religion teachers, some religious!, etc.), as their patron ‘saint’, the “Sto. Nino”.
    It’s actually funny – if you really think about it. The “Sto. Nino” is NOT a saint. It refers to the statue that represents the ‘child Jesus’. Everyone knows – should already have known – that the historical man Jesus died as an adult. And yet, despite this knowledge of an historical fact, the ‘Sto. Nino’ is treated as a ‘saint’, a person they can pray to.

    • While Cebu has its Sto. Nino, Manila has its Lady of EDSA. May God forgive these abominations.

  14. Opus’dei ito ang mga pari na ginawa tayong alipin sa mahigit na 300 taon at tinawag ang pilipino na mga Indio!!mga pari na gumahasa sa mga pilipina at nagpapatay kay RIzal na hanggang ngayon ay bawal pag-usapan sa lahat ng katoliko universidad!!
    Ngayon ay kaibigan daw ng pilipino at patuloy ng sinasamba kahit noon suna pa man ay puro kabuktotan na ang pinag-gagawa at ang salapi ng bansa ay pinagsasa

    • Juan Buenaventura on

      Mag-aral ka naman ng kaunting kasaysayan kapatid. Papaano naging ang mga Opus Dei ang umalipin sa atin ng 300 taon eh 1928 lamang ito natatag at natapos na ang pananakop ng Espanya ng Filipinas noong 1898! Hmmm… Aral-aral din ng kasaysayan pag may time!!!

  15. Eddie de Leon on

    The unfair and inaccurate things you say in your column shows you did not even read the contents of the articles that offended you in The Manila Times issue of Sunday Sept. 28. Which means you just hate religion, the Catholic Church and Opus Dei so much.

  16. “Don Alvaro who? Beati what?” The title is a give away. This is more about the author than about Opus Dei or the Catholic Church. This article is thick with cynicism, derision(“Don Alvaro” is Msgr. Alvaro del Portillo), and racism

    He complains about the space spent on the subject; but then went right ahead spending an additional 25 paragraphs. For what then?

    This article does benefit anyone but to flaunt author’s feeling of superiority.

  17. please be informed that in the Bible, saints are those who received Christ their Lord and Savior. They are believers and followers of Christ. They don’t need to be beatified to be called saits.